Quartz movement and more: Do you know your watch?
Since the creation of watches as we know them, early in the 16th century, these portable, amazing machines have been a staple of civilization, refinement and good taste in western culture. But were they always the same? Surely, they have changed a lot in the last four centuries, right? Well, stick with me and we’ll take a little trip inside your watch, starting from the basics, namely...
Where were they invented?
The first timepieces we have notice of first appeared on Germany. Specifically, on the cities of Nuremberg and Augsburg. These pieces of technological marvel were first made possible thanks to the mainspring in the 15th century. The German clockmaker Peter Heinlein is credited with the first designed watch. These were worn as pendants, but let’s talk about the name of this invention for a second, specifically...
Why do we even call them like that?
Well, for starters, I can tell you that it’s not because you “watch” the time on it. The reason is a little more complex. One account of the origin of the word is that it came from the Old English word woecce, which means "watchman". This was because it was used by town watchmen to keep track of their shifts accurately. Another account is that it comes from 17th century sailors and their jargon, who used these devices to track the length shipboard duty shifts (or watches if you will). Over time, watches became more and more common, and their technology started to grow and evolve, which leads us to...
When did they started to get mass produced?
It all started in Geneva, Switzerland, in the 19th century, with a fellow named Georges-Auguste Leschot. In 1830 he designed an anchor escapement which was later mass produced by his student, Antoine Léchaud. He is also credited with invented a pantograph, which allowed some degree of standardization and interchangeability of parts on watches fitted with the same caliber. This inventions made possible the use of more advanced mechanisms inside the watches, but they still were pocket watches with chains, far from the devices we know today. Oh, by the way, did you know that...
The first wristwatches were used solely by women
Yes, that’s right. It’s hard to imagine a Victorian lady, strolling down a park with an umbrella and a big hat, using a wristwatch, but I can assure you, that was exactly the main demographic using this kind of watches. Men used the aforementioned pocketwatches up until the early 20th century, but the very concept of a watch used in the wrist is much older. It’s widely believed that the first iteration of this kind of watch was made by Abraham-Louis Breguet. The first designed watch for use in the wrist was made by him for Caroline Murat, queen of Naples, around the year 1830, and Elizabet I of England received a wristwatch from Robert Dudley in 1571, but this wasn’t really made for the wrist, since it was best described as an “arm watch”. The story of this kind of watch being worn by men started towards the end of the 19th century, and then, exclusively in the military (for obvious, practical reasons). World War I had a great impact on this, dramatically shifting the perception of watches being worn on the wrist, leading to more market opportunities and even more advances in watch design.
From winding up, to electric
The use of electric-powered watches began in the midst of the 20th century, during the 1950s. These watches kept a time with a balance wheel powered by a solenoid, or, in some advanced watches, by a steel tuning fork vibrating at 360 Hz, powered by a solenoid driven by a transistor oscillator circuit. These advanced foreshadowed the apparition of the modern quartz watch.
Quartz Watch and Quartz Movement
First, have you noticed how in some watches, the second hand has a smooth, sweeping movement, and in some, it’s a more spaced, tick-like movement? That’s because the first case is a watch with mechanical movement, and the second one is a watch with quartz movement. The “movement” is the engine of a watch that acts as the powerhouse to make the watch and every single one of its functions work smoothly and correctly. Quartz movement watches are very accurate and require little to no maintenance (aside from the obvious battery replacement now and then). They are the perfect balance between cost effectiveness and functionality, since they are battery powered and have few moving parts. But how does it work?
How does a Quartz Movement work?
As previously mentioned, this kind of watch uses a battery as its main power source, and it’s the most commonly encountered type of movement in wristwatches nowadays. The battery sends an electrical current through a very small quartz crystal, which electrifies the crystal and creates vibrations, and these vibrations keep the movement oscillating and drive the engine to move the watch hands.
So there you go! Now you know how your trusty wrist companion works, and how it came to be. Like any piece of technology, watches have gone through a lot of changes in their existence, and they keep evolving with each passing year. Isn’t it fascinating?