Seiko at the Neuchâtel Observatory Competitions - Quartz Entries

In the 1960’s Seiko participated in the Chronometer competitions that were held at the Neuchâtel Observatory in Switzerland. The competitions were designed to help the industry to produce more accurate timekeeping devices by advancing techniques and technologies through competition and continually improving performance.

The Neuchâtel competitions had a number of different categories for different sized timepieces. These included portable clocks of various sizes and also a wristwatch category. The range of different categories were expanded over time, and existing categories were modified with the maximum volumes and sizes reduced, as technologies evolved.

In 1967 the categories were divided as per the definitions below.

  • Portable Quartz Clock - volume ≤ 5000 cubic centimeters (introduced in 1962)

  • Marine Chronometer - volume ≤ 1000 cubic centimeters (quartz added in 1960)

  • Deck Chronometer - diameter ≤ 70mm, surface area ≤ 3849 square mm, volume ≤ 135 cubic cm (quartz added in 1964)

  • Pocket Chronometer - diameter ≤ 50mm, surface area ≤ 1964 square mm, thickness ≤ 10mm (quartz added in 1965)

  • Wrist Chronometer - diameter ≤ 30mm, surface area ≤ 707 square mm, thickness ≤ 5.3mm (tuning fork added in 1966, quartz added in 1967)

I have previously looked at Seiko's successful involvement in the wrist chronometer category with their mechanical wrist watches, but in this article I will focus upon their quartz entries in the various categories.

In 1959 the Neuchâtel Observatory competitions were opened up to non-European entrants, in 1962 Seiko contacted the Observatory and was advised that "We welcome participation from Japan", they provided the competition regulations and relevant materials.

1963

In 1963 Suwa-Seikosha became the first Japanese company to join the Neuchâtel Observatory chronometer competitions. The company entered their new Crystal Chronometer, that had been developed as a timer for the upcoming 1964 Olympic Games that were to be held in Tokyo.

Suwa entered five examples into the Portable Chronometer division. This category allows for much larger devices, compared to the Crystal Chronometer, and traditionally have performance of around an order of magnitude more accurate than the Marine Chronometers at the time. Unsurprisingly none of the Crystal Chronometers were recognized in the Portable chronometer category. The category had nineteen entries in total from all manufacturers and only seven, 4 from Voumard and 3 from Ebauches, were able to meet the criteria for chronometers that year.

Suwa also entered the Crystal Chronometer into the quartz Marine Chronometer category where it was met the more compact requirements. In this category they were awarded the tenth, eleventh and twelve places. While I am sure that Suwa was hoping for more it was a good start for the first non-European competitor to reach the top ten entries.

All entries in the Marine Chronometer category from Suwa-Seikosha in 1963 were regulated by Tsuneya Nakamura, who was one of the key driving forces for the company's participation in the Neuchâtel competition. Nakamura-san joined Suwa-Seikosha in 1944 and was heavily involved in the development of the Marvel and Grand Seiko models as well as the early quartz models, he later went on to become president of Seiko Epson in 1987.

To rank the entrants in a competition category each example is given a N-Score. This is a calculated number that is produced from the various measurements taken during the competition testing, lasting approximately 45 days, with the chronometers checked in various positions and at different temperatures. The lower the N-Score the more accurate the chronometer, with a theoretical “perfect” device having a N-Score of zero.

The N-Scores for the first Suwa-Seikosha entries were significantly higher than the competition from the Swiss entrants of Ebauches SA or Patek Philippe. The marine chronometer category first had quartz entries introduced three years earlier in 1960, so the scores for Suwa-Seikosha were a good first attempt from the company, but clearly not at the same level as the other entrants. It should be noted that the entries from Suwa were for a movement that had been developed for use at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, and were not a specialized competition movement. The commercialized version of the Crystal Chronometer became the QC-951 that was released in February 1964, as the world’s first publicly available portable quartz chronometer. The Crystal Chronometer was used successfully during the Olympic Games that same year, and were widely produced for use in various applications, including a marine chronometer model, over the next few years.

Below is a table showing the different results for the quartz entrants in the 1963 Marine Chronometer category.

