World’s first quartz wristwatch

The world of horology had a major revolution in the 60’s, when centuries of watchmaking tradition were overturned with the invention of the crystal quartz watch.

In 1959, Seiko and a Swiss consortium began a race to develop quartz crystal timers. Seiko succeeded to be the first to produce a portable quartz clock, it was called the Seiko Crystal Chronometer QC-95. This clock was used as a backup timekeeping for the marathon events in the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Nonetheless, the race to produce a wristwatch version was still on, and it got tougher.

The ideal watch is accurate, never stops, and is beautiful.

Tsuneya Nakamura

After ten years of research and development, a team of engineers led by Tsuneya Nakamura produced the first quartz wristwatch released to the public. The Seiko Quartz-Astron 35SQ was presented in Tokyo in December 25, 1969. Its’ retail price was 450.000 ¥ (US$ 1.250), money enough to buy a car, but 100 watches were sold within one week.

The essential elements of this watch were: the quartz crystal oscillator (8,192 cycles/second), a hybrid integrated circuit and a miniature stepping motor to turn its hands. The motor and hands were the only moving parts of the watch, and it was accurate to ± 5 seconds/month (1 minute/year).

The new accuracy standards were no match for any mechanical watch, no matter how fine the craftsmanship. The mechanical moving parts are continuously affected by the outside environment, resulting in an accuracy of ± 5 seconds/day. Thus, mechanical watches were no longer the most precise wristwatches.

Mass production processes developments reduced significantly the production costs, and quartz watches were sold at a much lower price, leading to the Swiss watch industry crisis of the 70’s. Known as the Quartz Crisis, Swiss watch employment fell from 90,000 to 28,000 between 1970 and 1988.

Technological quartz revolution enabled the democratization of high precision watches and set a new paradigm among consumers. Mechanical watches are now sought due to emotional, heritage or watch craftsmanship values, over the accuracy advantages of quartz watches.