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Do you know when the first portable clock was built? Around 1410, the mainspring combined with the fusee created the first portable clock. This started the path to modern watchmaking.

About 1492, the mechanical watches premiered in Italy, Germany, and France. This was the only type of watch until the late 1960s.

In 1972, the Hamilton company released the world’s first electronic digital wristwatch. The price of this watch was $2,100.

Continue reading to learn more about the art of modern watchmaking.

The Quartz Crisis vs. Revolution in Watchmaking

Traditionally, watches were only worn by the aristocracy, the military, and those whose work required a watch. The production process became more streamlined in the early 1900s.

The release of the first quartz wristwatch occurred in July 1967 at the Centre Electronique Horloger in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. The watch met all regulatory requirements for men’s wristwatches by the Observatory of Neuchâtel.

For those in the watchmaking world, this time became known as the quartz crisis. The corporations describe this time as the quartz revolution. This innovation in watchmaking almost destroyed the Swiss watch industry.

The quartz watch provided more accurate chronometric performance. This watch was also able to be mass-produced.

Today, smartwatches threaten the sales for mechanical and quartz watches.

Mechanical Watches

Mechanical watches rely on a spring-driven mechanism or mainspring. This mainspring must be wound for the watch to continue functioning.

This watch does not use a battery. It relies on many complex spiraling springs and moving gears to move the watch hands and keep time.

Some of these rotor mechanisms use the Earth’s gravitational pull. This pull compresses the mainspring as the wrist moves. Kinetic energy from this movement works as an automatic winding mechanism.

Due to the art and craftsmanship required to make these watches, for many people, they become more than an item to keep time. Horologists call them timepieces, collector’s items, and accessories.

Quartz Watches

Quartz watches are battery-powered. The battery often lasts several years due to the low level of electricity required.

These watches contain gears to count the seconds, minutes, and hours. Most have a sweep or second hand on the clock face. A tiny crystal of quartz controls the gears in a quartz watch.

Quartz is a common mineral found on Earth. It comes from a chemical compound known as silicon dioxide. Computer chips are also made from silicon.

Quartz is piezoelectric. This means that when you squeeze the crystal it generates a tiny electric voltage. If you expose it to voltage, the quartz crystal vibrates a precise number of times every second.

The battery transmits electricity to the quartz crystal via an electronic circuit. The crystal vibrates exactly 32,768 times each second. The circuit counts these vibrations and responds with one regular electric pulse each second.

This pulse is able to power an LCD display for digital watches. Alternatively, the pulse can drive a tiny electric stepping motor to turn gear wheels. This allows the watch’s hands to move around the face of the watch.

Gravity does not affect the function of the quartz watch. This means you can use the watch for climbing or while traveling on water.

Watch Sounds

Most of us don’t think a lot about the sound our watch makes. However, this sound results from precise work by the watchmaker. It’s important to achieve the proper volume and tempo of the chime.

The sound is more than what you hear. The sound reflects the inner-workings of the watch that keep time.

Watch Sound Volume

Watchmakers regulate the volume through precise adjustment of the sound components. The gongs are often made of tempered steel. The gong’s shape plays a key role in the chiming.

The watchmaker selects the gong based on length, diameter, and taper at the base. Each gong must connect to the internal movement. Some watches today attach the gong to the case components.

Each factor impacts sound quality. The watch’s case material also plays a key role in the sound. Different gold alloys can produce very different sounds.

The strength with which the watch’s internal hammer strikes the gong also affects the sound. To achieve the desired sound, the hammer must hit a precise impact point on the gong. Then the gong must recoil in a precise manner.

Precision adjustment of each element by the watchmaker creates the final desired sound.

Watch Sound Tempo

The tempo of the chime requires adjustment of a repeater. You can watch a video online to see a watchmaker adjust a watch’s tempo.

Modern repeaters use virtually silent centrifugal governors.

Centrifugal Governors

These maintain the speed of an engine. Precise balancing of centrifugal (spinning) forces on the flyballs creates equal and opposite radial forces.

This creates the faint buzzing sound.

Anchor Escapement

Traditional watches use an anchor escapement. Most watches use a toothed escape wheel type of anchor escapement. The escape wheels are mounted on the shaft that contains the driving pinion gear. Two pallets are mounts on opposite ends of a bar.

The oscillator that rocks the bar connects to the spring of the balance wheel. This allows the bar to rock back and forth in unison with the balance wheel. At the same time, the pallets move in and out between the teeth which lock or release the escape wheel.

This wheel is constantly held under torque by the watch’s mainspring and gears. When one pallet withdraws, a short delay occurs before the second pallet engages in the tooth in the escape wheel. For a short time, neither pallet is engaged with the escape wheel.

This time gap allows time for the wheel to make small predetermined rotations to drive the pointers. The delay duration is key to controlling timekeeping. This sudden stopping of the escapement’s pallet from the escape wheel causes the “ticking” sound.

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Did you find this article about the Art of Modern Watchmaking interesting? We hope it provided a more in-depth understanding of the skill required to make a watch. Our mission is to promote innovation in watchmaking.

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