Quartz watches work because of piezoelectricity. This makes them the most accurate watches in the world—far superior to automatic watches, which captivate us for other reasons.
Piezoelectricity is a unique form of electricity some solid materials can create when placed under stress. Quartz is able to generate this electricity, because of the type of symmetry in its crystal structure.
We owe this discovery to Jacque Curie and Pierre Curie, husband of Marie. In fact, we owe nearly every digital electronic circuit in the world to their discovery.
Almost all run on crystal oscillation, just like your quartz watch.
For exceptional accuracy, quartz watches beat out automatics.
Right The First Time
The first quartz clock was built for Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1927.
And, of course, the first quartz watch was the Seiko Quartz-Astron 35SQ.
That watch hit shelves on Christmas Day, 1969, in Tokyo. It featured a Y-type quartz oscillator and was accurate to ±0.2 seconds per day or a minute each year.
The Astron is considered a major milestone in electrical engineering today.
Only a little has changed since then.
The Perfect Tick
Now, most quartz watches work because a battery provides electrical current to a microchip that causes the crystal to oscillate at 32,768 times per second.
The frequency is entirely too fast for the human imagination to comprehend, but it is exactly right for timekeeping.
It’s high enough to be inaudible to humans, but low enough for digital counters to pull a once-per-second pulse from them. That pulse creates the signature tick of a quartz watch.