Making A Case For Quartz, And Four Watches To Prove It

Sometimes you know that you are starting an article that many will not read even before you type the first letter. This has nothing to do with the size of the loyal readership of Troisanneaux, about which we have no complaints, but more about the topic; quartz. Once hailed, first and foremost by the Swiss, as the next emperor, it turned out to be the horse of Troy, nearly destroying mechanical watchmaking all together. Fortunately, as it turned out, this wasn’t the case, and what was once regarded as obsolete entered a new renaissance.

While quartz watches were here to stay, most watch collectors never seemed to have forgiven them that they once were almost the final nail in the coffin of mechanical watchmaking. To some extent, that is a pity. Another prenotion that many have against quartz watches is that they are cheap. For quartz-movements made in large volume, it is indeed so that they cost less to make than a mechanical movement. The up-side is that they also cost less to maintain and offer a sense of care-free enjoyment because they are always on time. They are also more precise, but I personally find that a less relevant argument, as many are obsessed with the precision of their watches but don’t have jobs or other events that need down-to-the-second precision. That all being said, while it is are mainly mechanical watches that make our hearts beat faster, here at Troisanneaux, we have a few exceptions to that rule. Watches that have earned their keep, and of which some are phenomenal because they have a quartz movement.

Cartier Panthere
The Panthere became an icon at the height of the quartz-crisis and was never available with a mechanical movement. Few other watches balance masculine elegance so well. It might be that its case is reminiscent of the first Santos or that it is fitted with one of the best bracelet designs Cartier ever made; the Figaro. By today’s standards, the Panthere is small. With men who object against this, I always like to point out that back in the day the Panthere was the watch of choice of Keith Richards, as well as Remmington Steele, the private investigator played by Pierce Brosnan. A rocker and a gentleman, who despite their very different styles, both looked awesome with it. Some were disappointed when Cartier reintroduced the Panthere that it wasn’t powered by a mechanical movement. While I can understand the sentiment, I am glad that Cartier didn’t because to me, that would compromise the true sense of the Panthere, and that is of being a casual, ‘dresual,’ comfortable, care-free luxury watch.

Rolex Oysterquartz
Not everybody knows that Rolex was once a firm believer in quartz-technology. It also participated in the Beta 21 project with several other brands, which led to one of the first commercial quartz movements in Swiss history. Rolex wasn’t exactly pleased with the results and while they did use the Beta 21 movement for a single model, they also decided to create their own. This took them five years, but the result was stunning. The Oysterquartz is, by all means, an impressive watch, yet born at the wrong time. The quartz crisis was at the time of introduction, in 1977, already in full swing. Inexpensive watches from Japan gave quartz a cheap reputation. The Oysterquartz was anything but cheap, as it was one of the first watches Rolex fitted with a sapphire crystal, and the finish of the movement was at the time better than that of its mechanical counterparts. The Oysterquartz also remains a relatively rare Rolex, as I see more Paul Newman Daytona’s in a year than all varieties of its battery-powered siblings combined. While that may say something about the company I keep, it also says something about the Oysterquartz. It was available in different models, as a DateJust or Day-Date, all with integrated bracelets. This gives them a bit of a seventies vibe, and earned some of them the nickname of being a ‘poor man’s Royal Oak.’ I don’t think it is a poor man’s anything, but more the choice of a man who wants something different and loves to have a historically important quartz-caliber around its wrist with a finish that rivals most mechanical movements of its time.

