Review: Trueb et al: Electrifying the Wristwatch (2013)

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001
Bookreview by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

The Comprehensive History of the Electric Wristwatch – and its Technology

Electrifying the Wristwatch, by Lucien F. Trueb, Gunther Ramm and Peter Wenzig. Edited by Christian Pfeiffer-Belli; with a preface by Estelle Fallet. Published 2013 in English, by Schiffer Publishing Ldt., Atglen PA [Originally published in 2011 in German by Ebner Verlag, Ulm as “Die Elekrtifizierung der Armbanduhr”]. ISBN 978-0-7643-4304-9. Hardcover, Dustjacket, 320 pages, 31 x 24 cm, 582 color illustrations, bibliography & index (with over 1000 enties). List Price $99. Available through for$ 74.

For over 500 years mankind has used waearble timepieces - i.e. watches - to know the time while on the go. For the first 450 years that meant a mechanical watch driven by a coiled spring. But today over 90% of new watches are electrically driven, a complete change of technology that happened essentially within 50 years. This fundamental change has been documented in a thorough, scholarly way for the first time in the book under review.

Lucien Trueb is a Swiss journalist who over the course of the decades, while reporting on the Swiss watch industry, closely observed the havoc the switch to electronic timekeeping caused in the Swiss economy. Trueb’s first book on the subject was published in 2008 (Trueb: Kinder der Quarzrvolution. Institut L’Homme et le temps, La Chaux-deFonds. ISBN 978-3-89896-351-0) and contains short profiles on 66 people who witness, were innovators or key players in this drama. This offered interesting tidbits of information, but just highlighted that lack of a comprehensive text on the subject. The only book focusing on modern wristwatches was Doernsen: History of the modern wrist watch, published in 1994, and focused as much on design as on technology; it contains a usefull ‘catalog’ electrical watch calibers, but does not tell the story of how the electrical wristwatch evolved technologically.

For the new broader book under review Trueb teamed up with Ramm and Wenzig, two German collectors of electrical wristwatches, who also supplied many of the 582 photographs in the book. The book was originally published in German in 2011 and now, two years later we finally have an English language edition by Schiffer publishing.

The book is structured into 2 parts with a total of 15 chapters. Part1, covering the time up to 1970 has seveb chapters: 1. The First Electric Clocks; 2. Fixed Coil Wristwatch Movements (1950s); 3. Moving Coil Wristwatch Movements (incl.Hamilton Electric and Timex); 4. Transition to Electronics (mainly 1960s); 5. Wristwatches with a Tuning Fork; 6. Frequency Standards and the First Quartz Clocks; 7. The Eightfold Way to the Quartz Wristwatch (eight separate technical concepts led to working quartz prototypes in Switzerland, Japan, The USA, Germany and France between 1967 and 1970, including the legendary, but dead end ‘Pulsar’ in America, but at the end one technology proved superior.

Part 2 is made up of eight ‘geographic’ chapters describing further developments in eight watchmaking countries after the common technology had emerged: 8. Switzerland, 9. Germany, 10. France, 11. Britain, 12. Japan, 13. USSR & Eastern Europe, 14. South Korea, 15. USA. These chapters vary enormously in length, from Britain (1 page) and Korea (4 pages), to USA (33 pages) and Switzerland (74 pages). Japan (with 26 pages) seems underrepresented, and unfortunately the role of mainland China is making electronic wristwatches is not covered at all..

The 582 color photographs in this book, the vast majority of them images of movements, alone make it a valuable reference tool. This, in spite of the huge number of pictures, is not a coffee table book of pretty images, but essentially both text and images provide a thorough documentation of the history of the electronic wristwatch. Given Truebs background it is not surprising that the largest number of pictures refers to Swiss calibers (395 photos), but the coverage of Japanese made movements (69 images), and US products (64) exceeds what is found anywhere else – and where else will you find any images of eastern European quartz watch movements (16 images).

Over the years Trueb has personally interviewed most of the key player in the electronic watch industry I all of these countries, which makes the narrative a nuanced, interesting and captivating read. If your horological interests or your watch collection includes electrical watches you definitively need to add this book to your shelf of reference book, but I would assume few people will read it cover to cover. An extensive index makes the book easy to use.

Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ September 2013


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