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Quartz Clocks

Quartz clocks, clocks with power supplied by a quartz crystal, first developed by Bell Laboratories in 1928, do not fall into the category of antiques. Merritts.com provides this article for the information of our visitors due mainly to the universal popularity of quartz clocks and watches. The other articles on Merritts.com dealing with time, clocks, and clock movements all discuss the push for accuracy in timekeeping that has driven the development of clocks over the centuries. We leave to the philosophers to analyze the reasons we need an atomic clock with an accuracy of one second in a million years, or even why the quartz wristwatch we wear needs to be accurate to five seconds a year. Those accuracies in the twenty-first century are what quartz has brought us. Quartz clocks may be what Carlos Perez calls, "The final paradigm of horological evolution", or, as we might say, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

Quartz, a chemical crystal, was found to vibrate at a certain frequency when an electric current was passed through it. This principle was used by Bell Labs to create that first quartz clock, discovering in the process-unsurpassed accuracy for the time. The use of quartz was in the realm of navigation, astronomy, and some government communication equipment through the 1930's to the mid-1960's. Quartz crystals, combined with Cesium, established the UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) system in 1961, and the worldwide setting of the "value" of a second in 1967. That time system generally referred to as Zulu Time, and the exact measurement of a second remain today. Sealing the quartz from temperature variations and magnetic fields required larger pieces of equipment, and the cost was beyond any use by the general public. Reducing the size, lowering the cost, improving durability, providing a manageable electrical power supply and extending crystal life all presented challenges to those seeking to bring quartz to the market place. Quartz clocks and watches received their impetus to public life with the miniaturization and integrated circuits that were developed as part of the computer revolution in the late 1960's.

Quartz clocks and wristwatches flew into the marketplace from Seiko and Switzerland along with the "Dawning of the Age of Aquarius" in 1970. Clocks powered by house current with quartz tuning fork shaped resonators replaced the tick-tock of the spring driven clock on the nightstand. Wristwatches that never needed to be wound-using quartz crystals replaced the spring driven ones. More production meant lower costs, and lower costs led to more purchases, which led to more production --- in the marketplace so enamored by Adam Smith. Innovation continued as the analogue readout of time was replaced, thanks again to the microchip, by a digital readout. First in Light Emitting Diode display, which continues in electric supplied quartz clocks, and later in Liquid Crystal Display for watches, which required less battery drain to power than a LED display. A digital time display now glows from everything from an oven, to a DVD player, and to our computer screens, many regulated for accuracy by automatic connection to a central network timepiece slaved to an atomic clock. The resonating of the crystal as the electricity passes through it is interpreted by microchips and sent to the display. Many modern clocks, including floor clocks and ones that have analogue displays, use quartz crystals for power and accuracy. The power from the crystals may also be used to operate a pendulum, only for appearance, or spinning crystal pendulums, and to chime the hour or play music. While a quartz clock, particularly to those admirers of antique clocks, lacks the romance and history surrounding the weekly lifting of the weights or winding of the spring; we now know within a nanosecond when lunchtime at work starts.
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