Louis Vuitton Monterey II
These days, nearly everything with the Louis Vuitton logo on it is in hot demand. Pre-COVID, you couldn’t go to any major city in the world and not see a line of people waiting to be let into the local boutique. I am always surprised that this widespread passion for the brand is still overlooking the Monterey II, a watch that Louis Vuitton (had) made in the late 1980s. This watch has so much going for it, it should become an icon. To design the watch Louis Vuitton put their trust in nobody less than Gae Aulenti, the famed Italian architect, best known for transforming Gare d’Orsay in Paris, into Musée d’Orsay. While the design is very clean, it also has a generous dash of charisma, mainly by placing the crown at the twelve o’clock position and not giving it any lugs. The single-piece strap actually goes through the case, making the watch sit prominently on top of your wrist. Louis Vuitton did not make the watch themselves but had IWC do this. This also explains something else, and that is the ceramic case of the Monterey II. IWC was one of the very few brands already experimenting with this material, having it used to make cases for their Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar and Fliegerchronograph. That Louis Vuitton opted for a quartz movement was an obvious choice given the time the watch was launched. As it lacks a seconds hand, it does not bother you when wearing it. While it does come with an alarm function, I do advise not to use it. The beeps that it makes when the alarm goes off is reminiscent of the very first Super Mario game, taking away most of the magic that this ‘unicorn’ has.

Piaget/Cartier Chronoreflex
Piaget was another brand that participated in the Beta 21-project. Just like Rolex, they were also disappointed by the outcome. The bulky movement did not at all fit into the collection of a brand that had made its name creating some of the thinnest watches in history. Like Rolex, Piaget decided to make quartz movements of its own, something they still do today. One of their most well-known and appreciated quartz movements is caliber 212P. It might come as a surprise to some, but this movement has more jewels than many manual wind calibers. Twenty-five of them ensures that the very wear is taking place. I still remember being shown a room in the Piaget manufacture in La Côte-aux-Fées where these movements were hand-assembled. There I also noticed that Piaget finishes them, decorating the metal parts with circular Cotes-de-Geneva, although I have also seen engine-turned decoration on this movement.

Caliber 212P is one that has it all; it is small, thin, features a flyback chronograph, and even a perpetual date. As it also has no running second, there is nothing that even reminds you that this movement is quartz-powered, aside perhaps from the location of the various subdials. Even when you start the chronograph, its motion is smooth and refined. While Piaget utilized this movement in various models, including their Protocol and Polo lines, Cartier turned out to be a true fan. They adopted the movement and renamed it Chronoreflex, using it in the 1990s throughout the vast majority of their collection. This means that you find it in the Pasha, Santos, Cougar, Diabolo, Tank Americaine and Tank Francaise lines. With the exception of the Diabolo, which is quite feminine in terms of design, it resulted in charismatic watches that combine not only the convenience and precision of a quartz movement and a perpetual date function, with a chronograph as a bonus.

While I respect that the above mentioned watches, do not whet your appetite for quartz watches, one has to admit that the technology as a whole has proved its place in watchmaking. And even for a gentleman, there are a few of them too tempting to pass up, despite or because, their movement.

3 thoughts on “Making A Case For Quartz, And Four Watches To Prove It

  1. Martin, I completely agree there is a place for both mechanical and quartz in the world of horology.

    My wife is a perfect example. I bought her a vintage Rolex and vintage Cartier a few years ago. I walked her through how to wind, how to set the time and in great detail how to set and how not to set the date. I noticed one day she didn’t seem to wear them as much as I thought she would. I finally asked her about it. She told me how much she loved both pieces but was worried she would not do something correctly and didn’t always want to ask me to do it for her or I was traveling. ( pre pandemic 🙃) She even told me how she had worn them a few times without setting them in fear of making a mistake.

    I realized that as much as I enjoy the winding, time setting and such, not everyone enjoys such. I have since bought her a quartz Cartier Santos and a Rolex quartz. She wears them weekly now and loves the no fuss grab and go approach. I will also add she receives far FAR more comments about her Rolex quartz from people than I ever do with any of my watches! I also agree that her Rolex quartz is far more unusual than any I own. I think I read Rolex only made 25k or so of them.

    Thanks as always for the article and stay safe.

    Michael

  2. Quartz absolutely has its place. From a personal collecting perspective I’m always concerned that at some point I won’t be able to get a piece serviced. I don’t want a pretty and pricey paperweight. I’m hoping that more manufacturers will be able to service quartz for longer periods (and cost effectively).

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