As described in the parent section, the development of the Beta 21 movement passed several important phases with the development of earlier prototypes (proof of principles), Beta 1 and Beta 2, of which Beta 2 was selected to perform the technology transfer from the hand made Beta 2 prototype to an industrially produced derivate: Beta 21.
The first functioning quartz wrist watch movements are indeed Beta 1 and Beta 2, later the technology transfer from Beta 2 for the development of Beta 21 needed the manufacture of intermediate prototypes to ensure smooth industrial production. To achieve this, the main principles of Beta 2 were kept, but the whole configuration and parts of the movement had to be adapted for large scale production.
Moreover the ‘static’ tests performed during the chronometer competition at the observatory of Neuchâtel in late 1967, although crowning the Beta 1 and Beta 2 movements as the most precise movements to date, were not enough for ensuring correct functioning of the movements once worn on the wrist. Therefore during the late refinement of the hand made prototypes of Beta 21 by CEH engineers mid 1969, the 10 hand constructed pieces were submitted to additional ‘dynamic’ tests, which among other changes, led to modifications of the quartz suspension.
CEH-225, Beta 21 Prototype, July/August 1969
Category: functional prototype
Description: Symmetric, rectangular, acrylic cased (later) prototype. Transparent, acrylic, snap case back. Movement fixed with two screws to the acrylic case. No dial. Black brass hands. Snap on acrylic crystal, acrylic crown.
Dimensions: 34.5mm (without crown), lug – lug: 46.5mm, lug width: 22mm
Movement: Beta 21, # CEH-225, with calendar module
Additional info: This movement predates the industrially produced 5980 pieces belonging to the ‘zero’-series and represents one of only 10 prototype movements hand made directly by CEH engineers. According to the CEH archives this prototype movement was made in July/August 1969.
The acrylic case was added later, earliest in March 1970, so that the watch became a ‘presentation piece’. For which occasion this type of case was made remains unclear, but it was for sure not made for submitting to chronometer competitions (these were halted in 1968 / 69 and not resumed for quartz watches). There is a possibility, that these acrylic cases were made for presenting Beta 21 at the Basle fair of 1970 at the CEH stand. The first mentioning for the manufacture of such cases in the CEH archives dates from an entry in a notebook of engineer Henry Oguey dated 02.03.1970. As this case type is mentioned in a notebook of a CEH engineer, it can be deducted, that these cases were made in house. Several movements from the ‘zero’ – series are known to have been cased in identical acrylic cases.
The earliest known Beta 21 movements are CEH-224 and CEH-225, both part of the permanent collection of the International Museum of Horology (MIH) in La-Chaux-de-Fonds. CEH-224 is uncased.
The numbering of these earliest Beta 21 prototypes suggests, that the numbering code for the Beta 2 prototypes was taken and the continuity of the numbering starting with CEH-220 was used.
One immensely important source of confusion is the hand written tag attached to the buckle of CEH-225. The tag reads ‘VII – 67’, which had been confused for decades, also in specialised literature, for the production year of the watch. After personal inquiry the MIH confirmed, that the number ‘VII – 67’ represents their archive number for that piece and that it is not the production year of the watch, which is mid 1969 for the movement and early 1970 for the case as stated above.
Provenance: This piece was deaccessioned from CEH and is now part of the permanent collection of the MIH (Musée International d’Horologerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds).
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the team at MIH for letting me analyse this historic piece!