Article By: Logan Hannen
What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re going to take a look at the origins of the quartz watch, and which company made the first one.
Now, spoiler alert: as with so many great feats in horology, the company to produce the first quartz powered wristwatch was, you guessed it…Seiko. Love them or hate them, they have remained one of the most foundational brands when we think of modern horology, both in terms of design and innovation (Spring Drive, anyone?). They’ve remained totally independent and totally in house (well, kind of) for most if not all of their life, to the best of my knowledge, and seriously, how insanely gorgeous is that GS Snowflake, anyway?!
Back on the subject at hand. Now, when we look at the history of quartz within Seiko itself, specifically with regard to the path it took to get there, that can get a bit hairy. However, it definitely becomes interesting when you factor in all of the project names and movement numbers and case designs and….oh, forget it; for a more in-depth discussion on the minutiae, check out A Blog to Watch’s coverage of the 40th Anniversary of the Astron. The Astron, for the record, is the name of the first quartz Seiko model. Got it?
The most fascinating thing about this, though, and the thing that Ariel mentions in that blog post above, is the fact that Seiko, in designing the first quartz wristwatch movement, essentially set the course of a cultural understanding of quartz pieces: the ticking second hand. Originally, the plan for the Astron was to have the seconds hand sweep, something Seiko not only wanted to do, but actually accomplished! It looked great, functioned wonderfully, and…had an abysmal battery life.
The folks at Seiko realized that they had put so much strain on the battery of the watch that it had, in effect, cut it’s lifespan down by far more than they thought was worth it. So, they went back to the drawing board, in a manner of speaking, and decided to use a “dead seconds” method of controlling the second hand, wherein it only indicates the precise start and stop of the seconds, rather than the entire arc of them. With that, they defined what we think of when we think of quartz watches.
Interestingly enough, some mechanical pieces today have employed a dead second or true second complication as a feat of horological innovation, taking a visual cue that existed strictly to conserve battery life and warping it into the most subtle sign of geekiness imaginable. Man, I love this industry.
As always, remember to take a lickin’, keep on tickin’, and keep it classy, watchfam.
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