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The Origins of... - The Origins of the Quartz Watch

The Origins of... The Origins of the Quartz Watch

The quartz watch has a very particular sound with its seconds hand that jumps at each beat and dominated the watch market today. But to whom do we owe this invention?

To uncover the origins of the quartz watch, we must go back to August 1967. During this month, the Centre for Electronic Watchmaking (CEH) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, developed the world’s first quartz watch prototype, soberly named Beta 1. This was followed by the creation of the Beta 2, which differed from its predecessor in that it had a different kind of micromotor. It was only three months later that 10 Beta 2 models were presented at the Neuchâtel Observatory for its watchmaking precision competition. The results were indisputable, the first 10 places in the competition when to the 10 Beta 2 models, in front of 10 Seiko watches. 

The Origins of the Quartz Watch

Longines V.H.P © Longines

In spite of this success, the first industrially produced quartz watch was not Swiss, but Japanese. On December 25th 1969, Seiko launched its Astron-35SQ series quartz watch and the success was immediate, with all the pieces sold out in a heartbeat. 

As for the Swiss, it was in 1970 that a consortium of 16 watch brands launched the marketing of the Beta 21 series of quartz watches with 110 components. 

The Origins of the Quartz Watch

Elegante 48 mm © F.P Journe

Like the American watchmaking production of the industrial revolution, which followed weapons production, Japan would sweep over the watchmaking industry with its new technology thanks to its microelectronic components industry and capacity for rapid industrialization. Once again, Switzerland missed the boat and became somewhat of a laughing stock. 

The result was a virtual shutdown of the entire Swiss watchmaking industry, which was based solely on mechanical timepieces at this time. The Swiss mechanical watchmaking industry would literally close down, taking the watchmaking and decorative arts schools down with them. Young people didn’t want to be watchmakers anymore and the idea of learning the watchmaker’s trade seems like a very bad idea. Why learn how to make mechanical timepieces when the whole world was asking for quartz watches, which represented the newest technology in timekeeping? The role of a watchmaker quickly became someone who simply changed batteries and straps. 

The Origins of the Quartz Watch

Longines V.H.P © Longines

Fortunately, traditional mechanical watchmaking would make a comeback, becoming stronger than anyone could possibly imagine. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t dismiss quartz. It is not necessarily synonymous with poor quality as quartz technology offers unequalled precision. The V.H. P movement of Longines, for example, varies by only five seconds per year, while the quartz “Geneva Made” Calibre 1210 by F.P. Journe saves energy when not in use, providing a power reserve between 10 and 18 years, both exceptional feats for analog watches. 

The Origins of the Quartz Watch

Collection Elegante © F.P Journe

 

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Based in St. Imier since 1832, Longines has a long tradition in watchmaking, characterised by the elegance of its watches. Using expertise gained as the company has evolved, Longines has gradually forged ties with the world of sport, where it demonstrates its excellence in precision timekeeping. Today, Longines is the oldest brand still in business, unchanged, in the international registers held by the World Intellectual Property Organization...

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