The arrival of quartz technology in the watch industry in the 1970s had a radical effect on all existing notions of precision. But despite its superior performance, quartz technology did not get the same level of prestige as mechanical watch movements. And people too often believed that it had quickly reached its limits and there was no further potential for development. By deciding to optimise the performance of its quartz movements, Breitling restored a sense of prestige to this technology.
A technical reminder: quartz movements use a quartz crystal that is excited by an electrical current as a regulator (the time-measuring body) . This "resonator" vibrates at a very high frequency and can be used to subdivide time into equal intervals. The electrical signals emitted by the quartz oscillator are recorded by an integrated circuit that divides their frequency until it reaches an interval of one second.
Breitling made an important step in 1999 by switching to 100% chronometer-certified production. The COSC is a reference for precision and reliability. Two years later Breitling introduced its SuperQuartz technology for all its quartz movements. These movements offered ten times better precision than a standard quartz movement, which is already extremely precise.
After painstaking research, the engineers devised a sophisticated system to correct variations in the watch's precision due to temperature differences. Each movement is equipped with a tiny thermometer. A quartz oscillator that vibrates too quickly for normal ambient temperature is chosen deliberately. Every few minutes, a component on the integrated circuit corrects the watch's rate depending on the temperature recorded by the thermometer. To do so, it simply "deletes" some of the impulses to the motor to slow it down to the correct speed.
The result: the maximum variation in rate for a SuperQuartz movement is 15 seconds per year, compared with two and a half minutes (150 seconds) for a standard quartz watch. The movements made by Breitling are therefore ten times more precise that an ordinary quartz movement. Greater complexity inside the movement is required to achieve this. The printed circuit in a SuperQuartz movement takes up three times more space than that of a usual quartz movement. It comprises 8,000 components, compared with 2,500 in a standard quartz watch.