Quartz Troubleshooting

1 What you find in a quartz movement

In every watch, no matter if it’s a mechanical or quartz movement, there are key components needed to make it work smoothly. First off, you need an energy source to power the watch. Then, you must have a place to store that energy. After that, there needs to be a mechanism to count and send out the energy, a system to distribute it, and a way to regulate everything so the watch keeps accurate time. Lastly, there needs to be a feature to display the time for you.

In a quartz watch, the energy source actually comes from a chemical reaction. In building the watch battery, it’s built in such a way that there is energy that can be released from it so the battery itself becomes that energy accumulator.

Most of us use the word battery, but the word power cell may be more accurate because a battery typically has got multiple cells, but the little button cells we put in our watches are a single cell, so they’re not technically a battery. I often use the words interchangeably, just know that power cell and battery are referring to the same thing.

In quartz the counting and transmission all takes place in the circuitry of the watch and in the gear train. Both of them play their own parts there.

In a mechanical watch the oscillator is the balance wheel and hairspring but in the quartz movement it’s a quartz crystal that is the regulation device.

The quartz crystal generates a regular frequency, but then that frequency has to be split up and broken down into seconds and some of that action takes place in the integrated circuitry (IC).

The train of wheels in a quartz movement, just like in a mechanical watch, also translate this energy so that you may have the second hand turning once a second or ticking once per second, but then you also have the hour hand and the minute hand and their counting functions and transmission functions that take place via the gears like in a mechanical watch.

1.1 A Difference in Operation

In a quartz movement the coil and the motor kind of serve as the distribution system just like the escapement in a mechanical watch. It is the motor which controls that start and stop and release of energy in the quartz watch.

Just for clarification, when I refer to the motor in a quartz movement, the motor is made up of the coil, the stator and the rotor., components 9, 11 and 12 in the image above.

The motor is made up of a coil of wire, which when electricity flows through that coil, it generates a magnetic field and a piece of metal that runs through that coil called the stator, which becomes magnetized as the electricity flows through that coil around it, and a rotor, which has a permanent or fixed magnet on it.

When the stator becomes magnetized it forces the rotor to turn or rotate and it rotates 180 degrees until the opposite poles are aligned or attracted to each other, and it comes to a stop. The next time that coil is engaged, the electricity flows through it the opposite direction, and the stator’s magnetic field is now the opposite, which again forces the rotor to rotate again.

The shape of the stator and rotor are specifically designed that always forces the rotor to turn in the same direction so that the hands will go in the same or correct direction each time.

Usually there will be a magnetic screen or some protection around that coil, both to keep it from getting damaged and also to protect the other parts of the watch from magnetism.

Other than that, you see the normal things seen in a mechanical movement gear, train bridges, jewels and lubrication.

1.2 The Power Cell

When it comes to the battery in the watch, it can only be one of four things, either its good, its bad, or it the wrong size or the wrong type for the watch.

A good battery in most quartz movements is going to generate more than 1.5 volts or usually about 1.55 volts.

If it’s generating less than that, it’s spent or it’s bad, it’s not generating enough electricity anymore.

It is also possible to have the wrong size or type installed in the watch, which will also create problems with how the movement runs.

In the Japanese battery numbering system, the number for the battery directly correlates to the size of the battery, its height and its diameter, which makes it really easy to find the right battery. The Swiss numbering system doesn’t have that. Sometimes you’ve got to convert between the two of them. but it’s pretty straightforward if you’ve got the right cross reference chart.

The image above shows a silver oxide battery which is made of two sets of chemicals with a separator between them in a container which is called the can.

There is a cathode and the anode, and in between them is a separator and an electrolyte which allows a chemical reaction to take place so that the electrons flow through that separator generating a flow of electricity.

There is also always a little gasket that isolates the positive and the negative sides of the power cell so they can’t touch each other. They would short out and the battery wouldn’t be able to produce any electricity.

There also always has to be an insulating gasket between those two portions and when you see a power cell that has been or is leaking, it’s usually due to the breakdown in this separator gasket.

This particular chemistry that exists in a silver oxide battery is ideal for watches.

The chart above shows three different kinds of battery chemistry.

At the top, we show the silver oxide, and it shows how much voltage it delivers over time.

The main thing to take away from this is the silver oxide battery delivers a little more than one and a half volts, but it does the same voltage very consistently until almost the very end of the battery’s life, and then it drops off at the very end very sharply. You get a very consistent delivery of power voltage from the battery.

