All About Quartz Clocks And Wrist Watches

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All About Quartz Clocks

At, we consider ourselves to be among the foremost experts on keeping time. Before an Online Clock such as ours existed, we kept time the old-fashioned way, such as with old-fashioned pendulum clocks.

Unfortunately, if you forget to wind one of these old clocks, you will not have the correct time. Luckily, quartz clocks were discovered. Quartz clocks solved all the problems that less accurate methods presented. Quartz clocks and watches work differently than old-fashioned pendulum clocks and mechanical watches. Quartz clocks have gears, but the gears are regulated. A tiny quartz crystal is what regulates the quartz clock.

Quartz is a very common mineral found on Earth. It’s made from a certain chemical compound called silicon dioxide which can be found in sand and various types of rock formations. Interestingly, if you squeeze a quartz crystal, it will generate a tiny electric current. The opposite can also be true. If you pass electricity through quartz, it will vibrate at a precise frequency.

Inside of the quartz clock or watch, the battery sends electricity through the quartz through an electronic circuit. The quartz then oscillates at a precise frequency. This frequency is exactly 32,768 times each second. The circuit will then count the number of vibrations and uses the vibrations to generate regular one second pulses. The pulses can power LCD displays or they can drive a very small electric motor. This motor turns gear wheels that will spin the clock’s hour, minute and second hands.

The electric charge that the quartz generates when mechanical pressure is applied makes it a piezoelectric material.

Piezoelectricity: Electric polarization in a substance (esp. certain crystals) resulting from the application of mechanical stress.

Piezoelectricity was discovered by Pierre and Jaques Curie in 1880. In the earlier part of the 20th century, Walter Cady recognized that quartz crystals could be used to fabricate stable resonators. Cady also found that quartz could be cut in certain ways that would create resonators of just about any frequency that were generally independent of temperature changes. Quartz crystals were first used as a time standard by a man named Warren Marrison. He invented the very first quartz clock in 1927.

The Explosion of the Quartz Wrist Watch

In 1959, Seiko started to develop a quartz wrist watch. The project actually had a codename. It was called 59A. It’s kind of funny now, but back then it was a very secretive project. Within five years, Seiko had a working prototype of a portable quartz watch. It was used in the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics.


Seiko - creators of the first Quartz Wrist Watch !

The first prototype of an actual wrist watch from Seiko was made by the CEH research Lab in Switzerland. From 1965 through 1967, a pioneering developmental project was done on a miniature quartz oscillator, a thermo-compensation module and a dedicated, integrated circuit. The BETA 1 prototype was then produced and set new timekeeping records.

The very first quartz wrist watch to enter production was Seiko 35 SQ Astron, which hit the market on December 25, 1969. A particularly interesting flaw to Seiko’s approach within this new development was that they decided not to patent the entire movement of the quartz wrist watch. One would think with all the secrecy of the development of the quartz watch that Seiko would patent the entire project. That would probably never happen these days. Seiko’s failure to patent this wrist watch allowed other manufacturers to make a quartz wrist watch. This played a paramount role in the quick development of the quartz watch. In less than a decade, the quartz watch was king among all other watches. This ended a 100 year reign for the mechanical watch. Now, even the cheapest watches have quartz movements.

Seiko 35 SQ Astron

The first Quartz Wrist Watch made for production: The Seiko 35 SQ Astron !

During the 1970s, the mechanical watch industry in Switzerland was consolidated. A mass production of quartz wrist watches was led by the Swatch group of companies, a Swiss company with control of the production of Swiss watches and related products. Their subsidiaries manufactured the watch batteries, oscillators, and integrated circuits used in the watch. The launch of the new Swatch watch in 1983 featured bold new styling, design and marketing. Not surprisingly, today the Swatch Group is the world’s largest watch company.

Seiko did go on to develop another quartz watch project. Their new project was a combination quartz and mechanical timepiece. Seiko’s efforts to combine the quartz and the mechanical movements finally bore fruit after nearly 20 years of research. This gave birth to the Seiko spring drive. It was first introduced in 1999 and then sold worldwide in 2005. The spring drive manages to keep excellent time within quartz standards without having to use a battery. This watch uses a traditional mechanical gear train which is powered by a spring. It doesn’t need a balanced wheel.

