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Competition among manufacturers in the 1950s and 60s revolved around reductions in size. In 1969 the first automatic chronograph wristwatch was developed, and Neil Armstrong wore an Omega Speedmaster as he made his giant leap for mankind..

Quartz Revolution:

Precision has always been the greatest challenge in making timepieces. Quartz crystals were long known to offer highly reliable frequency standards. This led to the first Quartz clock in the late 1920s which was considered the most accurate time keeping device yet developed.

Still, the technology to allow use of Quartz crystals in wristwatches had to await invention of the integrated circuit in 1970. This enabled a Swiss group to manufacture the first commercially available Quartz watch, the Beta 21. The Swiss, however, lacked the industrial means for large scale production and were reluctant to pursue a technology that could crush Swiss dominance in less precise mechanical watches.

In short order, commercially viable production of Quartz watches fell to the Japanese who came to market with the first analogue Quartz watch. By 1971 Seiko was offering Quartz crystal wristwatches accurate to within five seconds a month or a minute a year. America's Hamilton Watch Company immediately followed with the Pulsar and its digital (LED) readout.

Early Quartz watches had certain drawbacks -- short battery lives, and LED watches required pushing a button to display the time. Soon, this was replaced by the LCD (liquid crystal display) providing a continuous readout and battery life was improved. The Quartz revolution was well under way by the late 1970s, led by the Japanese and Americans. Only about 13% of wristwatches made today are mechanical.

Although the Swiss helped pioneer Quartz technology, they were slow to join the bandwagon, believing erroneously that Quartz was no more than a fad. Swiss watch making fell into decline. Not until 1983 did the Swiss industry begin to regain its vigour with introduction of the Quartz Swatch watch by the predecessor of what today is the Swatch Group. With the Swatch, consumers quickly embraced a new concept - the wristwatch as a fashion statement as well as a tool.

Today, wristwatch design has advanced to an abundance of choices from dirt cheap to bejewelled masterpieces. Once again, Swiss watchmakers hold sway in the middle and higher price brackets while Japanese and Hong Kong makers hold the moderate and low end. Most American manufacturers have been acquired by foreign interests.

One unmistakable trend is that buy-outs, mergers and acquisitions going to the highest bidder have resulted in a growing number of prestige brands being moved under the roofs of large conglomerates. TAG Heuer, Ebel, Zenith, Chaumet, Dior and Fred, for instance, have recently been acquired by the French LVMH Group. Many familiar brands and much technology in the Swiss arena has been moved under the umbrella of the Swatch Group empire. The tradition of small independent watchmakers working in pastoral settings is drawing to a close. Globalization will continue reaching deeply into the watch making craft.

It is a plain truth at the start of the 21st century that the wristwatch is more indispensable than ever as a tool for business, sports, fashion and daily living.

What's next? Will wristwatches connect to our computers? Will they act as phones and beepers or store and retrieve data? Hmmm... Dick Tracy, we need you!

Read more about Quartz Watches

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Watches Sales: The largest collection of watches and clocks on the web