Atomic Watch: What Is It And Should You Buy It?

what is an atomic watch

Upon the arrival of the quartz revolution in the 1970s, the accuracy of wristwatches achieved a whole new level. People were fascinated by the precision it offered, especially considering the inconvenience of the mechanical timepieces at that time when habitual crown turning had been a weekly norm. In those days, it would’ve been unimaginable to wish for greater accuracy than quartz provided. With the arrival of atomic timekeeping, though, the limits were once again raised. But this time, to the highest heights possible. With the following post, we’ll answer the questions of what is an atomic watch, how it works, who should buy it, and much more.

what is an atomic watch

What Is An Atomic Watch?

An atomic watch is a timepiece that keeps the correct time throughout its lifetime. The timekeeping is so flawless that the watch will lose or gain only a fraction of a second in thousands of years, meaning it will never lose time. This unbelievable accuracy is achieved from the atomic clock that updates the watch at least once a day. 

There are around 400 atomic clocks all around the world, contributing to the calculation of international atomic time. The US clock – NIST-F1 – is based in Boulder, Colorado. Explaining the core of this clock requires a post of its own, so let’s just bear in mind that NIST-F1 is the base timekeeping mechanism for all the other time-trackers.

Atomic Watch Movement

The atomic clock adjusts the time through low-frequency radio signals on several occasions at night. A miniature receiver searches the signal and decodes it for an update. The calibration takes place at night because signal interferences from other sources, such as metals and radio waves, are much lower than during the day. 

An atomic watch works on quartz movement, which means the signals correct the deviation of quartz timekeeping. 

A typical reach of waves from a transmitter covers about 2,000 miles, so if a wristwatch is out of the range for an extended period, the watch runs as usual but won’t receive any time calibration. When back in the area, the watch will make adjustments.

radio tower in the night providing adjustments to watches

However, when moving between timezones, some atomic watches will not adjust to the correct hour. It still continues nightly calibrations, but a manual setting is yet required for timezone crossings. GPS-featured and multi-band wristwear, on the other hand, make both adjustments.    

Besides quartz watches, atomic time is also available in solar-powered wristwatches. Considering the fact a solar watch seldom requires battery replacement, while atomic time is keeping the highest accuracy there is, then solar atomic watches can freely be considered one of the most convenient watches in the world. There’s no need to worry about regular battery replacements, nor for any time lag, so it’s a perfect fit for individuals looking for a minimal hassle in dealing with hand watches.

Nevertheless, the accuracy alone is already a characteristic to thrive for. Therefore, a typical quartz watch with atomic time is the utmost convenience for a wearer.

Minor Complications With Atomic Watches

Although the atomic time calibration might seem a complication-free process, there are still a few factors that might hinder it.

One of the factors resulting in the lost connection is physical or unseen interference. High-density metals, such as chromium steel alloy that is used in safes, and various other reinforced materials can interfere with the signal. The unseen influences from powerful electronic equipment and radio signals likewise can have impacts on the regularity of updates.

laptop and smartphone on a wooden table

However, chances for delays through these factors are very minimal, with no effect on perceptible time shift either. Even if there is any interference, the watch will adjust to atomic time in the first suitable moment.

Distance from the radio wave transmitter is a more serious factor. The time-setting function will not operate in Hawaii and Alaska, because the watch is not able to communicate with the clock from these states due to being out of the broadcast reach. 

If a watch has a single-band frequency, it will not function on other continents, though the number of watches with this problem has gradually decreased over time with the emergence of multi-band and GPS technologies.

The described complications are trivial in posing nearly non-existent threats for the majority of wearers. The most affected are obviously the frequent overseas travellers, and people who live in the peripheral states of Alaska and Hawaii. 

However, a couple of technological advancements have eliminated most of the concerns with the original atomic wristwear.

Multi-band And GPS-Controlled Timekeeping

The Multiband 6 technology employed by Casio is capable of adjusting the time in six locations in the world – Japan (2 stations), North America, China, the UK, and Germany.

four pictures of radio transmitters in the world
Multiband 6 transmission stations

The technology is spot on for international travellers. Although the loss of a second or two without the atomic precision most likely won’t cause any issues, it’s still a convenience and an escape route for the perfectionists.

Citizen also offers multi-band for atomic timekeeping, able to switch between numerous timezones in the majority of the world.

For the people out of the reach of the radio waves, atomic accuracy is possible through the GPS-controlled wristwatches. They’re not precisely atomic watches in the straightest meaning of the term, but instead an analog technology providing the same results. 

The likes of Seiko, Citizen, and Casio offer a wide range of satellite wave enabled timepieces that are not only able to correct the time every night but also the switches between different timezones. Within approximately 30 seconds, the technology determines the exact location and time by connecting with several satellites.

Prices Of Atomic Watches

As you can see, the array of atomic timepieces is quite extensive, and so are the prices. Since the simple radio wave technology is rather affordable, the atomic time is available for all budgets. You’ll find cheap and simple options at 50$-100$, but also some expensive models with extra features costing thousands of dollars. 

