Quartz watches are my choice for the letter Q, for today’s #AtoZChallenge, for the theme ‘Brands that people identify with’. Not exactly a brand, but a technology that brought a shift in the watchmaking industry, Quartz watches are the timekeepers of the world. Needless to say, I am going a little off track with my choice of the topic.
The world’s first prototype analog quartz wristwatch, named Beta1, was developed in 1967 by a group of researchers at the Centre Electronique Horloger in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
The ‘Quartz Revolution‘, however, began in Tokyo, with the launch of Quartz Astron, the world’s first commercial quartz wrist watch, by Seiko in 1969.
Accurate than the best mechanical timepieces, the, battery powered Quartz timepieces with “no need to wind”, became a practical choice for most watch wearers. Quartz started dominating the wristwatch and clock market since the 1980s.
The rising popularity of quartz brought about a decline in traditional Swiss watchmaking industry that was burdened by a legacy of mechanical watches, and hesitated to adopt the quartz technology. Watch production shifted to Asian companies that quickly took to the new technology. Not to be left behind, the US took a technological lead and started the mass production of digital quartz watches.
Japanese and American brands were about technology, whereas traditional Swiss watchmaking was about history, craft and strong links to luxury. The scenario changed somewhat by 1978, when Hong Kong started exporting the largest number of electronic watches worldwide, throwing some American watch companies out of business.
In wake of the crisis brought about by the shift in preferences, the legendary Swiss watch industry was on the brink of being erased.
The way out of the Quartz crisis for the Swiss watch industry came with the creation of Swatch watches that besides embracing the disruptive quartz technology, packaging it with contemporary design and fashion.
The Swatch brand, with its new styling and design was distinctly unique. The idea was to make a watch so affordable and stylish that it would encourage people to make ‘spontaneous purchases’. Soon customers started buying multiple watches for different occasions.
Taking over a global mass-market audience, Swatch restored Swiss position across the watch market. Mechanical watches such as such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Bulova, used its success to reinvent themselves as luxury status symbol for higher end of the market celebrating
The luxury wristwatch is the opposite of Swatch frivolity, and prides itself on craft and tradition. Omega, a major player in that category, is still owned by Swatch.
All digital watches are quartz watches, and so are nearly all women’s watches.
About 95% of the watches produced today have quartz movements. Most quartz movements are made by one of three companies: the Japanese firms Seiko and Citizen- Citizen is the worlds biggest producer of quartz watches and movements- or the Swiss movements-maker ETA.
Till date, Quartz is clearly the king in the realm of timekeeping technology.
1. 1969: Seiko’s Breakout Year, Watchtime
2. First-Hand:The First Quartz Wrist Watch, Engineering and Technology History Wiki
3. How Swatch embraced disruptive technology to change the face of watches forever.
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