To say the Swiss watchmaking industry was built entirely on the strength of its mechanical movements would be a lie. But not a big one. For over a century, watchmakers lived and died by the strength of its movements. The finish of a watch helped, of course, as did the material used in its construction. But it was the complexity of its mechanical movement that defined the watch, that set its value, and that drew the crowds. Simply put, if a watchmaker made good movements, it survived. If it didn’t… well, the market was crowded anyway. But then the clock struck 1969 and with it, Seiko unveiled the Astron. The world’s first quartz watch was the result of 10 years of research, development, and labor. It didn’t catch on immediately (the fact it was roughly the same price as a small car didn’t help) but by the mid-1970s, the Japanese had refined the technology, cut back on costs, and flooded the market with an endless array of affordable, efficient, quartz-powered timepieces.
As fee.org outlines, to say the blow to the Swiss market was devasting would be an understatement. The ‘Quartz Crisis’, as it’s since become known, shook the industry to its core. Suddenly, the age-old tradition of the mechanical movement was old-hat. The watches were still beautiful, they were still complex, and they were still wonderfully precise. The problem was, no one wanted them. The public wanted quartz, and the Swiss weren’t given it to them.
Some Swiss watchmakers buried their heads in the sand, convinced quartz was a passing fad and would be over soon. Others were more strategic. Patek Philippe fell into the second category. Although it had risen to glory on the strength of its mechanical movements and had zero interest in abandoning its tradition, it knew that if it wanted to compete with the new players in town, it would have to find a place for quartz in its catalog. It didn’t have to be a big place (and it wasn’t – mechanical movements have, do, and will always rule the roost at the house of Patek Philippe) but it had to be there, at least to some degree. The result was the Ref 3744J, an otherwise typical Patek Philippe creation with one singular difference – the quartz movement.
Since then, quartz has continued to occupy a place in the Patek Philippe catalog… not that everyone thinks it should. Patek Philippe makes the finest movements in the world. In some people’s eyes, the fact it chooses to ‘muddy’ its collection with ‘soulless’ quartz pieces is inexplicable. But regardless of what the naysayers say, quartz watches have their fans, and if ever there was a watchmaker that could restore the spirit to the soulless, it’s Patek Philippe. if you’ve been attracted to the easy appeal of quartz, listen up as we run through the five best Patek Philippe quartz watches of all-time.
Patek Philippe Ref. 3744
What better way to kick things off than with Patek Philippe’s first-ever quartz creation, Ref. 3744? If ever there was a better example of fighting talk, it’s yet to be found. Released in direct retaliation to the Japanese’s stranglehold on the industry, the 3744 took the 80s by storm. As dreamchrono.com writes, the 3744 featured all the same trappings of a mechanical Calatrava with one big difference – its movement. In a brazen attempt to show the world that Patek Philippe was now ‘doing quartz’, the brand decided to emblazon ‘Quartz’ across the bottom of the dial just above 6 o’clock. It wasn’t subtle, but it made its point. Wonderfully thin and with just the right balance of understatement and glamour, the 3744 featured a subdued white dial with contrasting black markers, an 18k gold case, a hobnailed bezel, and the all-new, all-singing, all-dancing E27 movement. Take away the quartz and you’re still looking at a powerful piece. Factor it back in, and it becomes revolutionary.
Patek Philippe Ref. 4972G
If you want luxury, look no further than Patek Philippe Ref. 4972G. With its striking mother-of-pearl dial, cushion-shaped case, and art deco influences, this is a gorgeous piece that’s going to please even the most discerning buyer. Powered by a reliable quartz movement and possessed of the same strong lines and geometric simplicity of the rest of the Gondolo collection, it manages to celebrate the golden age of watchmaking while still keeping both feet firmly in the 21st century.
Patek Philippe Ref. 7010R
The Nautilus has always occupied a special place in the Patek Philippe collection. The rounded octagonal shape of its bezel, its horizontally embossed dial, and the revolutionary porthole construction of its case have turned the brand’s very first sports watch into one of the most collectible pieces in the world. By the time the 7010R rolled around, the reputation of the series was already well established. Fortunately, the addition of a quartz movement didn’t dent its appeal one iota. With its timeless elegance and faultless attention to detail, the 7010R is a bejeweled delight – and, quartz or no quartz, a very welcome addition to the catalog.
Patek Philippe Ref. 3944
As Wiki outlines, the Patek Philippe Calatrava wristwatch was introduced in 1932 with the Ref. 96. After helping the company glide through the Great Depression, its place in the Patek Philippe collection was assured. So far, there have only been two quartz-powered examples of the series – the 3744 and the 3944. The 3744 may have been the first and most celebrated quartz watch ever produced by Patek Philippe, but its second attempt was no less masterful. Combining modern materials with a classic design, the 3944 managed to appease the traditionalists and the modernists in equal measure. Minimalist in design, powerful in functionality, and with just the right amount of ornamentation, it’s a simple, elegant piece that proves exactly why Patek Philippe is considered the finest watchmaker in the world.
Patek Philippe Ref. 4910
Ref. 4910 has a place in the Twenty-4 series, a collection of ladies’ pieces that, unusually for Patek Philippe, are all exclusively powered by quartz. Available in both diamond-set rose gold and stainless-steel versions, the 4910 features a delicate round dial set with ten diamond hour markers. a diamond-encrusted crown, and a beautifully finished caliber 324 S C self-winding movement with date aperture and sweep seconds. Elegant, functional, and wonderfully simple to operate, it’s a great addition to an already outstanding series.