The mercury battery, which can’t be sold anymore, delivered about 1.3, 1.35 volts in a very similar fashion, also with a very consistent delivery, and then dropped off at the end.

The alkaline battery, which you will also see used in quartz watches because they are available in the same type of little button cells like the silver oxide, but when you look at its power delivery and lifespan, you’ll notice it goes from that 1.55 volts down very quickly and continues to drop off over the life of the battery instead of providing that consistent delivery like the silver oxide power cell.

 If you use an alkaline battery in a watch, you’re going to get insufficient voltage much earlier in that battery itself.

With most watches, by the time you hit about 1.3 or 1.35 volts, it’s starting to giving you the  end-of-life,(EOL), indicator to let you know it’s time to change the battery and as you can see you’re going to get that in an alkaline power cell when the battery’s only a quarter dead and that’s why you should never use an alkaline battery in a quartz watch.

1.3 High Drain Low Drain Power Cells

Another difference in power cells is in the type of chemistry used in the cell. It’s either a sodium hydroxide solution or a potassium hydroxide solution, and these produce two different effects.

You still get the 1.55 volts, but with the sodium electrolyte you get what we call a low-drain battery. What that means is as long as there isn’t a large current consumption, it can deliver 1.55 volts consistently.

But if the current consumption starts to go above about 100 microamps, it starts delivering less capacity, less voltage, and it drops off very quickly like you see in the red line.

Once you get up to 1 milliamp, you’re not getting good use of that type of cell at all. With the potassium electrolyte, you can go much farther. So, from 100 microamps, you’re still very effective at 1 milliamp and even at 10 milliamps, you’re pretty good.

It doesn’t drop off all the way until you’re up at 100 milliamps. So, the bottom line is you need to use the right battery for the right type of movement.

If you have a watch that can produce that high drain or that high consumption of energy, you need to use a high drain battery in it so that it doesn’t stop working when that drain is placed on the battery.

So, what might produce that kind of drain? Most watches, like your basic time-only quartz watch, are going to operate at about 1 microamp which is way down on the left side of the chart. Even a chronograph is going to usually only creep up 4 to 6 microamps. None of those need a high drain battery. A low drain battery is perfectly acceptable for all of those examples.

What kind of movement needs a high drain battery?

  1. If you’ve got a watch that has an LCD light in it or an LCD crystal display with a light that can illuminate it, that’s going to consume a lot of power so that’s going to require a high drain cell.
  2. A movement with an alarm function also draws a lot of electricity and needs a high drain battery.

1.4 Multi-drain batteries

Energizer, for example, is one company who has replaced high and low drain batteries in their line with a multi-drain battery. Based on everything I have seen a multi-drain battery is a high drain battery .and it will meet the requirements of a high drain cell, and it will meet the requirements of a low drain cell

So why are there high drain and low drain batteries if you can just use a high drain battery? Well, the chemistry in a high drain battery doesn’t last as long as it does in a low drain battery. So, while it can deliver that higher burst of energy when needed, it will run out sooner, even if it’s only being used with a low amount of energy. A multi-drain battery won’t have quite as long a life as a low-drain battery would in the same situation.

Multi drain cells will have a 15%, 120% shorter lifespan than a high-drain battery or a low-drain battery used in the correct situation.

1.5 Capacitors

Number one, capacitors are not rechargeable batteries and are not silver oxide batteries. What you have in an eco-drive or a kinetic or an auto quartz movement are not normal silver oxide batteries, and they are not interchangeable.

You need to replace them with what they are. They have different naming and numbering conventions.

Even if they’re the same size, they are not interchangeable. Order the correct thing, right?

And you will find capacitors and rechargeable batteries in these eco-drive and kinetic watches.

The generating coils in an auto quartz or kinetic movement also have published resistance values.

So, if the problem is that it doesn’t seem to be charging, make sure the resistance values of those coils are correct.

1.6 Correctly Testing a Battery

When you test the battery for a watch, you should test it under load.

The basic watch battery tester is just giving you the straight across voltage without any load. When you put a load on it or a little bit of consumption, that voltage typically drops.

This is important to know because when the battery is in the watch it is under load.

So, this battery tests 1.56 volts with a little bit of load on it, it’s 1.51 volts.

Remember with a basic battery tester, every time you test a battery it drains the battery a little bit.

