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Thread: From the early days of quartz.............

  1. #1

    From the early days of quartz.............

    Many may not know that it was Seiko who launched the worlds first Quartz wristwatch in 1969 in Japan...the 35 series Astron.
    Only a 100 pieces were available and at an astronomical retail price of 450,000 yen, equal to that of a medium sized Toyota of the time.

    It is evident though that Seiko rushed these to launch in an effort to beat the swiss.
    They were, in reality, no more than lab prototypes and had major issues from the outset.
    I always wonder what would have happened if the Swiss had done the same, would quartz have ended up as dominant in overall sales?

    Because of this, many consider that the CEH developed Beta 21 was in fact the world first production Quartz.
    CEH was set up in around 68, with 20 major Swiss brands of the time signed up.
    Though only 18 would launch models with the beta 21 in 1970, the Omega Electroquartz and the Rolex 5100 Oysterquartz being the most well known I expect.
    The others, including Patek Philippe, IWC, Bucherer, are barely seen now if ever, and I suspect many of the others never really put any effort into marketing and sales.
    In fact several were already developing their own quartz movements, or were to ditch the idea all together.

    Despite the arguments of who was really first, it should be noted that it was Seiko who created the first production Quartz with a stepper motor that would eventually become the model for the majority of future quartz.

    The brilliant but flawed Astron was followed in 1970 by the 35SQW ( 1800 units ) coming from the Suwa factory, paralleled with the 36 series ( 1000 units ), consisting of 5 cals from the Daini factory.
    The development of the quartz models very much mirrored that of the mechanicals with each factory producing different calibres side by side.

    Next came the 38 series, launched in 1971, and IMO is the first proper mass produced quartz calibres from Seiko.

    My example from 1972 , is a 3823 VFA model rated at -/+ 5spm and was priced at 150,000 yen. Compare this to the most expensive mechanical Seiko watch in 1971, a GS VFA which cost a mere 100,000 yen in comparison. Though still a third of the cost of the original Astron from 3 yrs previous.

    The movement is 7 jeweled and of a TC type, with a small stepping motor and external coil.
    (Note the jeweled backlash pawl in the last pic.)

    Seiko spared no expense on development nor the build quality for these early quartz models which featured all the details that the High-end mechnicals did... indices are applied, the crystal has a AR coating.

    The VFA tag, standing for Very Fine Adjustment was reserved for only the very finest of Seikos models at the time, as they were considered Superior to all the others, and indeed VFA was soon dropped in favour of the tag Superior to identify these models.
    It is worth noting that some models featurning this calibre do not have VFA on the dial, the reason for this is not known to me.

    This particual version is a 7000 case, and is opened through the bezel. The movement is locked in by an internal ring that is slid round, its a very well engineered design which was made to last and was well sealed, as proven by the amazing condition of the inside and movement.

    The costs of developing the early quartz calibres was huge, though in the next decades most of the companies involved would reap the rewards as the tech got more affordable enabling the accuracy benefits of the quartz watch to become available to almost all


    Much Info gleaned from various sources on the internet. I have cross referneced it so hope it is relatively accurate.
    Last edited by keitht; 2nd November 2012 at 17:29.

  2. #2
    Master Thewatchbloke's Avatar
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    Dec 2010
    Berkshire UK
    It's great to see these early quartz watches still going strong, yours looks to be in fine shape Keith. There was a 1970 35 series Astron on eBay a few months ago, in fantastic condition - it even had the original strap and buckle. I dropped out fairly early due to lack of funds at that time but I think it went for over £5,000. The only person I know who owns one is Stefan Molle, a huge Seiko collector.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this piece, it's great to see that these groundbreaking pieces are still appreciated

  3. #3
    Good post and great photos.

    That is a fine watch there in fantastic condition.


  4. #4
    Master Marios's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    Excellent thread - thanks for taking the time.

  5. #5
    Grand Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cannop View Post
    I dropped out fairly early due to lack of funds at that time but I think it went for over £5,000.
    Which, if you think about that, is a steal.

