1965 marked an important year for the CEH. Some progress was expected by the shareholders of the electric watch development conglomerate, as soon as marine chronometer sized electronic clocks appeared during the observatory competitions of 1964. Whereas Longines and Golay SA were concentrated to miniaturise their successful cal.: 800 and Omega tried to solve the developmental problems of their electronic calibers with the Battelle institute in Geneva, the CEH engineers were tackling other issues while dividing their efforts between three tuning fork related projects:
One project would look into alternative forms of tuning fork regulated electric watches with the goal of circumventing the ‘Accutron’ patent by changing the tuning fork shape and getting rid of position errors (Alpha Project).
The second project, with the ambition of ameliorating the ‘Accutron’ system, would look into the use of a conventional tuning fork regulated caliber, but with the use of an electromechanical -or piezoelectrical vibrating motor (Beta Project). This ‘early’ Beta project would require a lot of resources without producing any working prototypes (1).
The third project (Swissonic) led by the newly recruited Max Hetzel, was looking into an all Swiss tuning fork system completely different to his ‘Accutron’ patent.
CEH goes Quartz
The very first quartz controlled device made at CEH was a quartz regulated demonstration model scratch – built by engineer Eric Vittoz in 1962 in the size of a shoe box (25 x 25 x 25cm). This shoe box sized demonstration model contained a 10kHz commercial quartz radio tube with oscillating circuit, analog frequency dividers and a commercially available electro – mechanical clock (7). Here, the quartz was used for convenience, to look at power consumption and voltage of semiconductor devices, not as a strategic element for watch development. Vittoz’ quartz clock was never shown to the members of the staff (1). Indeed, no trace of CEH working on quartz oscillator systems prior to 1965 is found in their archives.
Already in May 1965 engineer Armin Frei, who was investigating piezoelectric ceramics and crystals to drive metallic resonators for the Beta project, informed engineer Rolf Lochinger about the continuous negative results and shared the idea to look into the use of quartz crystal oscillators instead of putting all efforts towards the tuning fork system (1).
Therefore, the quartz initiative and project leading to the development of the first Swiss quartz wrist watch started from scratch by Armin Frei and Rolf Lochinger in May 1965. By the end of 1965, the team of Frei and Lochinger could present an impressive miniaturised quartz oscillator prototype of wrist watch compatible size, which as isolated element would be functional by early 1966 (1).
These fast developments would then convince Roger Wellinger, then director of the CEH, to redirect the strategic goals for 1966 towards the ‘Montre-bracelet à quartz’. Consequently the ill fated tuning fork related ‘early’ Beta project was terminated and a ‘new’ Beta project was decided upon, this time investigating the use of a quartz crystal resonator. This ‘new’ Beta project would be subdivided into Beta 1 and Beta 2 in November 1966 with the respective progresses explained in the parent section (1). The development towards a wrist watch sized quartz movement had the engineers split into three different, specialist main groups, each group focussing on the development of one crucial major component needed for the functioning of a quartz movement: quartz and its circuitry, frequency division and motor. The actual manufacture of the quartz and its encapsulation to have it wrist watch sized would soon be transferred to Oscilloquartz SA, enabling the respective CEH engineers to focus onto the theoretical research for the ideal quartz oscillation parameters and the quartz control circuitry. The problem of producing adequate batteries was at first outsourced to external companies such as ‘Leclanché’ and ‘Mallory’ specialised in the domain, and who already optimised batteries for the electro-mechanical watch system, but as they could not show further substantial progress, CEH started research on the subject starting from November 1967 (3).
The research on most elements was advancing well, just the frequency division circuitry seamed difficult to miniaturise. This task was intensively researched at the CEH by the ‘semiconductor’ laboratory led by Kurt Hübner for what later in 1966 will become the Beta 1 system, but also forwarded to the newly founded Fasec SA (later renamed Faselec) in Neuchâtel in July 1966 (see below), which in closest collaboration with the CEH will develop their very first integrated circuitry named ODC, which starting November 1966 will enter further development and miniaturisation within the Beta 2 project. The additional facility for developing the divider chain was necessary, as although the system developed by CEH’s ‘semiconductor’ lab was working and successfully used in Beta 1 prototypes, it drained too much energy.
