Digital vs. Analogue Watches

Analogue swatch watch on wrist

There are two main types of watches, digital and analogue. There are plenty of differences between the two, not only in how they tell the time, but in their build and design as well.

But which type of watch is better, digital or analogue? Although its down to personal preference, in this article from the experts at CALIBRE, we’ll explore the key differences between the two, as well as the pros and cons of each type, helping you make an informed decision. 

What is an analogue watch?

Automatic Mondaine watch dial

Analogue watches are characterised by a circular dial. They are made up of three hands: one for the hour, one for minutes; and one for seconds. 

Presented in a 12-hour format, the numbers of an analogue watch are signalled by a number of Roman numeral. Some analogue watches may only show the 3,6,9, or 12 in actual numbers, and the remaining in markers. Furthermore, some use markers, such as lines, indents, or even diamonds, for the whole clock face. 

How does an analogue watch work? 

Analogue Timex watch with leather strap

Whilst a lot of modern analogue timepieces use quartz movements, there are still some watches that use mechanical movements.

Praised for their precision and durability, quartz watches are powered by quartz crystals which are able to transform electric currents into mechanical signals. The vibrations from this process make the internal gears and motors of the watch move and turn the hands on the dial. Although the analogue watch is technically powered by a battery, the quartz movement use very little energy, leading to batteries only needing to be replaced every four years or so.

Analogue watches are occasionally referred to as mechanical watches. These types of watches often need to be manually or automatically wound. Most modern watches feature automatic self-winding movements. Mechanical movements are less accurate than quartz watches, and the fact that they require winding is an inconvenience to some. However, to enthusiasts, it is a tradition, and they see it as a fun ritual within timekeeping.

Benefits of analogue watches

  • Traditional designs
  • They look great with both formal and casual styles
  • More designs available
  • Beautiful craftmanship

Drawbacks of analogue watches

  • Often more expensive
  • Have to be wound

What is a digital watch? 

Black digital smart watch

Digital watches operate differently to analogue watches, as instead of displaying the time on a 12-hour clock face, they present the time in a digital formant on an electronic (LED or LCD) screen. The time can be presented in 24-hour or 12-hour format, depending on your personal preference. 

Another huge difference between digital and analogue watches is that most digital watches are now ‘smart watches’. Advances in technology have seen digital watches transform from time-telling devices to these smart devices, which are far more capable than simply telling the time. Smarwatches tend to track fitness goals, allow you to text and receive calls, listen to music, browse the internet and some even tell you how much water you’ve consumed!

How do digital watches work?

The most basic type of digital watch requires two components: an integrated circuit (IC) and a quartz crystal oscillator. The IC controls the functionality of the watch, while the oscillator provides an electronic signal with specific frequency that serves as a timing reference for all operations within the watch. This means that when power is applied, it charges up capacitors in the IC which create pulses which drive other parts such as counters or displays inside the watch.

Benefits of digital watches

  • Consistently accurate time-keeping
  • Choose between 12-hour and 24-hour format
  • Easy to repair
  • Often cheaper
  • Smartwatch features available

Drawbacks of digital watches

  • Less versatile aesthetically
  • Less traditional

What’s the difference between digital and analogue watches? 

The main difference between digital and analogue watches is that analogue watches use mechanical structures that move the hands, whereas digital watches use electrical structures to power the display. Another key contrast is their appearance, including the way they display the time. However, there are several other differences:

Accuracy

Quartz watches, clocks, and other devices are prized for their remarkable long-term accuracy. In fact, quartz movements can maintain a maximum daily variance of +/-15 seconds!

This remarkable accuracy is due to quartz crystal’s unique ability to vibrate at a consistent frequency when exposed to an electric current. This vibration then drives the gear train in the watch or clock mechanism with perfect precision; allowing timekeeping instruments equipped with quartz movements to maintain very tight tolerances. As such, quartz movement remains one of the most reliable and precise ways to keep track of time,  making them perfect for use in any application where accuracy is critical.

Appearance

The easiest way to distinguish between an analogue watch and a digital watch is the appearance. Analogue watches feature clock hands on the dial to indicate the hour, minute and second of the day, while digital watches display this information through numerical digits on an electronic screen. Although both types of watch can come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles, there are some features that help to distinguish them from one another at first glance. 

Analogue watches traditionally have two or three clock hands that move around the face of the watch to tell time – these are usually composed of an hour hand, a minute hand and sometimes also a second hand. The style and design of these hands vary depending on each individual watch model. However, they most commonly appear as thin metal rods or curves with small arrow-like tips pointing towards numbers printed around the edge of the dial.

Features

Both analogue and digital watches can come with an impressive range of features. For digital and quartz watches, adding features is easy. However, it gets more tricky with analogue mechanical watches, as added extras like stopwatches, moon phase dials and the like demand more cogs and gears to work.

When looking at quartz analogue watches, you can expect to find features like stopwatches and date display. Digital watches allow more room for ancillary extras, so you should look out for timers, alarms, calendars, extra time zones, lights and more.

Power

Analogue watches are powered by either automatic, mechanical or quartz movement. Digital watches often require a battery, although some may need charging instead.

Price

Although prices of analogue and digital watches can vary, the exact price of a watch is usually based on the brand and design. Analogue, more specifically automatic watches, tend to be more expensive due to the complexity of the craftsmanship. However, there are plenty of good automatic watches available for cheap, and the same goes for digital watches too.

Conclusion

Apple smart watch worn on wrist

In conclusion, digital and analogue watches are both valuable instruments in their own way. Analogue watches provide an elegant, timeless aesthetic, while digital watches offer more versatile features and convenience. Ultimately, it is up to the individual user to decide which type of watch best meets their needs, however, both digital and analogue watches can be found with a variety of styles and price points, making it easy to find a watch that fits your budget and lifestyle.

More Information on the Differences Between Digital and Analogue Watches

If you’re still looking to find out more information on the differences between digital and analogue watches, why not take a look at this helpful video from JackOnWrist:

Other Watch Guides at CALIBRE