The Bulova Accutron was the most important watch of the 1960s, bringing a new level of accuracy and technology and shifting the balance of power in horology from Switzerland back to the United States. It was also a dead end, delaying the development of other electronic watches and distracting the American and Swiss industries from the rise of quartz. How did something with such promise fail to have a lasting hold on the market?
On Christmas Day, 1969, the Seiko Astron was launched; this was world’s first quartz wristwatch. Or at least that’s how the story goes. But the truth is much, much more complicated, as I have been researching and writing about for months. Only a few examples of that Cal. 35 SQ Astron were produced, and it was so expensive that not many were ever actually sold. And a raft of other watches (the CEH Beta 1, Longines Ultra-Quartz, various Beta 21 models, and even the Bulova Accuquartz) could make a credible claim. So what was the first?
The development of the quartz wristwatch was a turning point for the timekeeping industry and shifted the balance from Switzerland to Japan and the United States, despite the fact that the Swiss industry developed the first such watch. This is the story of the tumultuous and controversial creation of the world’s first quartz watch by the CEH in Neuchâtel.
Regular Grail Watch readers might have noticed that I have begun using the archives of Europa Star rather heavily in my research. The editors noticed as well, and have invited me to be a contributing writer to that fine journal. My first piece was published today, and delves into the history of an iconic model, IWC’s Da Vinci. The archive brought me fantastic information and illustrations, as we will discuss today.
Here’s a real puzzle: What do you make of a watch with a standard case and the word “Automatic” on the face yet a quartz movement inside? And what if the seller of that watch claimed it was a rare prototype with an unknown movement number yet included no photos of the inside of the watch? You’d be skeptical, right? So was I, but I believe this is the real deal: One of two known Omega prototype watch movements running at an amazing 4.2 MHz.
Not everyone is into quartz watches. That’s understandable. But anyone who appreciates history and technology would be interested in the story of the first quartz watch. At the end of the 1960’s, which itself was something of a golden era for mechanical watches, two competitors raced to bring quartz clock technology to the wrist: Seiko won and came to dominate the market with low priced models.