What causes quartz watch failure?
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  1. #1
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    What causes quartz watch failure?

    Just wondering what to look for and what to expect. If I'm looking at an older quartz, what will cause the movement to fail?
    Wondering if some parts can deteriorate due to simple passage of time or if something like moisture would have to be introduced.

    I'm also guessing a battery failure will do the trick too.

    Are high end quartz movements more or less likely to fail over time as compared to basic quartz.

    Mike

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    Sponsor momentumwatch's Avatar
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    I find that it's usually things that are external to the movement itself such as:
    - battery leakage
    - moisture
    - foreign particles sealed in with the watch (dust, finger prints)

    I think also if the watch sits for long periods of time not running it increases the likelihood of the movement failure.

    More expensive movements use higher quality materials so should last longer but the price of a watch is nor necessarily correlated to the quality if movement inside.

    I'd be interested to see what others think.

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    Re: What causes quartz watch failure?

    Well, battery leakage for sure, but that can easily be prevented. Many movements give a form of low-battery indication, and the better batteries (e.g., Energizer) tend not to leak even when dead. Poor or old/hardened seals could let moisture in, but that too can be prevented with occasional preventive maintenance (like being replaced at every, or every-second, battery change). There are far fewer mechanical components in a quartz movement than in a mechanical one, and, therefore, fewer things that can go wrong. Older integrated circuits might fail over a long time period because of a breakdown in the connectors, solderings, etc., but many vintage quartz watches are still running well after 30-40 years of ownership. Of course, a major impact (like being dropped on a hard surface) can cause a quartz (or any) watch to fail.

    You can expect to see a difference in this regard between high-end quartz movements and regular quartz. As momentumwatch notes, the higher-end movements will feature better-quality materials, more hand-assembly and close inspection, and better design. One sign that this is undoubtedly true is Seiko's (informal) claim that their 9F series HEQ movements (Seiko's best quartz movements) can be expected to go 50 years between full servicings. Citizen's 10-year warranty period on their HEQ movements (the A660 and new A010 movements) suggests the same superior quality and long expected lifespan.
    Last edited by South Pender; October 9th, 2011 at 19:02.
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    Re: What causes quartz watch failure?

    One other factor that affects many systems: incompetent maintenance. I have seen many a coil stabbed by a slipped screwdriver.

    And I have noticed few folks working on quartz ever take standard static discharge prevention. An unseen static discharge can ruin almost any IC. It is not common but I suspect at least several readers of this thread have damaged watches unknowingly by such means.
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    Sponsor momentumwatch's Avatar
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    Good point about the static charge, also some batteries have erratic voltage that can be harmful I think.

    I agree that if properly and consistently maintained a decent quality quartz watch can last for many many years. We still have people that bought watches from us 15 to 20 years ago that still bring/send to us for regular service.

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    Re: What causes quartz watch failure?

    Quote Originally Posted by momentumwatch View Post
    Good point about the static charge, also some batteries have erratic voltage that can be harmful I think.

    I agree that if properly and consistently maintained a decent quality quartz watch can last for many many years. We still have people that bought watches from us 15 to 20 years ago that still bring/send to us for regular service.
    How often does a quartz have to be serviced? Is it on par, cost wise to a mechanical or is it cheaper?

    Mike

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    Re: What causes quartz watch failure?

    Quote Originally Posted by panamamike View Post
    How often does a quartz have to be serviced? Is it on par, cost wise to a mechanical or is it cheaper?
    Far less frequently. As noted, Seiko reckons that their 9F-movement models can go 50 years! Still, when you have a battery change, it's a good idea to have the seals replaced. This is not expensive and will keep your watch water-tight. However, this falls far short of a true full servicing. For a watch that you plan to keep forever, I'd recommend an actual full servicing maybe every 10-15 years, but I'm not sure what would actually be done (probably mainly cleaning) since there's not much to wear out. Although I've never had this full servicing done, I would guess that the cost might be comparable to that of the servicing of a mechanical watch (which, however, is needed every 3-4 years).
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    Re: What causes quartz watch failure?

    Quote Originally Posted by panamamike View Post
    Are high end quartz movements more or less likely to fail over time as compared to basic quartz.
    I believe most of your questions have been answered but I'd like to add a few things.
    While perhaps true that high quality quartz lasts longer than cheap it's probably not by as much as you'd think in the first place. Well they might be more susceptible to mechanical damage and does not have as good seal etc. But when it comes to electronics and mechanics the difference is not as obvious as first thought.
    The mechanics. Expensive watches have nice well machined mechanics made of metal with jeweled bearings. Cheap watches have crude plastic wheels. Actually at those small forces metal wear more than plastic and is more affected by non optimal environment. Plastics on the other hand has the habbit of getting brittle (as least some kinds). Take a look at cheap kitchen watches they're typically made of plastic but here almost 40 years after those allowed to live that long (no leaking batteries, careless owners etc.) even the oldest ones are happily chewing along and virtually no sign of wear.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eeeb View Post
    One other factor that affects many systems: incompetent maintenance. I have seen many a coil stabbed by a slipped screwdriver.

