Probably no other development has created such an impact on clocks, yet is so little understood as quartz movements.
Spilling over from the watch industry, quartz electronic technology within the past half dozen years has become standard in clock making. Its influence, what’s more, on both form and function of today’s clocks cannot be exaggerated.
Quartz circuitry, for instance, is so small and compact that it has enabled manufacturers to develop travel alarms as small as credit cards, and decorative clocks so thin that they can hang as close to the wall as a picture for use as accent pieces as well as time.
As for function, the electronic transistorized movements permit the clock mechanisms to perform with a degree of accuracy of plus or minus one minute a year, an achievement nowhere near attainable with traditional battery powered clocks of the past.
But what is quartz? For the uninitiated and there are many it is a crystallized compound of silicon and oxygen, which has a unique electrical property. When the quartz crystal is cut along a certain axis and voltage is applied, it will begin to oscillate at a stable, high and continuous frequency, alternately producing positive and negative charges. This phenomenon is called the piezoelectric effect, discovered by French scientists in 1880. The stability and continuity of quartz oscillations provide the high precision of the movements.
Unlike electrical movements that require a cord attachment to be plugged into a socket, the electronic transistorized quartz movements work on batteries.
Quartz is the most accurate of electronic movements. A tiny quartz crystal vibrates at a high frequency that permits the clock mechanism to perform with extraordinary precision. That is, accurate to one minute a year. Depending on the particular movement used, the frequency rate ranges from 32,768 times per second to 4,194,303 times per second. In operation, the vibrations of the quartz radio crystal are translated by the chip into impulses that drive a motor that moves the hand.
It is easy to differentiate a quartz clock from a key-wind model. With a key-wind clock, the second hand moves around the dial in small steps. In the quartz analog unit, the second hand jumps exactly one second at a time.