2 The Integrated Circuit or IC

The first role we’re going to talk about for the circuitry is that of electrical distribution. It helps the power or the energy flow through the watch.

In the role of electric power distribution, the circuit board can either be good, bad, or disconnected.

If the IC is good, everything flows through it and all the programming functions as it should. If it’s bad, either it’s broken somewhere preventing the power from flowing through it, or the programming has become corrupt but that is much less common.

When troubleshooting a non-running movement problem, it’s possible that the circuitry isn’t properly connected or making connection with the battery or with the coil or with the different parts of the watch preventing the flow of power.

One of the things you will see in many quartz movements is that the main plate serves as a part of the electrical transmission circuit and might have a point on the circuit that uses a screw to connect a part of the circuitry to the main plate and then uses another screw to transfer it to a different part of the circuitry so that the electricity can flow there.

That means a loose screw in a quartz watch can actually stop it from running.

Because electricity flows through those screws, that’s the most important reason why you put them through the cleaning machine. This ensures they are clean so that the electricity can flow as it contacts the metal and with the circuitry. You always should be cleaning the screws in any watch, but especially in quartz watches.

So, if the watch isn’t working, always test the screws.

2.1 Cell Strap

Another area where electrical flows that is attached to the circuitry is the cell strap or the connection to the battery.

A corroded cell strap can very likely stop the flow of electricity from taking place as electricity doesn’t like to flow through rust and corrosion.

To properly clean these you can sometimes use a fiberglass brush or a brass brush but that has the tendency of removing the gold plating which will lead to more corrosion and connection problems with the power cell.

It’s much safer to use either a fiberglass scratch brush or even a rubber pencil eraser but the most important thing is that you clean up any debris left behind because even the smallest bit of residue leftover will stop the movement from running

So, the best practice is that if you have to clean one of these contacts, you really need to service the whole movements because you’re going to have to remove the circuit. If the Cell strap is missing the plating after cleaning it is best to replace it.

2.2 The Battery Insulator

If this is missing or damaged, that could cause a short circuit, which then would cause the circuitry not to work. What is even a bigger problem than the electricity not flowing, is electricity flowing to the wrong place. That could drain your battery or even blow circuitry.

You should check to make sure that the insulator is clean and not damaged because that’s between the battery and the main plate and like I said before, sometimes the main plate is part of the electrical transmission of the watch so that could produce a direct short circuit, preventing the movement from working.

2.3 The Quartz Crystal and Proper Temperature

One of the first places the electricity flows as it moves through the IC from the battery, is to the quartz crystal. It’s directed through the circuitry out to the quartz crystal. The flow of electricity starts the crystal vibrating, and this vibration of the crystal can be affected or influenced by the temperature.

This chart is for a tuning fork shaped quartz crystal that’s used in 99.999% of quartz watches. At 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius, the crystal vibrates at the fastest rate.

And as the temperature gets warmer or colder than that, it vibrates at a little bit of a slower rate.

So, it’s important to think about temperature when you’re testing the rates of a quartz watch. You will also notice that the optimal temperature is pretty close to what we consider room temperature.

In the picture above, the red line represents body temperature to slightly below room temperature. In the real world, everything from 60 degrees to 95 degrees is for the most part the range the watch is normally going to operate in.

In this case, the peak rate is typically about 0.1 or 0.2 seconds above that. That way, as the watch fluctuates within that temperature range, it’s still not losing any time. The movement won’t really lose time until it gets warmer than 95 degrees or cooler than 60 degrees.

3 Testing the Rate

There are 2 ways a testing machine can test for the rate. It can do it by listening to either the crystal or from listening to the motor.

The Horotec flashtester receives magnetic signals from the motor of the watch. The device measures the stability of the rate of the watch and calculates an average by a specific method from the received impulses (the average is given in sec/month).

The rate when measured from the quartz crystal is before its corrected by inhibition so the rate measured from the motor is more accurate and therefore more relevant.

When testing for rate there are a couple of things we need to think about.

  1. The quartz crystal is affected by temperature so if that number is crazy ask yourself what is the temperature of the watch?
  2. If the rate is really bad, it could mean that the housing that the crystal is contained in is cracked.

The crystal vibrates inside a vacuum tube that is sealed with all the air removed so that it’s in a vacuum.  This is to prevent the crystal from being affected by barometric pressure. It also helps to insulate the crystal, so the temperature effects aren’t as immediate or as readily noticeable to the crystal.

