It was Christmas of 1969 when Seiko introduced the first quartz watch to the world: the Astron. While it was a gift in some respects, it was of course a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the world was gifted an incredibly simple, accurate, and reliable timekeeping piece of technology that not only guaranteed top-quality performance, but was also offered at an extremely affordable price. However, it also ushered in the Quartz Crisis; a crisis that would see many watch brands fold, untold numbers of lost jobs, and the decline of the centuries-old Swiss watchmaking industry.
Some brands had already started to look towards the so-called future, but when Seiko entered a portable quartz timepiece (QC-951) into the Swiss chronometer competition and it came 10th, the Swiss soon realized that the race for a quartz wristwatch was on – and we already know who won that of course. However, prior to this, several individual brands had looked into quartz, Patek Philippe being the one of the most prominent among them. There is no doubt that to this day any serious watch guy, myself included, looks upon these crystal-powered timepieces, once dubbed “the way of the future,” with much uncertainty.
This is simply because they were in some ways responsible for almost taking the art out of watchmaking. That said, for most of us, quartz timepieces were our introduction into wristwatches, and it was these timepieces that spurred our love for watches today; a love that took many of us away from the ticks of quartz and towards the sweeping seconds of mechanical wristwatches. Perhaps this was their plan from the beginning? Though a quartz timepiece will most likely not be on the top of anybody’s list of grail timepieces, below are just a few examples that even the most vehement watch snob would be proud to place on their wrist.
The Rolex Oysterquartz is perhaps one of the most interesting timepieces from one of the largest watch brands in the world. Why? Well, Rolex was initially rather reluctant to enter the quartz watch marketplace, but when they did so, their timepiece was quite a big success. The watch was modern and new, and these traits were very evident in its design.
It featured a tonneau-shaped case with an integrated bracelet, which was all the range back in the 70s, yet it was still unmistakably a Rolex. The watches even came on what appeared to be Oyster and Jubilee bracelets in a variety of metals. There are also Oysterquartz Day-Date models in yellow and white gold which are already in the focus of the collectors community.
Patek Philippe Ref. 3587
This is another timepiece from one of the more prominent brands making quartz timepieces: Patek Philippe. The company introduced a very unusual piece, for their standards, in the form of the reference 3587. The run was limited to just a few hundred examples after it was released in 1969. They were mostly made in white and yellow gold, with only a handful ever produced in pink gold.
The case of the 3587 was again, very 70s. It was cushion shaped and offered in three variations: one with lugs, one with integrated lugs, and another with an integrated bracelet. Probably the most standout feature of the Patek Philippe Ref. 3587 was the bracelets, which were made by a third-party especially for Patek.
IWC Schaffhausen Beta 21
Another quartz timepiece that is definitely worth mentioning is the IWC Electronic Beta 21. This timepiece is powered by the exact same movement as the Patek reference 3578. It is said that approximately 600 Beta 21 examples were made by IWC Schaffhausen in a couple of versions: “International” and “Da Vinci,” which were available in stainless steel, 18-carat yellow and white gold, and also platinum. IWC spent most of their time developing the correct case to house the Beta 21, hence the different designs, but they were all popular nonetheless. However, it should be mentioned that if you do manage to find an IWC Beta 21 and it has its original movement, hold on to it, as most were swapped out for the later and more reliable Beta 22.
So there you have it, a handful of quartz wristwatches that you probably would have never given a second look. Though in reality they demand respect, as they most likely fueled your love of mechanical watches in the first place.