Seiko now has a kinetic powered quartz watch that uses the arm movement of the wearer to turn a rotating weight. This causes a very small generator to supply power to recharge the battery. The idea is similar to that of self-winding spring watches, except that the power is a generated power instead of a mechanical spring tension.

Benefits of the Quartz Watch

A quartz watch is able to maintain water-resistance better than a mechanical watch because there is a less of a need to have the crown unscrewed for time setting. Also, resistance to wear is better in a quartz watch because the gear trains of mechanical watches are under constant pressure from the mainspring. The wear is due to friction. Quartz watches are not under such pressure. For that reason, quartz watches almost never have to be serviced to maintain proper lubrication.

Quartz watches are also very convenient. You could literally put them in the drawer for months, and then take them out and wear them again and they will show the correct time. This is not the case with a mechanical watch.

Ways to Identify a Quartz Watch

All digital watches are quartz watches. There many ways to tell a quartz watch from a mechanical watch. A lot of mechanical watches will have an automatic or self winding movement. These are labeled as automatic on the face. Quartz watches are seldom labeled as automatic. Many of the mechanical watches have a see through dials or case fronts to show off the movements of the watch. Quartz watches almost never have a see through dial.

If the watch has a second hand, you can tell the quartz from the mechanical watch by looking at the hand and how it moves. The second hand on a quartz wristwatch will move in a jerky motion. It jumps forward in one-second intervals. The second hand of a mechanical watch moves in an uninterrupted, sweeping motion.

Today, quartz crystals used inside of watches come in many shapes and frequencies. Among the most common are tiny encapsulated tuning forks that vibrate. Quartz clocks and watches continue to dominate the market because they are so accurate and reliable. Also, their cost is quite low when mass produced.The bulk of low to medium priced watches on the market today are quartz watches. Expensive mechanical timepieces are valued for workmanship and aesthetics rather than for accuracy. These watches usually have strictly mechanical movements. They are powered by springs. These mechanical movements are not as accurate as quartz movements. Quartz watches have many more functions than mechanical watches. Some of the additional features of quartz watches are timers, chronographs and alarm functions. Some really modern designs use GPS technology or heart monitoring capabilities.

How to Recognize a Good Quartz Watch

A long battery life is one thing that separates better quartz watches apart from the cheaper quartz watches. A two year battery life would be considered a long battery life. Also, a high quality crystal is another feature a good quartz watch will have.

Science and the Quartz Clock

Quartz clocks are still the most practical and accurate way to keep time for science. Quartz clocks and timers meet the standards that are nationally required for the scientific field. The atomic clock, which we have featured on one of our earlier blog posts, is more accurate; however, it is not practical because of its high price tag. Additionally, atomic clocks are not currently available in wrist watches or timers.

Interestingly, quartz crystals have an essential role in atomic timekeeping, even though they do not provide its time base. The frequency of the atomic clocks oscillation is way too high for them to be used to operate the clock directly. The oscillations of quartz crystals are multiplied and compared with the atomic oscillator. The quartz oscillations are then adjusted periodically for accuracy, and it is these oscillations that actually drive the clock.

Quartz Oscillations

Quartz - it's all about the oscillations, baby !

Another interesting thing about the quartz watch is that most watches that are made for women are quartz watches. Watch companies found that women are more interested in style than movements. Since the quartz watch is less expensive, highly accurate and does not need winding, women usually prefer them. Further, companies have also found that women who like the cachet of a mechanical watch prefer men’s models because of their larger size. This makes expensive mechanical watches easier to identify by brand than women’s watches. A Swiss company called Breitling sells many men’s watches to fashionable, status-minded women. Next time you are shopping for a watch for a special woman in your life keep this in mind. You can’t go wrong choosing the quartz watch. Women really don’t mind a jerky second hand as long as they don’t have to wind the watch.

Battery operated quartz clocks are found on the walls of homes and businesses all over the modern world. Their wide history and interesting development into wrist watches are examples of innovation at its best. The lesson that Seiko learned in the development and widespread distribution is an interesting, yet priceless one. The quartz clock is possibly one of the most useful inventions the 20th century; however, we are glad that you find Online Clock‘s timekeeping to be another one of the most useful things in the 21st century. will continue to keep the precise time for you. Whatever your timing needs may be, we have the clock to meet them. We look forward to continuing our reputation as the masters of the Online Clock universe!

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