The caliber or movement of a watch or timepiece, the inner parts that make it function, is divided into two general types. The intricate network of components that power the hands on the watch’s dial and other parts can be identified as either mechanical or quartz. This article will give you a glimpse of the storied history of the quartz movement, explain what the movement is, and why it continues to be an integral part of the watch world today.
Quartz Watch History 101
The Swiss watch industry steadily became the world’s fine watchmaking capital in the 1500s, and by the end of the 1700s, over 60,000 watches were exported by Geneva per year. Switzerland has always set an excellent standard for all other watchmakers, as evident in its history of exquisite horology, owing to its prestigious history and heritage.
However, peace did not last forever in the world’s fine watchmaking capital. Japanese watch company Seiko fired the first salvo of the quartz watch revolution in the last week of the 1960s. On Christmas Day 1969, Seiko introduced the world’s first commercially available quartz-clock wristwatch (the Astron), causing incredible upheaval in an industry that was late to adapt to such abrupt changes in technology. Furthermore, the first quartz watch managed to demonstrate that instead of an intricate network of mechanics, a watch or timepiece could be powered with just a small crystal, battery, and motors.
Towards the end of the 20th century, all along the 1970s & 1980s, Seiko threw a monkey wrench into the watch industry’s gears – leading to the “Quartz Crisis.” The Seiko Astron’s introduction was the shot that shattered the world of watches, and it took a while before it started to piece itself back together. Seiko, along with other leading watchmakers that caught up to it, needed more time to perfect the new technology and begin manufacturing quartz watches in volume. No other watchmaking company embraced quartz technology as fervently as Seiko did (first analog, then digital). It followed more Astrons in 1971 with the world’s first quartz analog ladies’ watch in 1972. In 1977, Seiko became the world’s largest watch company in terms of revenue.
Quartz watch technology and its lasting impact on the watch world could be seen in the number of quartz watches produced each year. According to the Japan Watch & Clock Association, 1.46 billion watches were made in 2015. Of those 1.42 billion, 97% of the total were quartz watches – including the Seiko Prospex. Although watch enthusiasts love mechanical watches and value them for their complexity, artistry, and rarity, they also love quartz watches for their ease of use and reliable accuracy. And they should! Half a century after Seiko launched Astron, the watch world became almost entirely quartz-focused from a production standpoint.
More Than A Movement
The movement of a quartz watch utilizes a battery as the primary power source. The battery is the force behind the dial that drives the watch’s hands and powers all functions or complications. A small quartz crystal receives energy from the battery, which energizes the crystal and creates vibrations. The vibrations keep the movement oscillating and also powers the watch motor. Unlike the smooth sweeping motion of a mechanical movement, the second hand of a quartz watch moves in distinctive individual ticks.
Remember that in a mechanical movement, energy supplied by winding the watch must be sent through its many different parts, all of which use up the energy, and therefore incremental power is lost. However, with a quartz movement, fewer watch parts consume energy, so the energy needed to keep the crystal oscillating is consistently maintained.
Due to its accuracy and reliability, a quartz movement is likely behind most standard watches or timepieces’ functionality. According to most horology sources, around 90% of the world’s watches use a battery as their power source. Additionally, quartz watch maintenance is minimal, and the price tag is much more cost-effective. It is clear why the emergence of quartz caused such a disturbance within the world of horology.
Moreover, the acceptance of quartz as a viable power source for watches and timepieces led to the “Swiss quartz movement” as a signifier of excellence in heritage and craftsmanship. For some traditionalists, quartz watches and their movements still can’t be compared to the masterful engineering of mechanical watches and their movements. However, quartz technology is well worth considering, owing to its precise accuracy alongside considered detail and elegant aesthetics. More than just a watch movement, quartz movements were, and continue to be, an innovation, an evolution – ultimately necessary for the watch industry at large.