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5 Quartz Grail Watches Collectors Will Love

Patek Philippe 3587 2 Quartz

Quartz is a term imbued with many connotations, from 1970s market-imploding Bond villainy to a £50 Timex. A vast majority of small Swiss brands disappeared during the Quartz Crisis of the early 1970s, and it has taken the industry close to half a century to claw back market shares. But even with the market’s intense focus on small-cased vintage dive watches and Swiss craftsmanship, the tide has turned.

Even haute horology caters to the tempting affair of non-mechanical power. While closing in on the Big Swiss in the luxury market, Grand Seiko offers lab-grown quartz power visible under a sapphire crystal case. And it’s been a long time coming. Here we take a look at five of the best grail quartz watches you should know about.

Rolex Oysterquartz

Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date 5100

Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date ref. 5100, image credit: Fellows

You can take this as our top tip for a sleeper investment, as the chunky Rolex Oysterquartz is one of the last affordable entry tickets to the world of the Coronet. Rolex jumping on a trend is not something we see these days, with one-millimetre tweaks to the Submariner still being discussed two years after the fact.

But the 1970s saw market shares and wrist enthusiasm drop to untold levels as the market was flooded with bargain-value watches. With Seiko on point, untold levels of accuracy were available, so without manual winding or service costs, Switzerland was paralyzed. Patek made a move with their complex Beta calibres, and Rolex introduced the grail quartz watch; Oysterquartz.

Rolex Oysterquartz Oysterquartz Day-Date 19019 Caseback

It might have a crystal heart, but it is also Rolex’s only foray into a smoking hot market for integrated bracelets today. Rolex surprised the market with their first quartz watch without the Oysterquartz name, with the limited Date ref. 5100. Again, this was powered by the Beta 21 movement, a quartz calibre developed by an unusual grouping of over 20 Swiss watch brands. Yes, in the face of the Japanese, they united, forming the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) with a mission to create Swiss-made quartz movements.

Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date 19019

Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date ref. 19019, image credit: Bonhams

Made to offer competition against Seiko and others, Beta 21 came out in 1969, followed by Beta-1 and 2. More than 6,000 Beta-21 quartz calibres powered the Omega Electroquartz, IWC Da Vinci, Patek Philippe 3578, and Rolex. Evolving over the years to more reliable movements like the calibre 5355 and 5335 in the 1980s, lasting until 2004. Our choice would easily be the stealth-wealth-oozing Oysterquartz Day-Date ref. 19019. It had a white gold case, a fluted bezel, and a perfect white gold integrated President bracelet. This is a weighty salute to the reliable world of unusual Rolex quartz-wear.

F.P. Journe Elegante 40mm

F.P. Journe Élégante

Today, the F.P. Journe Elegante is, for many, the king of quartz, and a wholly unexpected move from Francois-Paul Journe. The case shape is delightfully different from any FPJ and reminiscent of Franck Mullers from the 1990s perhaps, with a techy-modern twist. The biggest surprise is that you can get it in a massive 47mm size with a full lume dial. Yes, we would give most of our hard-earned cash to be a fly on the wall in that design committee meeting. The 40mm version is our sweet spot when cushion-and-tonneau cased watches wear large.

F P Journe Elegante 40mm Titalyt

It exudes a chic but tough demeanour that’s hard to categorise, a trait we’d associate with some of the best watch designs. And the concept makes perfect sense as a throw-it-on alternative to your safe-queen Chronometre Bleu. It simply constitutes one of the best two-watch collections on the planet if you’re into F.P. Journe’s design language and have the budget. Like an Aquanaut to a Patek QP, with a decent price, it is a perfect way to keep your collection within the grail-sphere. Yes, this is your easy-going and casual choice for a day at the beach or out on the sailing yacht.

Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGY011

Grand Seiko SBGY011G Spring Drive

Let’s be honest, the smoothest flow of any seconds hand in the world comes from the Seiko Spring Drive movement, but is it a quartz grail? The power comes from a normal mainspring like any watch, with the choice of automatic or manual winding, so where do Seiko’s mythical lab-grown quartz crystals come into play? A pure quartz-powered watch has its battery sending electricity to an oscillator and the vibrations are detected by an integrated circuit (IC) that moves the gears forward by a clicky second. Within the Spring Drive calibre, the quartz-tech is in the tri-synchro regulator, and it’s mechanically powered.

