The Quartz Revolution

It began with an impossible dream. Around the time President John F. Kennedy vowed to put a man on the Moon, Seiko and the Swiss vowed to put watches on consumers’ wrists with accuracy to the second.

Seiko launches a top-secret program in 1959 in search of the world’s most accurate wristwatch. By the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the company was on the right track, developing a seven-pound quartz sports-timing clock for the games. Years later, Seiko introduced the first quartz wall clock. As its technology got smaller, Seiko got bigger. A quartz wristwatch was on the horizon.

Simultaneously, a Swiss research group combined forces and bucked tradition to develop a battery-powered watch with digital display. Completed in 1967 by the ETA company, the Swiss suddenly changed gears and decided quartz technology wasn’t suitable for watches after all.

In quartz watches, a specially designed battery activates a quartz crystal inside the movement that vibrates 33,000 times per second. The technology eliminated winding and improved accuracy to within one minute per year (traditional mechanical timepieces remained accurate to within one hour per year).

On Christmas Day 1969, five months and five days after an astronaut tiptoed through the moon rocks, Seiko rocked the world with the Quartz Astron 35SQ – an 18-karat-old quartz watch whose $1,200 price tag matched that of a Toyota Corolla.

Today, 90 percent of the watched produced worldwide are quartz, and they are among the most affordable watches on the market.