The First Quartz Wrist Watch

IEEE Milestone 

Armin H. Frei


This note relates to the 2002 IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing on: "Pioneering Work on the Quartz Electronic Wristwatch, 1962-1967"

Introduction: I personally attended the IEEE milestone celebration event held in Neuchâtel, Switzerland on Sept. 28, 2002. As  co-inventor of the first Quartz Wrist Watch (QWW) I was disturbed by the errors and the manipulations in general and also with the the milestone event, of what I thought was a clear cut historical engineering achievement resulting in the worldwide first QWW in 1967. I am decided though to point out these incorrect "facts" as thoroughly as possible especially in relation to the development of the first QWW, in order to restore historical correctness.

Casted Text: The actual text on the plaque is in violation with historical facts. Further it does not concur with the basic rules of the by-laws of the milestone program. The IEEE Milestone bronze plaque has been placed wrongly on the outside wall of the observatory of Neuchâtel. It reads like:

Manipulation 1: Wrong time period. The notation "Pioneering Work on the Quartz Electronic Wristwatch, 1962-1967" is an incorrect extension of the time period.

During the first three years of the period (1962-1965), there was definitely no plan in place and no work going on at the CEH with regards to QWW's or the like. This in strict compliance with the directives of the governing board (Fritz Hummler, president) and the Swiss watch industry, not to engage in new principles such as quartz. Consequently, the "pioneering work" during the first three years concentrated on Accutron like schemes, not on "quartz electronic wristwatches" as mentioned on the plaque. These Accutron like schemes were explicitely: Max Hetzel's Swissonic, Heinz Waldburger's Alpha project and Max Forrer's  tuning fork project Beta. - The incorrect extension of the period from 3 to 7 years had its origin with Max Forrer and a group of engineers with a vital interest to hide their non-contributions and their own managerial failures with respect to quartz.

We recall it was only after the initiation of a QWW project in May, 1965 by Armin Frei and Rolf Lochinger and after the abrupt change in CEH's strategy in November, 1965, by Roger Wellinger, director CEH when the effective "pioneering work" on QWW's started. The true history of the abrupt change in strategy 1965 has been documented by Armin H. Frei: "The First Quartz Wrist Watch", IEEE GHN, First Hand History. See: 2).

Note: The term "Quartz Electronic Wristwatch" is misleading, since all QWW's are electronic. If they mean electronic display, there was no pioneering work going on in that area in that time frame either. An other manipulation?

Manipulation 2: Wrong key milestone. The "Creation in 1962 of the Centre Electronic Horloger of Neuchâtel" cannot be qualified as a "key milestone" because according to the by-laws, a milestone must represent a significant technological achievement. (cit. Milestones recognize the technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity found in unique products, services, seminal papers and patents,...) The creation of the CEH was certainly not a significant technological achievement in "electrical engineering and computing", and therefore can not be qualified as a "key milestone".

Instead, the key milestone here was clearly the creation and demonstration of a working world first quartz wrist watch which started in May 1965 and resulted with the demonstration of Beta 1 in July 1967. The major contributions leading to the Beta 1 QWW were i) the initialization of the QWW project by Armin Frei and Rolf Lochinger in May 1965, ii) the demonstration of a miniaturized 8192 Hz quartz oscillator by Frei 4Q65, serving as basis for the later Beta 1, Beta 2, Beta 21 and Beta 3, iii) the adaptation of the "Montre-bracelet à quartz" as the major strategic goal by Roger Wellinger, director CEH in November, 1965, iv) the successful demonstration of Beta 1 by Jean Hermann and his crew in July, 1967 and last but not least v) the establishment of the first integrated circuits (IC) pilot line by Kurt Hübner and his crew. IC's were operational as of 4Q65.

The suppression of the key milestone of Beta 1 was again an underhanded trick with the goal to hide Max Forrer's unsuccessful Beta project with the low frequency tuning fork.

Manipulation 3: Wrong placement. The plaque had been placed on an outer wall of the Neuchâtel observatory. This is strongly misleading in that all contributions mentioned above were realized at the LSRH building, rue A.-L.-Breguet 2, none of them at the observatory.

The contributions of the Neuchâtel observatory to the creation of the first QWW was more negative, his director Jaques Buonanomi together with the director of Oscilloquartz Ebauches SA, Francis Berger estimated the QWW as impossible and as science fiction.

Instead, the proper place for the plaque is the building of the CEH, rue Breguet 2, Neuchâtel, where the invention/initiation/development and demonstration of the first QWW actually took place, where the director of the CEH started the project "Montre-bracelet à quartz" in Nov. 1965 and successfully achieved that goal in 1967 (and by doing so, lost his position and his job). There is certainly no need to "honor" the observatory for routine tests and his director who plied strongly against the idea of a QWW.

Consequently, the plaque must be moved to the old CEH building.

Manipulation 4: Wrong impact. "Since then" on the plaque refers to 1967 and this was certainly not the starting point of large scale production of QWW's.

It took René Le Coultre and Max Forrer more than two years, from 1967 till 1970 to accomplish the technology transfer from the experimental Beta 2 to the product Beta 21. The CEH and the Swiss watch industry launched their first commercial QWW Beta 21 in 1970. However the first industrial produced watches appeared on the market since Dec. 25, 1969 by Seiko, Japan, not by the Swiss watch industry (see Seiko Quartz Wrist Watch Milestone, 2004).

All this was not large scale production and not low price either as pretended by the plate. All this were expensive, precision minded and exclusive products. For large scale production see Swatch (Nikolaus Hayek), about one decade later.

