How long do digital watches last and do they waste time?

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In a world where mechanical watches are admired for their technical genius and smartwatches praised for their health and fitness features, it’s easy to forget the humble digital watch.

With their simpler, slimmer design, crisp, bright displays, and super long battery life, they’re a great option when efficient functionality is essential. But how long do they last and waste time? To find out, you must first explain how digital watches work.

How do digital watches keep the time?

It may surprise you to learn that digital watches tell the time in the same way as all other quartz watches. They don’t have the same ticking mechanism as a quartz watch with a dial and hands, but they still use crystal to keep the time.

Simply put, a small piece of quartz crystal is mounted on the electronic circuitry of a digital watch. An electrical charge is sent from the battery to the quartz crystal, which then acts as an oscillator, vibrating at precisely 32,768 times per second. The circuit then counts these vibrations and uses its precise timing to generate an electrical pulse every second. This causes an analog quartz watch to tick, and the display of a digital watch advances by one second.

The display of a digital watch is controlled by an element of the circuit called a counter. This counts the pulses coming from the oscillating quartz crystal and creates a binary number. This is then converted by the electronic chip of the watch into hours, minutes and seconds. A signal is then sent to the screen, telling it which segments to use to display the correct time.

BRAUN BN0159

(Image credit: Braun)

What wastes a digital watch’s time?

The battery in any quartz watch will eventually lose its charge as its energy reserves run out. This drops the voltage supplied to the movement or digital display, causing each second to last longer than it should. Eventually there is not enough power in the battery to update the digital display and the watch stops.

Digital watches can also waste (or save) time depending on environmental factors, such as ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure. The hot air will vibrate the quartz crystal slightly faster than magic 32,768 times per second, which will cause the watch to run slightly fast. The reverse is also true, and cold air can cause little vibration, which means a waste of time.

But these gains and losses are much less than that of a mechanical watch movement, and generally, digital watches are said to gain or lose about 20 seconds of time per month.

Timex Shipping

(Image credit: Timex)

How long do digital watches last?

This can vary widely, depending on the type of battery the watch uses, the number of additional features such as alarms and timers (as well as how often they are used) and whether the watch has a solar panel to recharge the battery. .

Generally speaking, the battery of a modern digital watch should last at least two years, and in some cases can last four, five or even six years. How often you use the additional features of the watch, and the backlight if it has one, will affect battery life.

It is important not to leave features like the stopwatch running all the time and to always use the correct type of battery. For the latter, that means using a battery that can be recharged via solar power in a watch with a solar panel on its face. If such a battery is not used, the cell will drain much faster than normal.

As for the total lifespan of a digital watch, it can indeed last a very long time. Unlike complex mechanical watches, they have no moving parts (unless you count the vibrating quartz) and do not require regular maintenance. The bracelet is more likely to wear out and break before the circuit and quartz fail. Add all of this to their low price tag, and digital watches are an attractive option for those looking for an affordable and reliable timepiece that won’t let them down.

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