  • If the watch has a trimmer, you can actually adjust this rate by rotating the trimmer screw on the watch.

Now we’ve got this consistent pulse of electricity coming out of the quartz crystal, it goes back into the integrated circuit, and it’s going to be used somehow in order to cause the motor to turn.

The integrated circuit now does some trimming activity, the inhibition activity, and end of life are all controlled in the IC. There are several things that take place here, and we’re going to discuss next.

3.1 Rate adjustment systems

Trimmer

A trimmer is an adjustable capacitor that you rotate like a screw. It’s actually a cam, but it looks like a screw on the top of it and by turning it, you change the capacitance of the capacitor, which forces the crystal to vibrate slightly differently to get a little different rate of pulses from the crystal. With the trimmer system, as the watchmaker, you can adjust the rate by moving the trimmer a little bit one way or the direction.

It’s usually a different color than the other screws that you can identify on the movement When you turn a trimmer, you should use a non-conductive tool to rotate it. They make special screwdrivers for trimmers. If you go to Amazon and look for a screwdriver for trimmers, it’ll probably have a ceramic blade.

If you don’t use an insulated screwdriver, it doesn’t do any permanent damage but just keep in mind that when checking the rate, the reading is going to not be accurate until after a couple minutes.

This is technology that for the most part hasn’t been used for a while, but you still see movements with trimmers come across your bench.

Fixed Capacitor

When a manufacture times out the crystal, then they can put a fixed capacitor in the IC, which forces the crystal to vibrate at the right speed. This is often used in stopwatches, and you wouldn’t see it used very much in wristwatches. Fixed capacitors can only be adjusted in the production process.

Inhibition

The quartz crystal by itself vibrates at 32,768 beats per second, which is what we see in modern quartz watches and is very easily accurate to a couple of seconds a day. With some correction and some control, they can be much more accurate than that.

Quartz watches maintain precision through the rhythmic vibrations of quartz crystals. Inhibition constantly monitors quartz crystal vibrations and automatically detects and corrects deviations caused by external factors like temperature changes.

With this digital rate correction provided by inhibition, quartz was now able to increase the accuracy to the range of 10 or 20 seconds a month.

Imagine this tiny crystal that vibrates 32,768 times a second. The Integrated circuit or IC takes these vibrations and splits them in half a bunch of times.

Now, every 32,768th vibration, it’s like the circuit says, “Alright, motor, it’s your turn to do something!” It ignores the other vibrations and only pays attention to that special last one.

But sometimes the crystal vibrates a bit too fast, and you get 32,769 vibrations instead. The watch uses the inhibition system. It will count up to 32,768 for 59 times (once a second), and on the 60th cycle, it doesn’t count as high. Depending on how the circuit has been programed, It might stop at 32,760 and then it will throw away the extra eight vibrations to make the adjustment.

By doing this, Inhibition corrects for the fast vibrations, making sure the average rate over a minute is just right. This makes the motor in the watch keep time more accurate than if it relied only on the 32,768 vibrations of the crystal.

This inhibition system is always adjusted in production and cannot be adjusted without very expensive equipment.

Typically, if there is a problem with the rate and there is not a trimmer screw, you’re just going to replace the circuitry.

When we measure the rate by listening to the motor instead of listening to the crystal vibrating, we’re measuring the magnetic field that’s generated when the rotor turns. You are actually measuring how often the motor is turned on to force the gear train to move. You are in a sense, when checking the rate measured at the motor, making sure that inhibition is functioning properly.

This rate measured from the motor is given as seconds per month.

3.2 What can affect the Rate

  1. It’s affected by the programming of the watch or by the trimmer if there is one.

In the case of the trimmer, you can make those adjustments and changing the rate of the programming is not very common.

3.3 The Motor

Remember the motor is made up of three parts, it’s got a coil of wire, it’s got a stator and a rotor.

What can go wrong with the motor? Usually, it’s the coil.

The coil can either be cut so that the electricity doesn’t flow through it, or it can have a short so that the electricity flows across the coils latterly instead of around in a circle or it can be cut so that it’s connected to the main plate and the electricity flows from the coil down into the main plate instead of through the wires and back out the wire on the other side.

Even a scratched coil that tests correctly can be a problem down the road. Let’s say somebody was changing the battery and their tool slipped across this. These wires are insulated, and you can remove some of that insulation, exposing the wires, which can then corrode.

They may look good now, but in a couple of months, they may be corroded, and they may break because of that corrosion causing the watch to stop.

