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.
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.
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 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.