The history of quartz watches cannot be told without mentioning the quartz crisis. But we don’t necessarily feel that the introduction of the quartz timepiece was a crisis, but rather a way of making high quality watches affordable for everyone. Today we’ll share with you the history of quartz watches and trust us – it’s fascinating!
Exploring the History of Quartz Watches: The Quartz Crisis
As mentioned in our article on the history of watchmaking, the first commercial quartz wristwatch was released in 1969 by manufacturer Seiko. Named the Astron, it was a limited edition of 100 gold case watches, which cost the equivalent as a Toyota Corolla! With an accuracy of within five seconds a day, this small timepiece made shockwaves around the world.
Having been the most well-regarded watch makers for generations, the Swiss were reluctant to enter the quartz race. With the success of their mechanical watches, embracing another wasn’t high on their priority list. This decision cost them dearly. Plunged into crisis due to its lack of keeping up with technological changes, the Swiss watch industry suffered dreadfully. Jobs in the industry dropped from 90,000 to 28,000 and the Swiss economy entered an economic crisis.
1983 saw the re-entry into the market by the Swiss with the launch of the Swatch. It is this brand which helped raise the Swiss out of their downturn and once again made them a household name. With an automated manufacturing process, the Swatch could be sold at a lower cost than a mechanical watch and in greater numbers.
The Swatch brand quickly became the world’s largest watch manufacturer with its plastic cased watch with only 51 moving parts. Compared with the 91 moving parts of a mechanical watch, the Swatch seemed to have been designed with disposability in mind, not repair and reuse. It was the beginning of a new era for the Swiss.
What Was the Quartz Revolution?
This same period was not deemed a crisis by the Japanese or American watch industries. Instead, it was named the quartz revolution and businesses thrived as they grew their technological lead over their static Swiss competition. The Seiko and Citizen watch brands become worldwide household names. Often focusing on fashion, these manufacturers designed timepieces which were stylish and modern in appearance. James Bond was even seen wearing a quartz watch!
A collection of famous brands including Rolex, Patek and Omega participated in what was called the Beta 21 movement. These brands worked together to move away from manufacturing mechanical watches to quartz watches. While it was acknowledged that it was an essential move, it came at the cost of reducing the market share of mechanical watches around the world.
Where Is the Future of Quartz Watches Heading?
It has been asked before if there is any future in the quartz watch. With the widespread use of mobile phones and other digital technologies, do we even need to wear a watch at all? Some would say that the smartwatch is where we are headed, while others see wristwatches quietly becoming a thing of the past.
We beg to differ. There is nothing quite like the feel of a great watch on your wrist and the knowledge that it has a wonderful story behind it. We invite you to learn more about our story and explore our two fine quartz watch collections today!