Scrapes to the coil also change the resistance value, causing it not to be able to rotate the rotor as it needs to. Even if you slip and touch the coil, you think you get lucky and you look at the second hand and it’s still running, in theory, it is damaged and it will fail. It’s just a matter of time.

The coil wire has to be a continuous undamaged coil in order for it to function properly.

4 Integrated Circuit with Asservisement

In 1982, another technology called Asservisement, or adaptive motor pulses came along, which really helped extend the battery life of quartz watches.

When you see a movement stamped “ASS”, in this case it stands for Asservisement. It has to do with the power control for the motor in a quartz watch.

In the most basic sense, it can sense how well the rotor is turning and will alter the power delivery to optimize battery life while still having the power to overcome the extra load of tripping the calendar or if the watch is a little old and it takes a bit more effort due to old/ bad oils.

It’s been around for a while, so it will pretty much be common on most watches for the last few decades. For a real-world example, if you take a quartz with asservisement, if everything is working well and it’s not near midnight, it might be drawing 0.9uA, but as it approaches midnight, it needs the extra power and might be pulling 1.3uA. until the date trips and the power drops back down.

Asservisement is just a fancy French word for which is essentially a motor management system sometimes called a controlled motor drive.

Circuits used to be stamped ASS for asservisement.

This is a system designed totally to make batteries last longer. It’s an efficiency system.

What the circuitry does is that it delivers, in this case, a pulse in less than 8 milliseconds or about 7.8 milliseconds of electricity that looks like the top image below. That generates the magnetic field for enough time to allow that rotor to turn 180 degrees, which is what’s necessary.

Now imagine turning your lights on for 7.8 milliseconds, on and off, on and off.

In a system that has asservisement, instead of flipping that light switch once and holding that for 7.8 milliseconds and turning it off, it gets flipped on multiple times during that 7.8 milliseconds.

If you look at the bottom graph above and you can see a bunch of short pulses, it gets turned on and off for a bunch of short bursts.

The end result is that you’ve used 40% less electricity, but you’ve still generated a magnetic field sufficient to cause the rotor to turn. That’s because that field isn’t instant. It grows and then it shrinks

In the time when it’s not sending it, that magnetic field hasn’t shrunk yet. It’s still doing its job.

You can get this extra efficiency out of the power cell by doing this. That’s all asservisement is, is instead of delivering one long pulse, which is obviously very short, but to delivering shorter pulses.

Then there’s a second component to asservisement. This is a testing mechanism in which it can test to see whether or not the rotor actually made its rotation.

Just like you can run electricity through the coil, and it generates a magnetic field, if you run a magnet across the coil, it generates electricity back because there is a magnet on the rotor.

When you run electricity through the coil, it forces that to turn and then when you turn the magnet off, the rotor wobbles and then it comes to a stop. It doesn’t just come to an abrupt stop. There’s no braking system.

It’s the magnetic field that causes it to stop. It goes a little bit past and then it comes back and eventually it settles. If you look at a quartz clock on the wall with your loop, you can actually see this in the clock hands. The hands don’t come to a stop. and they wobble a little bit. That wobble is very characteristic.

If that rotor makes its turn, it’s generating electricity back, they turn off the electricity and then they start measuring to see if it’s generating electricity, if the coil is generating electricity and it generates it in the right pattern, then the circuitry knows that it successfully completed its turn of the rotor.

You get this circuit like in the picture above. It goes up and down, then pulses and then it turns off and then it waits a little bit of time here and then it says, is there electricity generated here? If there is, it says, great, it rotated. If it doesn’t rotate, it delivers immediately, and we’re talking milliseconds here, you wouldn’t even notice the delay, but it gives another pulse at a much higher, stronger, full force bit of electricity to generate a larger magnetic field to force that to rotate and then tests to see if it turned.

It actually will step up a couple of times here quickly and you won’t even notice it. Once it succeeds, it’s happy and then it will continue to deliver those stronger pulses for about four minutes and then it will try to deliver the smaller pulses again.

That way it can run as efficiently as possible so then it will step down until it finds the least amount of electricity it can use to keep this thing running.

Why does it do that?

It may be harder to turn the gear train or when the calendar is engaged, now you’re have a disk to rotate, that takes more energy and it’s going to take a stronger magnetic field to rotate that, which means more electricity to rotate while powering the gear train.

This allows it to deliver more energy when it needs to, when something like a calendar change happens, but still run very efficiently for the rest of the time.

The end result is you can create thinner movements, with smaller batteries and all this other stuff and still have the watches run for a nice long service interval.

5 Factors that affect Consumption (battery life)

There are multiple factors which affect the consumption and the battery life of the movement.

  1. Condition of the coil.

If the coil has a short in it, it will have less resistance and it will consume more electricity so the battery will not last as long.

  • If it has a dead short to ground, the battery will probably be dead in a couple of minutes.
  • The mechanics of the watch also affect the consumption of the battery.

The harder it is to turn the motor, the more electricity is used by the watch, whether or not there’s special programming like inhibition in the watch movement or not.

Think of it like this. If you’ve ever been at your polishing motor and you’ve really put the bracelet or ring or whatever it is your polishing and really drove that into the motor and you can feel the resistance of the motor, the motor is really having a drag put on it.

If it’s harder to turn the motor, it’s going to draw more electricity to make that happen.

  • the next thing that can affect the consumption of battery life is the programming of the watch, whether it has inhibition or not.
  • And of course, the trimmer. As you rotate that trimmer, you are forcing the crystal to vibrate not in its natural frequency. so, it takes more electricity to force that crystal to vibrate unnaturally than it does for it to vibrate naturally.

The trimmers should be paired to the natural frequency of the crystal as closely as possible. But if you have to turn that thing a lot to get the rate back to normal, you may also notice your consumption go up in that watch and the battery life shortened.

The Gear Train

Interruptions in the gear train are connected to the electrical and will cause consumption to go up.

If the gear train is completely blocked, you’re going to see asservisement kick in and you’re going to see your consumption levels go up.

Even if you don’t have asservisement you’re still going to see those consumptions go up because it’s trying to force the train to rotate.

Things that can cause the consumption to go up based on the gear train are debris or dirt in the gear train, a bent wheel or metal shavings that might have gotten in there.

  • The date change

When we’re testing consumption levels, we need to make sure that the date is not engaged, otherwise we’re going to get higher readings.

High consumption levels can also be something beyond the gear train. It might be the hands rubbing on the crystal, or even when you have a watch that has steel hands because high carbon steel hands, can become magnetized.

With magnetized hands, as they go past one another, they’re attracted to each other, and the motor has to work a little harder to get those hands to push past each other so consumption goes up.

If you’ve got a watch with steel hands, you might make sure those hands aren’t over top of each other. Make sure they’re 180 degrees apart when you do this test to make sure they’re not affecting the consumption test. And, of course, demagnetizing them so that they don’t attract each other there.

And I’m going to show you a couple of times where I mess with the gear train here so you

can see those effects.

  1. And the last thing is the display.

This is something that is often overlooked, but it’s a common place for problems in any watch. The hands should be horizontal to each other and certainly not touching anything, that’s going to produce a drag on the motor, or it may stop it completely.

6 The three levels of test equipment.

simple battery testers

With a battery tester, the only thing you can test is the battery’s voltage, which is good information, but absolutely the minimum that you need.

Multimeters

With a multimeter, you can still test the battery voltage and you can typically test the coil resistance as well.

esters like the Horotec Flash Test that I use, the Witschi New Tech Handy II, the Analyzer Q1, Analyzer or even the Greiner Compact 900

With this advanced technology, you get better tests which are needed to troubleshoot quartz movements.

You can test the rate of the quartz oscillator, the rate of the motor impulses, the consumption of the circuitry by itself or the consumption of the circuitry including with the motor rotating.

You can test for the presence and function of the end-of-life indicator (EOL), asservisement, or you can test the lower working limit to see how efficiently it’s running.

In the most recent equipment, you can test the pulse width and drive efficiency tests.

You also have a pulse generator tester, which is useful for doing tests on chronographs and alarm movements and other quality or troubleshooting with those types of watches.

Once you’ve done the tests, what do you do with the numbers from the tests?

7 Tech Guides

The manufacturers typically have published values and will even show you how to perform the tests in their tech guides so you can use those tech guides to interpret the numbers to know whether or not it’s running within the standards and specifications indicated by the manufacturer.

You can perform these tests and if all the numbers come back within specs and the watch is running, you’re good, you’re done, you are a happy customer.

You should have confidence that that watch is going to work as it should and the battery is going to last a good while.

But if you encounter problems along the way, these tests are useful tools to help you determine, specifically, whether the problem is electrical or mechanical.

Then you can use your normal troubleshooting and diagnostic tools to figure out what the mechanical fault might be. You can then use additional tests to figure out what the electrical problems might be in the watch.

8 Troubleshooting

We have two main systems in a quartz movement. We actually have more systems than that, but we can split it most simplistically into two systems, an electrical system and a mechanical system.

Which of these two systems is causing the problem is the first thing we need to figure out.

Because an electrical problem may be quick and easy to fix, and sometimes a mechanical problem typically can be solved quick and easy as well. Sometimes though it requires a full service of the movement, or you may decide that it’s in your best interest just to replace the full movement because a full service might not be warranted based on the value of the watch or the quartz movement.

This troubleshooting chart is adapted from the one in Citizens Tech Guides for quartz watches.

You can print it out and go through it.

This is one workflow, which will help you find the issue. It is not the only workflow that will help you find the problem. You can do these things in a different order but this one is pretty efficient.

There may be one that might be a little more efficient, but I’m going to not really discuss the efficiency of the troubleshooting process to a large extent and just rather what you can learn from each step.

So, let’s look at where you might go with your testing first and what conclusions you might draw along each step in the process.

For example, looking at this chart, it says if the watch is stopped, you’re going to check and see first is the quartz crystal vibrating. Do you have a signal from the quartz vibrating?

If you do, you’re going to jump to # 3 and you’re going to check screw tightness and check to see if all the connections are good.

If the crystal is not vibrating, you’re going to start with # 1 by testing power cell voltage.

Then it just goes through all the different steps from there until you get to the end when you should have a working watch if you follow those steps.

8 .1 Basic Electrical Tests

These are the core electrical tests that I think you should do on most every battery or service on a quartz watch.

Battery voltage, as I mentioned earlier, of the old battery. If you’ve got a modern tester like the Q1 here in this picture, you can hook up the two probes and you can get the quartz rate, motor rate, base consumption, total consumption, and drive level simply by waiting a minute and doing nothing else. They will all display on the screen at the same time.

On this screen, you’ve got the motor’s rate, the quartz rate, total consumption, the consumption of the IC or the base consumption. It also indicates the inhibition cycle and therefore it’s present and how often the motor is ticking.

An additional test you can do simply by changing the voltage and lowering the voltage, you’ll be able to see the lowest working limit. If all these numbers are good, I wouldn’t go on and do any other tests.

If any of these tests prove out of tolerance, we begin the troubleshooting procedure and we’re going to start looking at some of the other tests.

These tests right here are kind of the bare minimum on a watch.

8.2 Troubleshooting the Battery

What can we learn from the Battery Voltage You need to know that the condition of the battery is good, right?

As mentioned earlier, if you take the old battery out of the watch and it’s good, it has one and a half volts or even 1.4 volts and the watch is not running, you know there’s an additional problem and you need to start the troubleshooting process. The Battery’s good, the watch is not running, start the troubleshooting process.

Maybe the battery isn’t held in place by the cell strap properly and when the watch takes a shock, it loosens the battery

That can happen if the battery is too small or sometimes a previous technician who changed the battery last, just left the cell strap out altogether and now the battery can pop up when it’s supposed to be held down in place.

Lots of things there to think about just from the battery by itself. like corrosion. You want to start around the battery and the flow of electricity.

If you are able to test the rate of the quartz crystal vibrating, It’s not really that useful by itself. What it tells you is the condition of the crystal. Is it vibrating and how fast is it vibrating? But, if the watch has inhibition, the rate of the oscillator doesn’t tell you anything about how fast the watch is really running because inhibition has not made its corrections.

What it does tell you is that it’s going to be maybe four seconds, maybe six seconds fast. You don’t usually see that, and you don’t ever really ever see slow in the real world. It’s rare to ever see faster than that unless it an older movement with a trimmer., but that’s rare. So, if you measure the rate from the quartz crystal and it’s not in that 4-6 spd range, you have to start wondering, what’s going on here?

It’s better to look at the motor rate to see what’s going on. If both the crystal rate and motor rate are both out of alignment, right?

If the rate of the crystal has changed from when it left the factory, the inhibition isn’t going to be doing the correct job and that rate is also going to be bad. But the programing just doesn’t change unless the IC has been compromised by a short so you might look at the condition of the oscillator. Is that little canister cracked? Is the testing temperature right? What’s the temperature of the watch.