For reason of to many fairy tales, it is proposed to replace the text on the plaque by:


A major milestone in the development of the electronic wristwatch was the demonstration of the world first quartz wristwatch Beta 1 in July, 1967 at the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) in Neuchâtel. The centre produced the first quartz wristwatches incorporating a miniaturized quartz oscillator and low power integrated circuits that set new timekeeping performance records at the International Chronometric Competition held at the observatory of Neuchâtel in 1967.  After 1969 when the first quartz wrist watches by Seiko, Japan appeared on the market, quartz wristwatches became a status symbol for people with technical appreciation, sense for precision time and financial background. Later with the introduction of mass production technologies (e.g. Swatch) hundreds of millions units were produced each year.

Describing Text: The text accompanying the milestone plaque reads like: "In 1962 the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) was founded with the intent to design a new generation of wristwatches for mass production. For centuries watches had been mechanical in nature, composed of intricate moving parts powered by an unwinding spring. The introduction of the battery-driven watch was revolutionary in nature. It incorporated the "new" integrated circuit.  CEH's QWW rated a new precision record for time accuracy, off only a few tenths of a second per day. The first comercial Swiss quartz watch, Beta 21 (as seen above) was introduced in 1970. Members of CEH were responsible for a specific component of the watch. The task of mass producing the watch was divided among several companies to speed the process along. The first 1,000 Beta 21 quartz watches became available on 10 April 1970, under brand names of 16 different Swiss watch companies. These watches maintained the traditional round dial with twelve numerals.

By 2002, digital watches had become so popular that mechanical watches made up only thirteen percent of the world watch market.

Manipulation 5: Wrong strategic statement. The statement: "In 1962 the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) was founded with the intent to design a new generation of wristwatches for mass production.” is misleading/incorrect two folded. It wrongly implies that the founders were interested in new generations of wristwatches such as for example QWW's or others. None of the founders documents expressed this kind of an intention. Even in 1966 the president told us that the Swiss watch industry does not support a QWW. Effectively from 1962 till way beyond 1965 we had basically 3 project in the circuits section (all tuning fork oriented), none of them quartz oriented, none of them mass production oriented, and in the semiconductor section we had lumped high impedance and low current transistor work, but no IC and no mass production. In the contrary:

The founders intention was to investigate into those wristwatches using electronics and batteries, in addition to mechanics. Specifically it was intended to look closer to the new Accutron type of a wristwatch and to come up with improvements with the goal to participate in the upcoming market via patent negotiations and licensing. The Swiss watch industry was shocked by the electronics of the Accutron, feared about loosing their dominance in mechanics and opposed strongly against going electronic.

This milestone addresses QWW's, an object which had not been on the minds of the founders. Consequently mass production of low cost quartz wristwatches has certainly not been in the minds of the founders either. The initiators of the first QWW at the CEH had in mind to come up with a high priced, high quality watch meant for the upper classes of users. E.g. the Seiko QWW had a price tag of 3 monthly salaries. Investigations into mass production and low price had been started in Switzerland more than a decade later by others (Swatch).

Manipulation 6: Battery not new. The statement: "The introduction of the battery-driven watch was revolutionary in nature." in the context of the CEH Milestone implies that the CEH was the revolutionary pioneer of battery-driven wrist watches. This in turn is pure plagiarism, watches with batteries were "introduced" before. As far as I remember the Accutron had a battery too!

Manipulation 7: Beta 21 no prototype, wrong timing. The statement: "The first prototype, Beta 21 (as seen above) was introduced in 1967.” is not correct because: i) Beta 21 was not a prototype, it was a product which was fabricated and sold in a production run of 6000 ii) Beta 21 was not introduced in 1967, it was launched in 1970. iii) instead, the first QWW were Beta 1 and Beta 2, both completed in 1967 and delivered to the Observatory contest, where they won 10 first prices, leaving the competition way behind. In 1967 there was no Beta 21 project yet, also the word Beta 21 did not exist yet in 1967. With respect to the title of the milestone, one should not mention here Beta 21 at all because it falls outside the timeframe of 1965-1967.

The manipulation with dates, project names and contributors names is typical for the Forrer plot and its intention to hide the contributions of the true innovators/inventors/designers for personal reasons. See also Forrer's book "L'aventure.." p. 56, p. 169 ff.

Manipulation 8: LED is beyond. The statement: "In later years the LED (light-emitting diode) digital wristwatch was introduced. The time was displayed by touching a button on the side of the watch. This was improved with the introduction of the LCD (liquid crystal display) digital display providing continuous readout." can be dropped because it has nothing to do with the title of the milestone and its time frame was way beyond.

A correct describing text would be:

In 1962 the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) was founded with the intention to investigate into the upcoming new types of wristwatches using electronics and batteries in addition to mechanics. In particular, the CEH first focused on the Accutron type of wristwatches using a tuning fork with the goal to come up with improvements allowing to participate via patent negotiations and licensing on the upcoming market. This strategy and work lasted for about 3 years but did not prove successful.

Based on the prototype of a miniaturized quartz oscillator running at 8192 Hz the director of the laboratory changed the strategy of the CEH abruptly into the new direction of building a "Montre bracelet à quartz". As opposed to Seiko, who applied hybrid technology, the CEH semiconductor pilot line produced its first integrated circuits as of 4Q65, which proved useful to master space requirements. Within two years the CEH designed, build and demonstrated Beta 1, the world first quartz wrist watch of a working QWW.  CEH's watches exhibited a new precision record for time accuracy of only a few tenths of a second per day and achieved an outstanding ranking. This was due to the quartz oscillator and its thermo-compensation module.



2) The First Quartz Wrist Watch

3) The First Quartz Wrist Watch Assembling Crew