Position Manufacturer Chronometer # N-Score Regulator Category
1 Ebauches SA 1214 0.13 Berney, Jean-Claude Marine
2 Ebauches SA 1212 0.30 Berney, Jean-Claude Marine
3 Ebauches SA 1215 0.30 Berney, Jean-Claude Marine
4 Patek Philippe 317 0.35 Marti, R. Marine
5 Patek Philippe 423 0.44 Marti, R. Marine
6 Patek Philippe 377 0.48 Marti, R. Marine
7 Patek Philippe 389 0.49 Marti, R. Marine
8 Patek Philippe 421 0.51 Marti, R. Marine
9 Patek Philippe 417 0.52 Marti, R. Marine
10 Suwa Seikosha JS-501 1.04 Nakamura, Tsuneya Marine
11 Suwa Seikosha JS-502 1.33 Nakamura, Tsuneya Marine
12 Suwa Seikosha JS-504 1.54 Nakamura, Tsuneya Marine
15 Ebauches SA 1211 2.98 Berney, Jean-Claude Marine

Note that the 13th and 14 positions are not listed on the table above, this is because only quartz entries are listed. In 1963 the 13th and 14th positions for Marine Chronometer entries were awarded to Uylsse Nardin for traditional mechanical models with N-Scores of 2.11 ans 2.33 respectively.

1964

Suwa-Seikosha returned to the Neuchâtel Observatory competitions in 1964 with entries in the Deck Chronometer category along with their first entries in the mechanical wrist chronometer category. This year also saw the entry of the second Japanese company to the competition with Daini-Seikosha participating in the mechanical wrist chronometer category. Daini-Seikosha would continue to enter mechanical watches in the wrist chronometer category until the end of open competitions in 1967, but they did not ever enter a quartz product in any category.

The deck chronometer entries by Suwa-Seikosha were a specialised 952 movement that proved to be much more successful than the previous years entries. The 952 movement had a volume of 199.7cm3 and the entrants had the chronometer number listed on the dial in the format of JS6xx.

The 952 based submissions took all individual positions, in the Deck category, between second and seventh place. Nakamura-san, who had regulated the previous years Marine Chronometer entries, was responsible for all of the Suwa entries in the mechanical wrist watch category this year. This left all of the quartz entries from Suwa in the Deck Chronometer category to be regulated by Susumu Aizawa. Aizawa-san was a prominent engineer for Suwa-Seikosha and is listed as the inventor on numerous patent applications related to both quartz timekeeping and printing technology.

After the competition calibre 952 based clocks were sold, as the SQCT, in Japan for use on the original Tōkaidō Shinkansen line that was launched in 1964. An interesting application for the calibre was the use in clocks designed for the Japanese team expedition to Antarctica. These clocks were used in the vehicles and consequently had to be highly resistant to environmental changes. The highly accurate clock was also sold for use in various industrial applications in Japan.

Below is a table showing the different results for the quartz entrants in the 1964 Deck Chronometer category.

Position Manufacturer Chronometer # N-Score Regulator Category
1 Longines 6410 0.15 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
2 Suwa Seikosha JS-604 0.24 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
3 Suwa Seikosha JS-605 0.31 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
4 Suwa Seikosha JS-613 0.42 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
5 Suwa Seikosha JS-608 0.55 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
6 Suwa Seikosha JS-611 0.59 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
7 Suwa Seikosha JS-620 1.02 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
8 Longines 6403 2.42 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
9 Longines 6402 2.31 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck

1965

In 1965 Suwa-Seikosha returned to the Deck Chronometer competition with the 952 caliber from the previous year and a new slightly more compact movement. The new compact movement had a volume of 180cm 3 and chronometer numbers in the format S7xx. All entries were regulated by Susumu Aizawa who had handled the previous year's submissions.

The results of their entries this year were a significant improvement in the N-Score with the best performing example, based on the new movement design, receiving a score of 0.08. The 952 based examples received their best N-Score of 0.17. Longines was again the top performer in the first two positions with Suwa placing 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th, 14, 15th and 16th. This year also saw the inclusion of entries from Ebauches SA that achieved 4th, 9th, 13th, 17th and 18th positions. The team at Suwa were proud of their achievements and a team photo of the group responsible for the entries that year was included in the company newsletter. Aizawa-san and Nakamura-san can be seen at the front of the group.

Below is a table showing the different results for the quartz entrants in the 1965 Deck Chronometer category.