8.3 Rate of the motor impulses.

What can we learn from this? We learn the actual running rate of the watch, assuming that it’s not stopping intermittently. We learn what the rate is on a monthly basis.  We also can learn whether the watch has inhibition and whether that is functioning as it should.

On some of the early watches that had inhibition had these three exposed wires in a cutout on the circuitry and you could actually break those wires to change the inhibition cycles. Of course, if you find this, somebody’s probably already changed it, and you can only go in one direction with those. So highly unlikely that you can make meaningful corrections with that.

8.4 Two types of Consumption values.

This is probably hands down the most important test you can do.

The base consumption tells you the condition of the IC and the baseline should be published in the tech sheets. If the base consumption value is higher, lower or way out of whack from what it’s supposed to be, it tells you either there’s no power getting to the circuitry, so there’s no consumption at all, or there’s some kind of a short.

That’s the only thing really that can go wrong with base consumption. So, unless you are repairing circuitry, it’s time for a new circuit.

The total consumption, which includes the motor impulses, will give you some information about the condition of the gear train or other possible mechanical faults.

If the total consumption is high, it typically means that either there’s something wrong with the coil or the gear train.

So, from the consumption test, if it’s high, go test your coil. If your coil resistance is within range, then it’s a mechanical fault.

That might mean it needs to be cleaned and serviced. The oils are old and gummy, there’s dirt or debris or lint in the movement that’s dragging the gear train.

There might be a piece of metal shaving stuck to the rotor. It’s a magnet so if there’s any metal shavings in there, that’s where they’re going to go. It might be rubbing, causing it to run inefficiently, but it might also be hands touching the crystal or the dial or each other.

Maybe the dial foot is broken or bent causing the dial to be off center and the dial hole is touching or rubbing against the post as the hands turn. And as I mentioned earlier, maybe that coil has got some damage.

Unlike a mechanical watch, quartz movements operate under a very small amount of torque. This is why jewels are not needed as much. Anything including a speck of dust can stop a quartz movement from running.

8.5 Coil resistance.

I mentioned that if you’ve got problems with consumption the next thing you do is test your coil resistance. You’re going to look for the condition of the coil. It may be cut or damaged in some small way.

Typically, this happens when somebody’s tool slips when they’re opening the watch and certainly if that happens to you, you need to replace the coil, so make the repair.

If the coil is open, you’ll have no motor pulses at all, and your resistance will be infinity

Usually there are two motor points labeled with an M on an ETA circuit where you can put the positive and negative ones to get that with the test meter in the resistance section.

Or there are little gold colored connection points near the coil. You do need to be careful though, that typically if they’re the two right next to the coil, that’s where the wires are connected for the coil and the wires are super small.

You need to be careful not to damage those wires as you’re testing the resistance. You want to stay away from the wires coming out of that.

The battery should be out of the watch when you test the coil resistance, otherwise you’ll be getting the resistance of the battery in addition to the resistance of the coil by itself.

If the coil can be removed, if it’s separate from the rest of the circuitry, you should test it disconnected from the rest of the circuitry.

The coil can also have a short in it and it can be short in a couple of different ways.

It can be shorted to the IC.

When that happens, what you will get is an asymmetrical consumption value, meaning one pulse will have one value and the next one will have a different value and it’ll alternate back and forth between those two.

That’s because of the different energy flows to the coil, unless it’s cut exactly in the middle, you’ll be getting different amounts of the coil each time as the energy flows.

Different amounts of energy from the coil mean different resistance, mean different consumption.

The watch usually won’t work, it might work, but usually it doesn’t, but you will see those alternating consumption values.

The consumption will always be high when there’s a short because there’s less coil, less wire, which means less resistance, and less resistance means the energy flows more easily through it and so you get a higher consumption usage.

The other way it can short out is to itself.

The most common thing that causes this to happen is when somebody has run something against the coil and then they’ve gone to repair it with some of that epoxy or something like it and so this repair has caused the electricity to skip over some of the coils and short across.

That’s what it’s going to do.

It’s going to short out the cut coils or missed coils, but it is possible for the watch to run still.

You don’t need every single coil for the watch to run, but it will run with a higher consumption and there will be less power available to drive the watch, so it may stop sooner as the condition deteriorates.

Short story is if any of the values of the coil are out of tolerance, you really should replace the coil.

Repairing the coil is reserved for only when coils absolutely aren’t available. If a coil is available, that is preferable, the coil or the complete circuit with the coil attached to any repair when possible.