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What is "The Quartz Crisis"?

As you may already know watches contain what’s known as a movement, which is basically the engine of the watch keeping the hands moving at the correct time. There are 3 primary movements used for watches: mechanical, automatic and quartz. They were also discovered in that order. Mechanical movements use a rotor which gives the watch power and it must be manually wound. Automatic movements also use a rotor but the watch will wind it up automatically using the power generated from wrist movement. A quartz movement, however, is battery-powered; a battery sends electricity to the quartz component making it vibrate at 32.768kHz which then tells the hands to move at a specific rate.

Now that we’re caught up on the background info, let’s have a look back in time to when the quartz movement was first introduced and caused quite the stir in the world of watch making.

In the beginning

In the beginning… there was nothing. Well, there was no quartz more like. Mechanical watches were invented way back in 1510 and were followed by the creation of the automatic watch in the 1770s. The art of watch making was an advanced skill often passed down through generations but as time went on, by the 1900s watch production grew massively meaning watches could be mass produced.

It was at this time that the Swiss were able to really come into their own in the watch industry. Because they stayed neutral throughout the World Wars, they were able to continue producing watches for the public whereas countries involved in the wars had to focus their watch production for use by the armed forces.

Very quickly after World War 2 wristwatches became very trendy and sought after, they were a necessary addition to any respected person’s outfit.

Here comes the quartz

So, it’s safe to say that the Swiss watch industry was getting pretty comfy with all of its new found success. Little did they know, this wouldn’t last long.

In 1969, the Japanese watch brand, Seiko, released the “Astron”, which was the first quartz watch. This watch would go on to catalyze the start of what we call “the quartz crisis”. The novelty of this new shiny watch piqued the interest of many watch consumers. Quartz watches were also a lot easier to manufacture meaning they were more affordable, more durable, and very precise. All of things combined were a recipe for success and only 7 years later, Seiko had become the worlds leading watch brand worth a whopping $700 million.

Whilst the watch makers using quartz were thriving, the Swiss watchmakers were struggling. Employment in the Swiss watch business fell from 90,000 jobs to 28,000 jobs as more and more businesses were having to shut down, especially small family run ones.

Swiss watch makers were reluctant on changing their ways to cater for the new quartz watch market as they wanted to maintain the traditional methods of producing watches which had been passed throughout their families, however with their businesses struggling adaptions had to be made.

Swiss retaliation

To help combat this big problem, two of the main men in the Swiss watch industry, Ernst Thomke and Nicolas G. Hayek, came together to form The Swatch Group in 1983. On their new venture they began manufacturing quartz watches made from plastics. This meant the watches were cheap, stylish, and modern allowing them to claw their way out of the crisis. It wasn’t all plane sailing though, they faced big financial struggles and needed lots of help from the bank.

A few years after The Swatch Group was formed, production was on the up as they were able to effectively tackle the high demand for these watches at a great price! And the rest is history.


Of course today mechanical, automatic, and quartz watches all live together happily without any jealousy, but it's crazy how much the quartz movement once took the world by storm and is now overlooked as a given. We hope you've enjoyed this weeks blog, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss any in the future! Have a good day :)


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