What Is A Quartz Watch Movement?

95% of the wristwatches sold today rely on quartz movement, but just what is a quartz watch movement? Is your watch actually powered by a piece of stone? The short answer is no. Most quartz watches are powered by a battery.  The quartz crystal, usually just a paper thin slice, is the means used to ensure the accuracy of the quartz watch movement.

What Is A Quartz Watch Movement And How Does It Work?

All quartz watches rely on a phenomenon called the piezoelectric effect. That's just a fancy way of saying that when you apply an electric charge to a certain type of material, it vibrates at a precise frequency. For a wristwatch, the material is quartz, and the electric charge comes from the watch battery.

It's not as simple as hooking a battery to a piece of quartz, though. The whole process takes some precision and requires the assistance of a microchip.

Here's how a quartz watch movement works:

  1. The watch battery sends current to a microchip circuit.
  2. The microchip sends a small electric current to the quartz crystal, which naturally vibrates at a rate of 32,768 times per second.
  3. The microchip counts the vibrations, and releases one electrical pulse every second.
  4. The electrical pulses from the microchip power a tiny electric motor that turns the gears inside of the quartz watch.
  5.  The gears advance, or sweep, the hands around the face of the watch, so you always know what time it is.

For digital watches, the process is the same, but instead of using the microchip's pulses to move hands, they're used to change the numbers on the liquid crystal display, or LCD.

A Brief History Of Quartz Watches

Now that you have the answer to the first question (What is a quartz watch movement?), you may be wondering who invented the quartz watch.  According to the Smithsonian Institute's "Quartz Timeline", no single person invented the quartz watch. It was a long road of discovery that began with Pierre Curie's discovery of piezoelectricity, in 1880. It wasn't until 1927 that the first quartz clock was developed by Warren Marrison. It was extremely large and impractical, but far more accurate that the mechanical clocks that were in use at the time.

It wasn't until 1967, almost 90 years after Curie started the ball rolling, that the first quartz wristwatch prototype was developed in Switzerland.  In 1968, it was Seiko that introduced the first commercially available  quartz movement watch, the Astron. It was the most accurate watch of its time, and cost about $1250 (about the price of a mid-size car at that time).

Since those early days in the infancy of quartz watch movement, technological advances have made it possible for some manufacturers, such as Timex and Casio, to offer very accurate quartz watches for less than twenty dollars.

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