This Is One of the Most Expensive Quartz Wristwatches Ever Sold

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We watch nerds tend to think of mechanical movements as being superior to their quartz counterparts—if not technologically, then at least romantically.

After all, there’s something inherently magical about a mass of cogs, wheels, and tiny jewels working in concert to propel a set of hands around a dial using nothing more than the potential energy stored in a spring. For whatever reason, the introduction of a piece of crystal and a battery simply dissolves this magic, with the result that many collectors simply aren’t willing to shell out big bucks for a quartz-powered timepiece. (And all this despite the fact that quartz technology is worlds more accurate than mechanical!)

But those in the know acknowledge certain exceptions to this rule—indeed, sometimes a quartz-powered watch comes along that’s simply too innovative, too cool to ignore. The F.P. Journe Élégante is one such model. Its beating heart is nothing like the cheap, mall-bought fare that stops working after a year on the wrist of your 10-year-old. Rather, it features a unique electromechanical movement that integrates a microprocessor to conserve energy. Once the watch is idle for roughly half an hour, it switches over into a type of standby mode—the hands cease their dance around the dial, but the movement continues to track time internally. After the watch is put back on the wrist, the hands jump back to their rightful place at the correct, current time and continue moving. This sophisticated system, with its exposed inertia weight visible at roughly 4:30 on the dial, allows for a power reserve of eight to 10 years when in use and 18 years in standby.

That’s why an Élégante will set you back several tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the configuration. Just a few days ago, Phillips, in concert with F.P. Journe itself, auctioned off a special Élégante 48mm Titalyt for an eye-watering $420,000, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. That makes this the second-most expensive quartz watch ever and the most expensive not buoyed by the presence of diamonds. This Titalyt, so called for the dark-colored, hardness-enhancing, treatment of its Grade 5 titanium Tortue case—which actually measures 40mm in diameter and 48mm lug-to-lug—is special for its dial, which sees the stylized numeral “1” executed in pink, rather than the black of the standard production model, and paired to a pink rubber strap.

While the Élégante was originally launched as a ladies’ collection, the Titalyt’s 40mm-wide case was designed “for mens’ wrist or ladies who like to wear oversized watches,” according to the brand. With its fetching blend of classically-inspired dial and incredible modern technology, there’s little wonder that Journe’s male clients were interested in a larger version of the original Élégante. Indeed, there are very few battery-powered watches that get collectors’ hearts racing—but if anyone was going to build one that would capture the imagination of horological nerds everywhere, it was François-Paul Journe, widely considered one of the greatest watchmakers of our time.

Correction 3/4: An earlier version of this article referred to the F.P. Journe Élégante 48mm Titalyt as the most expensive quartz watch ever sold. It is actually the most expensive non-gem-set quartz watch ever sold, and ranks second overall behind this diamond-covered Graff timepiece sold at Christie’s in 2019.

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