Position Manufacturer Chronometer # N-Score Regulator Category
1 Longines 6506 0.05 Schaller, Pierre Deck
2 Longines 6508 0.06 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
3 Suwa Seikosha S710 0.08 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
4 Ebauches SA 102 0.09 Scherrer, Igor Deck
5 Suwa Seikosha S706 0.09 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
6 Longines 6504 0.11 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
7 Longines 6501 0.12 Schaller, Pierre Deck
8 Suwa Seikosha S703 0.13 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
9 Ebauches SA 202 0.16 Scherrer, Igor Deck
10 Suwa Seikosha JS621 0.17 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
11 Longines 6525 0.20 Schaller, Pierre Deck
12 Longines 6505 0.25 Schaller, Pierre Deck
13 Ebauches SA 103 0.27 Scherrer, Igor Deck
14 Suwa Seikosha JS607 0.28 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
15 Suwa Seikosha JS601 0.34 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
16 Suwa Seikosha JS610 0.34 Aizawa, Susumu Deck
17 Ebauches SA 52 0.39 Scherrer, Igor Deck
18 Ebauches SA 106 0.86 Scherrer, Igor Deck

1966

In 1966 Suwa-Seikosha returned to the competition with entries in the quartz Deck Chronometer category. This year they had a new design that seems to have been closely based on the previous years compact caliber. The main difference with this year’s Deck entrants is the volume increased from 180cm3 to 198.6cm3. These examples had chronometer numbers that very closely followed the previous years entrants formatting of S7xx. This year the Deck entries were regulated by Nobuo Hayashi as Susumu Aizawa was responsible for all of the companies new entries in the quartz Pocket Chronometer division.

In the Pocket Chronometer category Suwa entered a new caliber, the 953. These models had a size of 18.02cm3 and chronometer numbers in the format of S80x and S81x. Susumu Aizawa was the regulator for all of the Suwa entries in this category. Longines took the top place in the individual entries but the Suwa models received the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th positions with Ebauches SA taking the 6th spot.

Below is a table showing the different entries for the quartz entrants in the 1966 Deck Chronometer category.

Position Manufacturer Chronometer # N-Score Regulator Category
1 Ebauches SA 101 0.0313 Scherrer, Igor Deck
2 Longines 6508 0.0399 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
3 Longines 6787 0.0406 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
4 Ebauches SA 106 0.0471 Scherrer, Igor Deck
5 Ebauches SA 110 0.0549 Scherrer, Igor Deck
6 Ebauches SA 103 0.0577 Scherrer, Igor Deck
7 Longines 6506 0.0589 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
8 Longines 6501 0.0606 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
9 Ebauches SA 102 0.0656 Scherrer, Igor Deck
10 Ebauches SA 109 0.0675 Scherrer, Igor Deck
11 Suwa Seikosha S718 0.0949 Hayashi, Nobuo Deck
12 Longines 6504 0.1012 Berney, Jean-Claude Deck
13 Ebauches SA 112 0.1017 Scherrer, Igor Deck
14 Suwa Seikosha S711 0.1126 Hayashi, Nobuo Deck
15 Suwa Seikosha S719 0.1277 Hayashi, Nobuo Deck
16 Ebauches SA 111 0.1579 Scherrer, Igor Deck
17 Suwa Seikosha S721 0.1603 Hayashi, Nobuo Deck
18 Suwa Seikosha S715 0.1719 Hayashi, Nobuo Deck

Below is a table showing the different entries for the quartz entrants in the 1966 Pocket Chronometer category.

Position Manufacturer Chronometer # N-Score Regulator Category
1 Longines 11882946 0.54 Berney, Jean-Claude Pocket
2 Suwa Seikosha S806 0.88 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
3 Suwa Seikosha S805 1.22 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
4 Suwa Seikosha S804 1.67 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
5 Suwa Seikosha S808 2.19 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
6 Ebauches SA 7 3.07 Scherrer, Igor Pocket
7 Suwa Seikosha S815 4.51 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
8 Suwa Seikosha S810 5.05 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket

1967

In 1967 Suwa again entered the Quartz Pocket Chronometer category following up from their success the previous year. The entries this year were based on the 953 calibre as used previously but the housing was changed from a rectangular case to a more square shaped case. The change in the housing many have been to provide more physical protection or possibly temperature stability. All units were again regulated by Susumu Aizawa. The competition was a great success for Suwa with the 953 models taking all the top fifteen places with the exception of 6th and 8th positions that were claimed by Ebauches SA.

In addition to the pocket chronometer category Suwa also entered models into the wrist chronometer category. This was the first year that quartz wrist watches were included in the competition, as the first prototypes had just been developed by Centre Electronique Horloger (C.E.H.) in Neuchâtel. The first Beta 1 model was completed in July and the first Beta 2 example completed in August 1967. The C.E.H. Beta 1 and Beta 2 models can be differentiated by their chronometer number of either CEH-10x0 or CEH-20x respectively. These models performed extremely well with the C.E.H. entries taking the top ten places for the year.