It generates a tiny electrical pulse with a crystal oscillator and an electronic brake. This maintains a constant speed of a glide wheel that offers the creamy smoothness of silk that makes the second hand so captivating. Add the bonus of a +/- 15 seconds a month (for the SBGY011) accuracy, and this de facto hybrid calibre is seriously impressive. Grand Seiko offers its smooth mechanical prowess (not to be confused with meca-quartz, you know) in a host of watches, from brawny divers to dressy classics.

Grand Seiko SBGY011G Spring Drive

We’re all about understated chic and would not hesitate to put the clean lines of the SBGY011 on our quartz grail watch list. It takes the sharpest Grand Seiko 40mm case design, the 44GS, slimmed down to 10.5mm and paired with a clean dial design. And while we understand the need for functionality, the calm aspect of a no-date dial is a zen-win. This is especially true when the textured white surface makes the hand-polished indices stand out, with a pop-fresh blue seconds hand for company. The 9R31 calibre delivers a strong 72-hour power reserve, while its dressy vibe belies the usual solid build of a Grand Seiko, including a 100m depth rating.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Quartz

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Quartz 67650ST.OO.1261ST.01

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Quartz ref. 67650ST.OO.1261ST.01

There is no disputing the standing of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and we’d love to get our hands on one if the supply situation and pre-owned values calm down. But the quartz versions of the Genta grail are easier to get your mittens on if you enjoy the Timothèe Chalamet-vibe of small-cased cool. The steel version ref. 67650ST is a smooth-ticking 33mm, which works if you’re small-wristed and enjoy the vintage look. And if you’re averse to the tick of battery-powered watchmaking, this Royal Oak comes with a clean, black dial without a seconds hand.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Quartz B35066

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Quartz ref. B35066, image credit: Pandolfini

All the right tapisserie dial details are present, and it comes across as a more compact, distilled version of Genta’s OG. But if you’re brave, as vintage quartz movements can be very fickle, look at the oddball ref. B35066. Like the glitzy, brushed two-tone love child of a Cartier and an AP, the rectangular Jumbo is pure 1970s glamour. At 32x41mm, this is a slim, still recognisably Genta-cool offbeat version that no one will recognise, starting at under £10K for a good one. Once your eyes get used to the shape-twisted Royal Oak vibes, just one look at this might have you falling in love. And yes, you will be trawling the high street looking for a beige suit and brown, pointy Chelsea boots.

Patek Philippe Ref. 3587/2

Patek Philippe 3587 2

Patek Philippe ref. 3587/2, image credit: Phillips

For many collectors, even non-savvy watch aficionados, the Nautilus is the grail of grail watches. A world of collectors decried the final vacuum-sealed ref. 5711 pieces being picked up by a select few. But, while the OG porthole-inspired edition retains a special place in many people’s hearts, even Patek leaned into the world of battery power with the Beta calibre. And if the image above hints at a dainty 30mm dress-number, the rare ref. 3587/2 is actually a healthy 43mm, which was a gargantuan size for a watch in 1971.

To be honest, that’s still big today, and the big-boi presence of this squircular grail timepiece is ensured by the weighty glimmer of white gold. With a typically 1970s smooth vibe, this battery babe has the unusually sporty touch of lumed indices and some diver-esque sharp, folded sword hands. Sold at auction by Phillips for $38,100, with the inclusion of a lugless, quirky-glamorous white gold bracelet, it represents rather good value with its deep navy dial. And it’s not the only Patek with one of the original Beta movements out there, so keep your eyes peeled and you might yet stumble upon a bargain of the precious kind.

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About the author

Thor Svaboe

As the sole Norwegian who doesn’t like snow or climbing mountains, Thor has honed his florid writing skills at Time + Tide, and is now an editor at Fratello Watches. This Viking would fearlessly go into battle under the banner of independent watchmaking, and his End Game watch would be the piece unique Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1.