To many, the idea of a quartz watch is a dirty word amongst collectors, disregarded by purist because they ‘have no soul’. The reality of the situation is far different, the quartz watch revolutionised the watch industry and although it nearly caused the death of Swiss watchmaking in the 1980’s, first and second generation quartz watches of the 1970’s simply were not the ‘cheap alternative’ they are considered as today.
Although commonplace now, quartz technology in 1969 was the equivalent of Porsche releasing a flying car today, the technology was an industrial revolution overnight and brought untold potential and wonders to the watchmaking world.
The first quartz watches produced by the Swiss watch industry came in the form of beta 21, a watch so expensive to design that over 15 different watch houses went in together to fund the project. This first movement combined mechanical technology with modern advancements in the form of tuning forks and quartz circuitry, power not by a traditional balance but by a battery. The beta 21 was showcased in 1969 and went into production the following year, adopted by Rolex, Patek Phillip and a number of others but extensively used by Omega, who produced the Electroquartz.
The Omega Electroquartz was their flagship watch, priced way beyond anything else in the range. It boasted 5 seconds per month accuracy, compared to circa 5 seconds per day for the very best mechanical chronometers from any Swiss brand, including Omega.
Swiftly after Omega released the Electroquartz they began working on a top-secret project, a project that would ultimately cost 30,000,000 Swiss francs and would see a total production of only 9000 watches between 1974 and 1978. A watch that was beyond the reach of the average man and in its most expensive form cost more than a new Porsche. The watch was shown at the Basel fair in 1970, boasting an accuracy of 12 seconds per year, a feat that has seldom been achieved since.
It went into production in 1974, released to the market initially in two forms, the Megaquartz F2.4Mhz and the Megaquartz F2.4Mhz ‘Marine Chronometer’, the first and one of the only watches to be certified by the Besancon institute as a Marine Chronometer.
This marvel of watchmaking was eye wateringly expensive, it came (in Megquartz format) with a range of dials, most famously the ‘Stardust dial’, boasting a hand made dial layered with aventurine crystal that sparkled like the night sky. They even made an example in 18K solid gold, weighing near half a kilo and with a retail price in 1974 of a V12 Jaguar E-Type.
The watch was a marvel of technology, a huge quartz circuit and motor unit kept the watch accurate or 12 seconds per year, they are still as accurate today as they were then. The movement was a design masterpiece, modular in construction and showing many of the hallmarks of a mechanical watch despite being quartz.
It is rumoured that Omega lost huge sums of money on every watch but that wasn’t their mission, they aimed to make a watch which couldn’t be surpassed in accuracy and they achieved it.
Today these watches are highly sought after and highly collectable, they are truly a marvel of both design and technology and it is testament to Omegas vision that over 40 years later few watch makers have achieved the level of accuracy that this watch achieved.