How the Quartz Crisis Changed the Watch World

What’s on your watch? Do you wear a watch? Or maybe you’ve got an incredible watch that you wish you could wear (in which case, you’ve come to the right place, since we specialise in everything from Rolex and Omega to TAG Heuer watch repairs). But back to the main question: what’s written on your watch? Does it say ‘quartz’? And if so, do you know what this means?

 

Hard to believe, today, where many watches are driven by quartz movement, but once upon a time, this little Q almost caused the end of watch-making as we know it (Well, sort of).

 

Quartz Revealed

Ok, let’s start with the basics. Quartz 101, if you will. When a watch says quartz, it’s referring to the type of movement that the watch uses to keep good time. These sorts of clocks and watches are run by a vibrating electric oscillator that’s controlled by a quartz crystal, which are arguably more accurate than Swiss-made mechanical movements. The first quartz watch hit the market on Christmas Day 1969 – the Seiko Astron, watch-fans. It was by no means the last.

The Swiss watch manufacturers didn’t initially object to quartz as a movement; true, they may have loved their ol’ faithful mechanical movements, but they still tried to compete. A few months after Astron’s arrival came the Swiss response: the Ebauches SA Beta 21.

 

Time Crisis

Watch-making is in the Swiss blood; it’s what they do, who they are. Ok, not entirely, but it’s certainly a major part of the Swiss identity. For centuries the big guns had dominated the watch world, but with the advent of quartz it was looking to be game over.

 

Many saw the young pretender as an unwanted technological innovation – which arrived at a time when Swiss watch manufacturers were resting upon their hard-earned laurels. So while the Swiss watch manufacturers generally stuck with mechanical movements, others around the world realised the potential to produce cheap, accurate watches for a mass-market. It was the start of a real crisis…

 

Code Red

It took just 9 brief years for quartz watches to become the most popular watch movement on the planet, with most of them being made in Hong Kong. Despite America’s initial prominence in bring quartz to the world, by the end of 1978 most companies had gone bust – including Hamilton – leaving only Timex standing. In approximately the same number of years, the Swiss took an even worse beating.

The Swiss watch industry went into a total nosedive – employment in the whole sector plummeted to 28,000, from 90,000; between 1970 and 1983, watch-maker counts dropped from 1,600 to 600. It looked as if time was up for the master craftsmen and woman of the horological institutions. Something had to be done to avert turning a crisis into a disaster…

 

Crunch Time

As we’ve said before, innovation is a mainstay of the watch industry. It’s the reason why we wear watches on our wrists and not just in our pockets; it’s the reason our watches are smarter and more accurate now than ever before. The Swiss held talks, they researched, and they arrived at a logical conclusion that can be best summed up as: ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’

They called it the Swatch – and it went far beyond just selling a new watch. It was aimed very firmly at the mass markets, disposable and unlikely to be repaired when broken. The Swatch was a fresh, fun, and incredibly fashionable – it had a brand identity like no other Swiss watch had (including teach kids to tell the time with their line of Flik Flak watches). In just two years, the Swatch was restoring prosperity to the Swiss manufacturers. It was selling like hot cakes (which always sell super-well), with well over 2.5 million pieces sold.

 

And that’s how the quartz crisis came to an end. Of course, if you own a watch that isn’t quite as disposable, we can help, with our professional watch repairs. Simply contact us on 0141 946 6333 and we’ll be absolutely delighted to get your ticker tocking.