What is a Quartz Clock?

Ron Marr

Throughout history, people have felt a need to know the time. At first, they merely looked at the position of the sun. If it was in the middle of the sky, it was time for lunch. If it was dark outside, it was time to go to sleep.

Quartz clocks were first invented in the late 1920s.
Quartz clocks were first invented in the late 1920s.

However, as cultures, technology, and industry developed, a more accurate method of timekeeping was required. As the centuries passed, man came to rely on sundials, then on spring-powered or pendulum clocks. These devices all served their purpose, but as the pace of society quickened, so did humankind’s desire to know the exact time.

Quartz is an incredibly common crystal.
Quartz is an incredibly common crystal.

The quartz clock was the answer. Inside a quartz clock one will find two very essential parts: a quartz crystal and an electronic oscillator. These two objects, when combined with a variety of gears, motors, and digital counters, allow the average quartz clock or watch to lose or gain an average of only ten seconds per year.

Quartz clocks may have an alarm feature.
Quartz clocks may have an alarm feature.

Quartz clocks were first invented in the late 1920s; they jumped into mass popularity during the 1970s when technological advances made them affordable. Aside from their accuracy and low cost, the beauty of a quartz clock lies in the materials inherent to the mineral from which it gets its name.

Quartz is incredibly common, found in sand and rock. It is unusual, though, in that a quartz crystal is piezoelectric. This means that if a quartz crystal is vibrated or squeezed, it elicits a very small electrical current. In the same vein, if one were to run a small electrical current through a quartz crystal, it would vibrate at an exact frequency. Better yet, it would always vibrate at the same, exact frequency.

Therein lies the secret of the quartz clock. Inside the clock is a small battery. Via an electronic circuit, electricity is shot through the quartz crystal. In response, the crystal begins to oscillate at a rate of exactly 32,768 times per second. Another electronic circuit counts these vibrations, and generates one pulse per second. It then sends that pulse to either gears or a miniature motor, which moves the hands around the clock face or translates the information into a digital display.

Because of its low energy use, the battery in a quartz watch or clock can last for years. This is a great improvement over having to remember to wind a watch, estimate the length of shadows, or stare at the sun. Thanks to the quartz clock, you can now always be on time for lunch.

Traditional clocks and watches use a system of gears and pulleys to keep time.
Traditional clocks and watches use a system of gears and pulleys to keep time.

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Discussion Comments


My dad was stationed in Germany many years ago when he was in the military. When he was there he purchased a quartz cuckoo clock that I always remember being in our kitchen.

As a young girl, I was completely fascinated with this cuckoo clock. My sister and I always took turns pulling up the weights to make sure it kept running.

That clock worked for as long as I can remember and every hour, the doors would open and the cuckoo would let you know what time it was by how many times it would cuckoo.

This quartz clock had to have been very well made to last as long as it did without any maintenance.


Over 20 years ago I was given a quartz pendulum clock that I hang on the wall. This always kept very accurate time and would chime on the hour.

The nice thing about this is you could turn this chime off if you didn't want to hear it at night. I could always rely on the quartz wall clock to know what time it was even if I wasn't in the same room.

A few months ago the clock quit working and putting in a new battery didn't do anything. I ordered a replacement pendulum set for under $20. Once I got this installed, the clock worked perfectly again.

I was glad that I didn't have to replace the whole clock as I have become quite accustomed to the look and sound of this clock on my wall.

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