The earliest known functioning experimental quartz prototype where the developments of each of the three main research groups within the ‘new’ Beta project of the CEH plus the first developments of Faselec SA were successfully combined is in form of a small experimental pendulette which is presented below.
CEH / Faselec, Beta Project Prototype, 1966
Prototype category: experimental proof of concept
Description: Aluminium and acrylic cased experimental quartz pendulette. Acrylic lid press fitted to the aluminium mid-case. Aluminium mid-case also accepting a press fit acrylic back lid. Movement consisting of quartz regulating circuitry, encapsulated 32kHz quartz (from KVG Germany), dividing chain, motor and battery hatch. The wheel work attached to an aluminium plate. The electronic elements attached to a green circuit board wafer. The aluminium plate and the green wafer joined by two clip-on aluminium pillars. The acrylic back lid with a hole for the key for time setting. Golden anodised aluminium dial with black printed circuit diagram symbol for a Quartz oscillator at ’12’, ‘F(aselec)’ logo and ‘Swiss’ at ‘6’. Black, brass hour and minute hands, red second hand.
Dimensions: Movement: 64 x 64 x 28mm (without the hand setting screw); 45mm with the hand setting screw; cased: 69 x 69 x 47mm (without the hand setting screw); 56mm with the hand setting screw
Movement: experimental quartz movement containing early CEH and Faselec elements, unnumbered
Additional Info: The construction of this pendulette is remarkable. All major elements are fitted together without the use of screws. All is either press-fitted or connected with two slotted aluminium pillars. The dial is not fixed, it is held exclusively by the press fitted hour hand. The distance of the dial to the aluminium ‘main – bridge’, where the wheel work sits, is kept by two aluminium spacers. The complete movement slides into the aluminium mid – case from the back and is held by an internal lip of said mid-case and secured by the acrylic back. It is possible to dismantle the pendulette into its main components without the use of tools. The functional sub-elements are then either screwed or soldered to their respective support. The enabling of a fast disassembly would facilitate the exchange of elements within the movement considerably improving the flexibility in testing newly developed movement parts.
The 12th of July 1966 Fasec SA (upon creation renamed Faselec) was created in Neuchâtel (4), which as very close collaborator of CEH will take care of the production of electronic components such as the very first ODC-frequency divider and quartz control circuit used in this pendulette. This ODC will then be further miniaturised to be integrated into the Beta 2 prototypes and finally mounted into the industrialised Beta 21 (ODC-4) (4). Several generations of ODC’s have been made, each comprising further miniaturisation: No info is available about ODC generations 1 and 2 developed at ‘Faselec’. The expertise was returned to CEH, where further research produced ODC-3, which was first presented the 19.1.1967 and mounted into the Beta 2 prototypes submitted for the observatory competition of 1967. The even more compact ODC-4 was first presented the 16.2.1968 and used for the industrialised Beta 21 movement (5, 6). ODC-5 will be mounted in replacement modules for Beta 21 and Beta 22 movements starting from 1975. Also the experimental electromagnetic motor used in this pendulette will be further refined, first by CEH, later by Omega, to create the vibrating motor used in Beta 2 and later in Beta 21 (2).
As the functioning of the pendulette was highly dependent of the development and adjustment of the ODC circuitry, the components developed by CEH have been transferred to Faselec, where the pendulette was assembled to a functioning unit. This explains the logo of Faselec on the dial instead of the one of the CEH. This pendulette represents the earliest known experimental quartz time keeper made for the Beta project at CEH.
Provenance: Ex. Hans Baumann collection
Published: Bramaz H.-R., Baumann H.; Die Elektrische Armbanduhr, Band 1, Verlag Stutz Druck AG, Wädenswil, 2013, page 135, picture 3
- Quartzwristwatch, Courtesy of Dr. Armin H. Frei Heritage Estate
- Bramaz H.-R., Baumann H.; Die Elektrische Armbanduhr, Band 1, Verlag Stutz Druck AG, Wädenswil, 2013
- Forrer M., LeCoultre R., Beyner A., Oguey H.; L’aventure de la montre à quartz, Centredoc, 2002
- CEH-Bulletin No. 8, October 1966
- CEH Technical Report No.96, 16.2.1968
- CEH Technical Report No. 82, 19.1.1967
- Vittoz E. A.; The Electronic Watch and Low-Power circuits; IEEE Solid-State Circuits Newsletter, February 2008