There are many who think the modern quartz watch is one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century. Quartz watches have revolutionized timekeeping, providing far greater accuracy than the most expensive mechanical timepieces, all at a very reasonable cost. By offering accuracy, affordability and unprecedented reliability in a single slim package, it is no surprise that over 95% of the watches being produced today have quartz movements.
Quartz crystals are somewhat unique. When an electric charge is placed across the crystal plane, the crystal will bend. Although scientists discovered the unique piezoelectric properties of quartz crystals as early as 1880, it took many years to put these properties to good use. It wasn’t until early in the 20th century, when radio engineers were looking for a stable source of radio frequencies, that scientists at Bell Labs discovered quartz crystals would oscillate at very precise frequencies and could be used as an alternative to a traditional pendulum to regulate a clock.
By the 1930’s, The National Bureau of Standards was already using sophisticated quartz clocks to establish time standards and measure tiny variations in the rotation of the earth. You could never wear these early quartz movements on your wrist however. Early quartz clocks were delicate, expensive and very large. The first Swiss quartz clock, now on display at the International Watchmaking Museum in Switzerland, was almost as large as a refrigerator.
The quartz watches we know and love today had to wait until the invention of the integrated circuit before the quartz movement could be made small enough to fit inside a normal wristwatch case. Although it was the Swiss who initially developed a prototype quartz wristwatch, it was the Japanese who made these watches popular and affordable.
In 1969, Japanese watchmaker Seiko became the first company in the world to offer a quartz watch to the general public. Like every subsequent quartz watch, this initial model used a paper-thin piece of quartz crystal formed in the shape of a tuning fork to regulate the watch. Powered by a small battery, this crystal vibrated precisely at a rate of 32,768 times a second.
So, how does a quartz watch work? The tiny electrical pulses generated by the quartz crystal are sent to an integrated circuit where they are reduced to a single pulse each second. The circuit essentially counts the pulses and returns to zero each time the count reaches 32,768. The one-second impulses returned by the IC circuit are then sent to a small stepping motor connected to a gear train which turns the hands.
A digital quartz watch has no gear train and just keeps counting pulses until they add up to minutes hours and days. Over the years, advances in technology have allowed quartz movements to become increasingly sophisticated while at the same time becoming smaller and less expensive. Cheap, super-accurate quartz watches almost destroyed the market for mechanical watches in the 1970’s.
During this period many famous Swiss watch manufacturers became insolvent or disappeared entirely. The Swiss watch industry rallied however, and in 1983 launched their own quartz watch. The Swatch, as it came to be known, was a huge success and revived the Swiss watch industry.
Today, virtually every major watch manufacturer in the world makes quartz watches. Even watchmakers’ known for their mechanical timepieces, such as Fortis and Edox, make quartz watches, as well. Many leading fashion brands like Versace and Salvatore Ferragamo utilize quartz movements almost exclusively, because that’s what their largely female customers want.
The quartz revolution has been beneficial for everyone. There are still plenty of fabulous mechanical watches for watch aficionados, but there is a cornucopia of amazing quartz watches for everyone else. Today’s advanced IC technologies have made it possible to customize quartz movements for just about everybody. If you’re a runner, diver, fashionista or trendsetter, there’s a quartz watch with your name on it.
About Gevril Group
Gevril Group, watchmaker and wholesale watch distributor, is the exclusive U.S. agent for exquisitely designed and crafted European luxury and fashion watch brands, distributing and servicing some of the best affordable luxury watches, Swiss made watches and trendy fashion watches. Gevril Group also operates a full-service watch repair, staffed by master Swiss watchmakers. Contact Gevril Group by email or by calling 845-425-9882.
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