The electronic movement that appeared at the end of the 1960s remains the most popular on a worldwide scale.
Every trend functions reflects the principles of watchmaking, with a pendulum effect that suddenly propels something new to the fore, only to demolish it later. Thereafter, it will experience an endless coming and going based on the whims of any given era, returning and fading without ever really disappearing. One of the best examples of these highs and lows can be found, once again, in the world of watchmaking with the quartz movement which appeared fifty years ago. On many occasions, each time for a different reason, it was considered to be old-fashioned, a thing of the past. For a time, the smartwatch and other connected watches were seen as the next great technology. Just as quartz, in its early years, had knocked mechanical movements off their age-old pedestal. And then, contrary to expectation, they to delight enthusiasts, outstripped by the famous quartz movement which is still far ahead in terms of purchasing preferences worldwide.
It must be said that the appearance of the quartz movement at the end of the 1960s had the effect of a bombshell in the small world of watches that until then had been called "timepieces". Previously, a few manufacturers had made good use of the piezoelectric power of quartz crystal for extremely accurate clocks and other marine chronometers. But none of them had worked out how to reduce this mechanism so that it would fit inside the casing of a watch. Several Swiss manufactures had even financed the creation of a electronic watchmaking centre to collaborate on new technologies. They also competed with each other in innovation competitions, in which a small Japanese manufacturer called Seiko participated.
At this time, anything from the Land of the Rising Sun was regarded with suspicion from the outset. And was considered (eyes closed) to be a vague imitation. However, this new Seiko watch, which went by the name of Astro in the autumn of 1969, boasted several innovative features. In addition to its accuracy to less than one second per day, it had a running time of over a year thanks to its tiny battery. This was an unimaginable achievement compared with traditional mechanical watches that you had to remember to wind up. What is more, its price became highly accessible as soon as its inventor and several other Japanese companies (Casio, Citizen...) started to produce it on a large scale.
The European world of traditional watchmaking didn’t know what had hit it. Or, more precisely, quartz technology was so different to their dials, gears and cogs that the battle was fought with weapons that had no comparison. For several years, or even decades, these new quartz watches that work almost by magic cut the Swiss watch industry to shreds. It was not until the early 1980s, and more precisely in 1983, that the Swiss Nicolas Hayek turned the tables with the launch of the Swatch brand based on plastic cases... Once again, his traditional colleagues could not believe their eyes as his brilliant idea defied watchmaking conventions. Just like the more recent launch of the Klokers brand, which displays the time with dials instead of hands
and, moreover, is powered by the world's favourite quartz technology.
Text: Frédéric Martin-Bernard