Why is Citizen Eco-Drive so underrated? Why is Citizen Eco-Drive so underrated?

Why is Citizen Eco-Drive so underrated?

Adam Reeder

The first three Eco-Drive movements were introduced by Citizen in 1995. Eco-Drive movements are solar-powered quartz movements that collect energy via solar cells and store it in a long-life battery. While plenty of solar-powered watches existed before the Eco-Drive models, Citizen was able to mount the solar cells underneath the dial rather than on top of it. This had never been done before in a solar-powered watch and opened up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of design. When they were launched in the mid-nineties, Eco-Drive watches were relatively popular and they remain so to this day. However, the technology is still quite underrated and, to my mind, underappreciated by the bulk of the luxury watch-buying public. But why is that? I have a few theories.

The stigma of quartz

Citizen Eco Drive Brushed Stainless Steel

There’s an old adage in the world of luxury watch collecting. It can be heard regularly at watch meetups around the world, between the clinking of champagne flutes and the crunching of caviar-topped crackers. The phrase is  “Look at that loser! They’re wearing a quartz watch! For shame! For shaaaaaaame!” While I may be slightly misquoting, the sentiment is the same. For many people who count themselves among the watch-loving elite, only a mechanical watch will do. Quartz is seen as a lower-tier product when compared to mechanical movements.

As someone who, admittedly, prefers mechanical watches to quartz-regulated ones, I can absolutely appreciate the technological wonder of the Eco-Drive movement. I also recognise the irony in proclaiming mechanical watches as superior to battery-powered watches in any sort of technical manner. On paper, quartz technology blows mechanical watches out of the water.

We all know that mechanical watches are more romantic, fun to wind, and we love to think of the hundreds of hours it takes to hand-assemble a beautiful mechanical movement. But there’s one tiny advantage that quartz watches have over mechanical ones that we tend to ignore. They’re far more accurate than mechanical watches. So, yes. While your vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava makes you feel like like you’re wearing a Lord Byron poem on your wrist, it also makes you late for your appointments. That one little spec that we all ignore about Eco-Drive, and almost all other quartz watches, is the one thing that a watch is supposedly intended for; telling the actual time.

Misunderstanding of the tech

Citizen Eco Drive Black Stainless Steel

While Eco-Drive movements are by no means more complicated than a mechanical movement, understanding the tech behind them seems a bridge too far for many watch geeks. The criticism I’ve heard about Eco-Drive watches more than any other is some variation of “Duuuude…What if it’s cloudy? Won’t the watch, like, stop working and, like, fall off my wrist or something? Are you gonna eat those biscuits?” Again, I may be slightly misquoting.

That doesn’t negate the fact that many people just don’t know a lot about the technical specs of Eco-Drive watches. They’re not aware that many new Eco-Drive models have a power reserve of a year, with some power save models boasting an absurd 7-year power reserve in total darkness. Citizen also claims that the rechargeable batteries powering the watches often last between 20 and 40 years before needing a replacement. That’s almost half of the wait time at your local Rolex AD!

Lack of a coronet logo on the dial

Citizen Eco Drive Black Washi Paper Dial Limited Edition AQ4103 16E IMG04

Speaking of Rolex, Eco-Drive watches suffer the opposite marketing fate of Hans Wilsdorf’s spawn. Citizen doesn’t carry the same brand prestige as Rolex and many other luxury watch brands. Despite the impressive technology behind the Eco-Drive line, most people aren’t wearing a Citizen watch to intimidate business associates at the country club.

Call it style over substance, but Citizen, while respected by most people in and out of the watch world, is not necessarily an aspirational brand. It’s a solid brand, but you’re not likely to see your favourite rapper flashing a diamond-encrusted Eco-Drive in a music video any time soon. That doesn’t mean Citizen isn’t worthy of our admiration for their engineering and innovation. It just means that if you know, you know. If you don’t, you buy the most flashy expensive thing you can think of.

A praiseworthy watch

Citizen Eco Drive Limited Edition Dial

Despite the Eco-Drive’s status as an underrated line of watches, it continues to be a workhorse product for Citizen. Eco-Drive movements will likely never go away because the technology is just too good for practical everyday use. So, even though it may not get oohs and ahs at your local watch meetup, the Eco-Drive watch has earned its place at the table. It can hold its own against any watch in terms of accuracy and power reserve, and that should be enough to earn everyone’s respect. I hope it has yours. I’d better go now. It looks like someone is eating all my biscuits.