    And I have noticed few folks working on quartz ever take standard static discharge prevention. An unseen static discharge can ruin almost any IC. It is not common but I suspect at least several readers of this thread have damaged watches unknowingly by such means.
    Static damage can happen but is rare. Is probably more pronouced on older equipment. Back then the electronic industry didn't have the habbit of making stuff as resistant to statics as today (really, it's a simple matter of some few diodes in the IC on the connections). A damaged coil can be rewound although probably not exactly cheap but could be worth it on an expensive vintage watch. Not something you would do on a new ETA with spare parts easily available it is none the less possible. An exception might me moving coil movements. Of course it's possible to redo those too but much harder than the simple stepper motor.

    Quote Originally Posted by momentumwatch View Post
    Good point about the static charge, also some batteries have erratic voltage that can be harmful I think.
    Batteries with eratic voltage? I haven't heard of those. Bad connections because of corrosion perhaps, yes. Damaging? No not at those voltage levels present in a watch. Perhaps the fluctuating levels can cause a microprocessor design to lock up like a frozen computer but no severe damage.

    In addition to causes others mentioned I'd like to add bit rot. This will however most likely not affect your 70s or early 80s watch as those back then was made with mask rom (hard wired, ROM data defined in the etch mask when making the IC and cannot be changed). Many later watches and certainly today watches store their "computer's" data in an EPROM which is a flash like device. Depending on mask size and technique when made it'll be a finite time before the crucial data to operate watch evaporates. Basically the charges are static charges stored in cells with an extremely well insulation. However no insulation is perfect and despite of earths atmosphere it's exposed to high energy radiation. Like the static charge that hold a balloon to the ceiling it too will evaporate with time.

    I can't give an exact time of when the EPROM method was becoming common instead of the earlier mask ROM but sometime in the mid to late 80s would be a good guess (and was dependent of the thing it was to be used in). Beside earlier analogue might contain an IC but it's purely a simple collection of deviding logic as regulation is purely analog. While there perhaps is a theoretical wear on the IC's internal transistors etc. it's very small and if not exposed to any of the mentioned hazards it'll keep on working till the atoms that once made up the earth is swallowed by the black hole in the center of the Milkyway.

    I see the same thing with calculators. If not neglected those from the 70s just keep on working with very minor efford - a true joy. There however are some small issues of tantalum and electrolytic capacitors typically not present in a watch. Buy hey. A soldering iron replacing those for modern film types and you can power them up in the next millennium and they'll spring to life like the day they left the factory a happy day in 1972 (as they're mask coded - no charge to evaporate. And not operated 24/7 as VFD or LED display will wear with use).
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    Re: What causes quartz watch failure?

    In addition to causes others mentioned I'd like to add bit rot. This will however most likely not affect your 70s or early 80s watch as those back then was made with mask rom (hard wired, ROM data defined in the etch mask when making the IC and cannot be changed). Many later watches and certainly today watches store their "computer's" data in an EPROM which is a flash like device. Depending on mask size and technique when made it'll be a finite time before the crucial data to operate watch evaporates. Basically the charges are static charges stored in cells with an extremely well insulation. However no insulation is perfect and despite of earths atmosphere it's exposed to high energy radiation. Like the static charge that hold a balloon to the ceiling it too will evaporate with time.

    I can't give an exact time of when the EPROM method was becoming common instead of the earlier mask ROM but sometime in the mid to late 80s would be a good guess (and was dependent of the thing it was to be used in). Beside earlier analogue might contain an IC but it's purely a simple collection of deviding logic as regulation is purely analog. While there perhaps is a theoretical wear on the IC's internal transistors etc. it's very small and if not exposed to any of the mentioned hazards it'll keep on working till the atoms that once made up the earth is swallowed by the black hole in the center of the Milkyway.
    This is something that I kind of knew intellectually, but never really thought of as being a serious issue. Is there any more information on this anywhere? Is there any way of working out what the working life of a EPROM would be in a watch? Can we assume that watches like the 9F, which are designed to last, are using the earlier method? I'm suddenly interested in working out which watches have an EPROM and which a Mask ROM as i was rather hoping to enjoy them all into my dotage and rather expected that early movements like the GP 352 which usually spring happily into life with a bit of TLC were an indication of future reliability of other high end movements. Apparently not.
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  11. #10
    Member Eeeb's Avatar
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    Re: What causes quartz watch failure?

    I bet when the trimmer capacitor disappeared the EPROM appeared. That would be in the early 80's for ETA movements. ETA uses EEPROM in the Accuquartz movements... but that might just be to store the inhibition count.
    "Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

    "The watch has to be surrounded by a history.
    You need more than just a great design. You need to create an atmosphere around the product.
    Who is the company behind it? Why are they using this material?
    People need to be able to identify the watch with themselves. It's based on emotion." - Ralph Furter

    ...that's just my opinion and I've been wrong before and will be again and might be now!

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