Several watches that you see today have the word ‘quartz’ printed on the dial. This refers to the fact that the mechanisms of the timepieces are battery-operated and use a quartz crystal to generate a pulse in order to measure and tell time. The usage of quartz was a breakthrough in the making of timepieces back in the early 1900s, when quartz was first used in clocks. However, the technology at the time didn’t allow the mechanism to be small enough to fit inside a watch. Back then, mechanical watchmaking was the only kind that the world knew. Swiss watch manufacturers like Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe were leaders in the manufacturing of mechanical timepieces. Moreover, the Swiss watch industry prospered through World War II, owing to its neutrality.
Automatic watches had already been developed before the war, owing to efforts by manufacturers like Rolex, who had made the world’s first ever self-winding wristwatch, the Rolex Perpetual, in 1931. The booming industry in Switzerland wasn’t threatened by any real competition even after the war. However, making a mechanical watch, which works with a balance wheel and a mainspring, was still quite expensive, and the advancement in quartz technology soon made the mechanism small enough to be in a wristwatch.
The accuracy offered by quartz was why watchmakers throughout the world worked towards developing a quartz mechanism that would fit in a wristwatch. And in 1969, Seiko, a Japanese watch manufacturer, made the first ever quartz wristwatch, the Seiko Quartz-Astron 35SQ. This took the world by storm as watches worldwide suddenly became a lot cheaper, and the Swiss watch industry was threatened. Many manufacturers didn’t want to let go of the tradition of mechanical watchmaking, when Nicolas Hayek, a management consultant, while overseeing the liquidation of two manufacturing firms, saw the potential that quartz technology had in reviving the Swiss watch industry. This led to the invention of the Swatch watch, a quartz watch made with synthetic material, which reclaimed the cheaper watch market from Japanese watch manufacturers like Seiko and Citizen.
Written By : Ranvijaysinh Jhala