Probably the best value-for-money multi-band wristwatches stay in the region of 200$-700$ when besides the accuracy, you’ll also get a proven quality from the well-known watch brands.

Atomic Watch Brands

As already noted repeatedly, the three major providers of atomic wristwear are the three Japanese watch brands of Citizen, Casio, and Seiko. Besides the assurance of reliability through the brand name, they’ve also priced their timepieces suitably for a wider public.


The brand is a pioneer of multi-band radio-controlled watches when the first models entered the stage as early as 1993. Not only do they provide atomic precision but also light-powered Eco-Drive technology, making their timepieces one of the handiest on the market.

Citizen solar watch with dark dial

The first radio-controlled watch had an antenna running vertically across the dial. The peculiar design was due to the interferences from metal parts that influenced then weak radio signal entering the receiving circuit. 

While the next innovation saw the antenna move from the dial to the side of the watch, the nowadays technology of hidden receiver under the full metal case came out in 2003. Citizen promises to continue the innovation to make their timepieces even more convenient and up-to-date.

Citizen Atomic Watches

The brand manufactures all the parts of their wristwatches in-house, in that never giving in to cheaper third party products and their potential flaws. 

The most notable atomic timekeeping collection is the Promaster A-T series. The aviation-inspired timepieces are large-sized, providing information-rich dial and a rotating slide rule bezel. The watches feature a perpetual calendar, dual time, countdown timer, and digital backlight, among other useful characteristics. 

Besides Promaster, you’ll find atomic timekeeping in their World and PCAT series.

Feel free to visit our dedicated post on Citizen watch review for a closer look into the brand.


The unique Multiband 6 technology we covered earlier in the post is the innovation of Casio. The name originates from the number of locations the syncing is possible in that covering all the major regions of the world.

The company has come up with a variety of technologies, from ultimate shock resistance and solar powering to Triple Sensor feature predicting weather phenomena. The Multiband 6, though, is one of the most used, running through the whole product line.

Casio Atomic Watches

Casio has three major lines – G-Shock, Pro Trek, and Edifice. 

black robust g-shock watch

The unbelievably reliable G-Shock series is robust in nature and is ideally suited for rigorous activities, especially for sports and military. A G-Shock tactical watch, for example, is one of the best options there is for military purposes.

Other than atomic timekeeping, the watches also possess numerous other fantastic features, making the series a complete package for fastidious customers. 

Pro Trek line is pretty similar to the G-Shock series when the emphasis lies on outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, and climbing. For that reason, Pro Trek watches feature activity-based tech measuring different weather conditions.

The most fashion-oriented is the Edifice line. However, the exaggerating term of fashion doesn’t mean the wristwear is shy of technologies and features. The Edifice emphasizes speed and time and therefore offers a wide array of solar-powered chronograph function watches that are ideal for accuracy admiring speed chasers.


Another Japanese powerhouse producing atomic watches is Seiko. Primarily known for diver’s watches, they were late bloomers in the field of atomic accuracy. 

However, in 2005 Seiko became the first brand to introduce a three-band radio wave solar watch, capable of receiving time synchronizations from Japan, Germany, and the USA. Today, they’ve placed emphasis on a GPS-controlled time correction that is employed by the Astron collection.

Seiko Atomic Watches

An Astron watch is unique in various viewpoints. Not only it provides the most accurate time possible, but also luxurious apparel with the convenience of a needless battery replacement. 

The solar-powered watch can comfortably switch timezones at the touch of a button. The Time Transfer Function displays home and destination times between the main dial and the sub-dial. All in all, the timepiece is a handy companion to a routine traveller.   

Compared to the Citizen and Casio brands, however, Seiko Astron is with the heftiest price tag. The reason for this can be explained by the higher quality of technologies and craftsmanship that are on another level in the Astron pieces.

Should You Buy An Atomic Watch?

First of all, you need to make sure whether you’re going to value the feature or not. Although the majority of the wristwatches have quite affordable prices, you definitely wouldn’t want to find yourself regretting the extra amount spent if you even can’t get the satisfaction out of it.

The perception of time is very subjective, as is the need to control it and live after it. Quite astonishingly, a lot of people find life managed by the time the onliest viable way of existing. For those, the atomic timekeeping is a spot on. Then there’s the sort of people who seek perfection in everything they do and have. Or individuals who just value the most recent technology that is available.

In any case, an atomic watch is suitable for those who value precise time due to their lifestyle, accept and adopt the newest innovations in any field, or who just fancy a renowned watch brand. What is certain is the quality and reliability you get from atomic timepieces from these brands. 

Conclusion: What Is An Atomic Watch?

So, what is an atomic watch? In essence, it is the most accurate timepiece that won’t lose even a second in its lifetime. It’s conveniently suited for travellers, accuracy aficionados, and technology worshipers. And even for those who just want a tech-rich wristwatch looking back from their wrist. Some may argue over the usefulness of the technology if you have a smartphone in the pocket showing precise time anyways. Then why people still wear watches after all if new ways of time tracking are available? The whole thing is down to the need for self-expression and style. And so is atomic accuracy – a way to express yourself.

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