    Thanks Keith.
    The engineering is indeed very solid and made to last.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderfull high quality movement from such an important phase in horology.

    Obviously it was costly to develop the electronics but one thing in particularly costly to máke was the quartz crystal itself. It needed to be cut with a very fine diamond saw and shaved by hand in a laborious proces to very, véry exact dimensions. This dictated a very high unit cost and could not be done any cheaper.
    The breakthrough came when Jurg Staudte of Statek developed the fotolithographic method of production. This was one of the critical factors making lower unit cost possible. Seiko was among the first to see the importance and they paid a license fee of 1,5 million dollar in 1972. It was probably because they also coughed up 15% particpation capital in Statek that they had such a good deal.
    Swiss Ebauches SA took till 1976 to see the light and then needed to pay 5 million dollar for the license.

    With the 35SQW Seiko had the architecture for future production scale enlargement already right. If sómething can be pinpointed as their greatest achievement in the quartz race it is that. They got this right from the start and realy stand out from the Swiss with this.
    With their 38 they were, as you note, already on the fly with that in 1971.
    When mass production of the fotolitographical produced quartz cristals started, there was nothing to hold them back.
    It was thát vision; that qco controled watches could be cost effective mass produced which took the main stream of swiss manufacturers totally by surprise.
    Seiko was already on the fly when they still were firmly convinced that this technology would never ever be competition for their bread and butter; the Roskopf calibers.

    The Beta21 was an impressive piece of technology and a very accurate caliber but it was a totally hands on anufacturing design which did not lend itself at all to adaptation for mass production. All companies that had particpated in the project ended up being grounded by this as they basically had to réstart from scratch to design one that did lend itself to that. It would take them several years to get there. Rolex per example took till 1977 (and then stíll used an antiquated drive). Indeed several gave up, disgusted and financially gutted by the just about total loss of their costly particpation in CEH.
    So it was not that the Swiss started with this technology too late as they were in fact the fírst to pick it up but they had the design scope wrong and took far, far too long to correct this. See above.

    The independantly conceived and developed GP352 (Girard Perregaux/ Jaeger LeCoultre) which went in production in 1973 was by far and away the first swiss caliber that could be mass produced. Breitling was quick to catch on and simply bought in the GP352.

    Anyway, back on topic; the Seiko 38 series marks the start of mass production, of cost effective unit production, of quartz oscilator controlled wristwatch calibers.
    Last edited by Huertecilla; 2nd November 2012 at 19:33.
    When the going gets tough, the DAF gets going.

  6. #6
    A lot of insight in this thread, thanks. While I'm partial to the Beta 21 movements (Sweeping hand, Omega's dashing designs), Seiko clearly got it right quicker and carries on the quartz flame to this date with their HAQ movements, unlike the Swiss companies, for the most part.

  7. #7
    Wonderful thread & pictures to die for. Many thanks .

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Excellent post and always a joy to read about watch development. Thank You

  9. #9
    Grand Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by webvan View Post
    While I'm partial to the Beta 21 movements (Sweeping hand, Omega's dashing designs),
    Me too.
    The design and engineering is not restricted by practical restrictions of mass production and concentrates on the aesthetics of the technology itself.
    This high accuracy principles allow Omega to develop their marine chrono but also forces them to start all over for a mass produced caliber.

    Your observation about haq highlights a difference:
    Seiko and Citizen kept searching for the cutting edge of accurate technology with p.e. the twin quartz and megas and the swiss abandoned this whereas théy had thát path open from the start.
    The japanese never abandonned the path of the high tech quartz but the swiss dropped it like a hot potato (with again Breitling as exception).
    I suspect that the answer is given by Mr. Roskopf in his letters.

    The 3823 VFA illustrates that Seiko is not cutting corners in quality or performance while at the same time looking at machine production.
    When the going gets tough, the DAF gets going.

  10. #10
    On the topic of HAQ, I now remember reading that the Beta 21 was heat compensated, possibly in the article you linked a few weeks ago. That was the first time I'd read that, but it makes sense since it's very accurate, almost as much as the 151x and a lot more than the 1310.

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