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Is the Apple Watch the New Quartz Revolution?

by Yujin Bronner

Artwork by Yujin Bronner

Prior to the 1970s the Swiss watch industry owned 50 percent of the world market, but when the quartz revolution started, its market share dropped. Unlike mechanical watches, quartz watches have fewer moving parts and have advantages in precision and maintenance. Powered by a battery instead of a spring, the quartz watch proved to be economical and eventually cheaper to make.


American and Japanese companies took advantage of the latest technology and started mass-producing quartz watches in the 1970s. Seiko unveiled the first quartz watch, the Seiko Quartz Astron, in 1969. It took only nine years for quartz watches to become more popular than mechanical watches, and the Swiss watch industry consequentially fell behind.


To date, the technological world has changed dramatically. Quartz timekeeping mechanisms have spread not only to watches but to computers, cameras, cell phones, microwaves, and many other appliances. When Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the new Apple watch, many controversies arose about whether this product would disrupt the luxury watch industries enough to hurt companies, such as Rolex, TAG Heuer, and Omega.


This is not the first time that a smart watch has been marketed to the consumer. Samsung, Motorola, LG, Microsoft, and others have targeted consumers who want a watch that tells more than time. Features, such as providing GPS, receiving phone calls, texting, and even buying products from Amazon, have been targeted. So far, smart watches have not harmed the wristwatch industry, especially watchmakers whose products cost at least $5,000 apiece.


The quartz revolution eventually reduced the number of Swiss watch industry workers from 90,000 in 1970 to 47,000 by 1980. But in 1983 the Swiss made an inexpensive quartz watch called Swatch out of plastic. This watch’s resounding success led the Swiss watchmaking industry out of bankruptcy and demonstrated that the Swiss had adapted to this revolution.


TAG Heuer is collaborating with Google to compete against the Apple watch and design and manufacture a watch with Tag Heuer’s technology and an Android chip from Google inside the watch. The Tag Heuer Carrera Wearable 01 will be priced at $1,400.


Tag Heuer will be the fifth company to join the Android platform along with Sony, Asus, Motorola, and Samsung. It is interesting that this would be the first watch that would possibly be upgradable, unlike other wearable Android devices. According to UK communications manager Alexandra King, “The watch will change the technology as it develops.” Jean-Claude Biver was clear about this and stated, “We want to be able to change the technology but keep the watch elements.”


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