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Can Swiss watchmakers survive another century of disruption?

Ticking for 50 years: The quartz watch

The famous quartz watch, a Swiss invention subsequently commercialized and mass-marketed by Japanese companies, celebrates its 50th birthday this month.

First unveiled at a competition organized by Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) in Neuchâtel in 1967, quartz timepieces quickly turned Swiss (and international) watch markets upside-down.

The innovation? Using crystal quartz as a regulator of time allowed for miniaturization and huge reductions in energy consumption, meaning that the small wristwatches could tick for longer and cheaper.

They were also extraordinarily precise; the accuracy of frequency meant that quartz clocks would not vary by even one-thousandth of a second each day.

Half a century later, quartz is king in the Swiss watch industry – at least in terms of production. Three-quarters of output now relies on the crystal, even if in terms of profits, old-fashioned mechanical timepieces still lead the way.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR