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These Hybrid Watches Combine Mechanical Craftsmanship with Quartz Sensibility

The mechanical-quartz hybrid is a small and strange part of horology.

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Yema

In watch spheres, the quartz vs. mechanical debate is contentious. On one hand quartz is, technically-speaking, better in every measurable regard: more affordable, more accurate, easier and cheaper to maintain. On the other hand, mechanical watches are works of art, meticulously put together and artistically superior in the little ways in which they function. Neither side is right or wrong, and both arguments have their merits. But what if enthusiasts could have the best of both worlds — in the beloved chronograph, no less?

While those looking for the “feel” and craftsmanship of a mechanical watch have a variety of affordable, basic three-hand options, the mechanical chronograph is a "complication" and uses an intricate movement that requires more time and money to engineer — and tends to be expensive. Quartz chronographs, however, are relatively simple to engineer. In a standard quartz watch, the electrical signal given off by the battery and quartz crystal drive a stepper motor. To add the chronograph function, more stepper motors are added to drive each hand on the chronograph movement. And, in addition to being accurate and affordable, a stepper motor can pulsate at a very high frequency, allowing the chronograph to measure very small fractions of a second.

The downside? The quartz chronograph loses out on the mechanical feel. For one, the pushers on a quartz chronograph lack the satisfying click of a mechanical’s. What’s more, a quartz chronograph’s hands slowly sweep back to the zero position when they reset, a process that takes a few seconds, whereas a mechanical chronograph instantly resets to zero.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, in the midst of the so-called Quartz Crisis, two Swiss manufactures, Frédéric Piguet and Jaeger-LeCoultre, attempted to correct these small foibles and add their own value to the rapidly growing quartz watch market by adding a mechanical component to a standard quartz chronograph. The watch’s standard time function was still run by a quartz-powered stepper motor. However, instead of having each hand of the chronograph movement powered by a separate stepper motor — as in a normal quartz chronograph — a single motor powered a set of connected gears that split its power among the chronograph functions. By using the connected mechanical components powered by one motor to drive all functions of the chronograph, the Swiss companies were able to bring back the clicking sensation in the pushers as well as the instant reset to zero.

These early mechanical quartz ("mecha-quartz") hybrid movements were used in a variety of luxury watches during the late ’80s and throughout the’90s. Frédéric Piguet’s mecha-quartz movements powered a variety of watches from Breitling, Omega, Chopard and Bulgari. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s mecha-quartz movements ended up in certain Jaeger-LeCoultre chronographs, but were more commonly used in IWC and Porsche Design watches. The original Swiss mecha-quartz watches never really caught on, fading into obscurity in the early 2000s.

The original mecha-quartz may have made a small and somewhat strange footprint on watchmaking history, but Seiko has brought back its own version of the hybrid movement, which is used in a number of affordable chronographs from the brand. What’s more, Seiko has made a version of the mecha-quartz available to independent, boutique watch startups for use in their own chronographs. Nowadays, more and more smaller companies are making use of this fun, affordable tech that marries the best of mechanical and quartz watches. Here are a few of our favorites:

Seiko SSB031

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The Seiko SSB series of ultra-affordable chronograph watches makes use of a Seiko-exclusive version of the mecha-quartz movement, dubbed 6T63. This movement is encased in a 40mm stainless steel case that features a tachymeter scale and water resistance up to 100 meters. Coming in at well under $200, the SSB series Seikos are a fantastic first chronograph for your collection.

Diameter: 40mm
Water Resistance: 100m

Buy Now: $137

Dan Henry 1964 Gran Turismo Chronograph

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Based on the famed racing chronographs of the 1960s, the Dan Henry 1964 Gran Turismo Chronograph is an homage watch through and through, but a Seiko VK63 mecha-quartz movement keeps the price down. Featuring a vintage-inspired 38mm stainless steel case, sapphire-coated, double-domed mineral glass, date window, tachymeter, 60-min chronograph and 24 hour indicator, the Gran Turismo ships on a beads-of-rice bracelet and comes in a choice of four dial colors.

Diameter: 38mm
Water Resistance: 50m

Buy Now: $260

Yema Rallygraf

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The historic French brand Yema makes a range of dive- and aviation-themed watches with retro styling, but the Rallygraf is the brand's take on a racing chronograph. Powered by the Seiko VK64, it offers a vintage look with motorsport cues such as a tachymeter bezel and checkered flag. With a nicely sized 39mm case and several variations — including panda or reverse-panda contrasting subdials — this has to be one of the best-looking chronographs for the money.

Diameter: 39mm
Water Resistance: 100m

Buy Now: $349+

Brew Mastergraph

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Brew’s Jonathan Ferrer used the espresso machine as inspiration for his brand, with hashmarks on the dial to help you time the perfect espresso shot. Available in 3 colors, the Mastergraph features a 316L stainless steel, 38mm cushion case, Super LumiNova markers and hands, a 60-minute counter and a 24-hour indicator. It ships on a premium Italian leather strap and uses the Seiko VK64 mecha-quartz movement.

Diameter: 38mm
Water Resistance: 50m

Buy Now: $375

Hemel HFT20

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The military-inspired chronograph gives you the look of a vintage Type 20 without the 5-figure price tag. With its 42mm stainless steel case, flat sapphire crystal and 100m of water resistance, it’s most certainly a modern watch, but looks decidedly vintage. Best of all, you can choose between a ceramic 60-minute or a steel 12-hour bezel.

Diameter: 42mm
Water Resistance: 100m

Buy Now: $450

Belmoto Track Day

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Started by Dion McAsey, the same man who founded Magrette, Belmoto watches use Panerai Radiomir-shaped cases and add some retro motoring edge. The brand does both three-hand and chronograph watches, with the chronographs using the VK64 mecha-quartz movement Seiko ships to third-party watchmakers. One of the finest examples from the model range is the Track Day chronograph, in a PVD case finish and matte silver dial.

Diameter: 42mm
Water Resistance: 200m

Buy Now: $500

Autodromo Ford GT Endurance

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Autodromo is an automotive lifestyle brand that sells gloves and sunglasses, but their first products (and their bread and butter) were watches. The Ford GT Endurance is their chronograph, and it uses the same VK64 movement as the Belmoto and Yema above. Encased in a cushion-shaped stainless steel case and affixed to a perforated leather rally strap, it has a look entirely reminiscent of the boldly designed chronographs of the 1970s and the ultra-fast prototype race cars of the same era.

Diameter: 40mm
Water Resistance: 50m

Buy Now: $695

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