The quartz watch entries from Suwa claimed the 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th positions. The Suwa models were identified by the chronometer numbers W-00x. These prototypes had a surface area of 705mm2 and the dimensions of 30.0 x 23.5 x 5.3mm (HxWxD). The movement was designed to run for over one year on the single silver battery and operate in the temperature range of -10°C to +50°C. The target standard accuracy for the model was 0.1sec/day when operated between +4°C to +36°C. The crystal oscillator was shock protected and designed to withstand a 1m drop, it operated at an unusual frequency of 6.144 kHz.

From the results of the quartz wrist chronometers of both C.E.H. and Suwa-Seikosha it was clear that the accuracy of this new technology was a significant improvement over even the best mechanical models that were available at the time.

Below is a table showing the different entries for the quartz entrants in the 1967 Pocket Chronometer category.

Position Manufacturer Chronometer # N-Score Regulator Category
1 Suwa Seikosha S842 0.247 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
2 Suwa Seikosha S823 0.270 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
3 Suwa Seikosha S828 0.296 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
4 Suwa Seikosha S836 0.351 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
5 Suwa Seikosha S839 0.409 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
6 Ebauches SA 1 0.413 Scherrer, Igor Pocket
7 Suwa Seikosha S835 0.453 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
8 Ebauches SA 2 0.563 Scherrer, Igor Pocket
9 Suwa Seikosha S832 0.587 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
10 Suwa Seikosha S838 0.597 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
11 Suwa Seikosha S830 0.714 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
12 Suwa Seikosha S833 1.041 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
13 Suwa Seikosha S829 1.065 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
14 Suwa Seikosha S821 2.849 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket
15 Suwa Seikosha S822 2.902 Aizawa, Susumu Pocket

Below is a table showing the different entries for the quartz entrants in the 1967 Wrist Chronometer category.

Position Manufacturer Chronometer # N-Score Regulator Category
1 C.E.H. CEH-202 0.152 Challandes, R. Wrist
2 C.E.H. CEH-1010 0.160 Andrey, P.-A. Wrist
3 C.E.H. CEH-203 0.166 Oguey, H. Wrist
4 C.E.H. CEH-206 0.188 Grelat, N. Wrist
5 C.E.H. CEH-1020 0.189 Hermann, J. Wrist
6 C.E.H. CEH-201 0.200 Challandes, R. Wrist
7 C.E.H. CEH-1050 0.202 Jeannot, M. Wrist
8 C.E.H. CEH-1040 0.216 Dubois, C.-A. Wrist
9 C.E.H. CEH-1060 0.223 Frossard, C. Wrist
10 C.E.H. CEH-205 0.292 Droz, J.-C. Wrist
11 Suwa Seikosha W-004 0.301 Aizawa, Susumu Wrist
12 C.E.H. CEH-204 0.330 Fossard, C. Wrist
13 Suwa Seikosha W-009 0.525 Aizawa, Susumu Wrist
14 Suwa Seikosha W-005 1.053 Aizawa, Susumu Wrist
15 Suwa Seikosha W-007 1.614 Aizawa, Susumu Wrist
16 Suwa Seikosha W-008 9.513 Aizawa, Susumu Wrist

Suwa-Seikosha Quartz Neuchâtel Observatory Entries - 1963-1967

Year Calibre Type Best N-Score Best Position Size Regulator Chronometer #
1963 QC951 Marine 1.04 10 1416 cm3 Nakamura, Tsuneya JS-50x
1964 952 Deck 0.24 2 199.7 cm3 Aizawa, Susumu JS-6xx
1965 S7xx Deck 0.08 3 180 cm3 Aizawa, Susumu S7xx
1965 952 Deck 0.17 10 199.7 cm3 Aizawa, Susumu JS6xx
1966 S7xx Deck 0.0949 11 198.6 cm3 Hayashi, Nobuo S7xx
1966 953 Pocket 0.88 2 18.02 cm3 Aizawa, Susumu S80x / S81x
1967 953 Pocket 0.247 1 1944 mm2 Aizawa, Susumu S82x / S83x / S84x
1967 W-00x Wrist 0.301 11 705 mm2 Aizawa, Susumu W-00x

The very rapid development of quartz technology can be seen over the short few years that they were included in the Neuchâtel Observatory competitions. Accuracy improved quickly and the technology was adapted to smaller movements in a short period of time. I do not think that there was ever any doubt that quartz technology would revolutionize the complete timekeeping industry, it was just a matter of time before a company would commercialize this and bring it to market.

References

  • Observatoire Cantonal de Neuchâtel, Rapport annuel du Directeur sur l'exercice & Rapport sur le Concours chronométrique, République et Canton de Neuchâtel, 1963
  • Observatoire Cantonal de Neuchâtel, Rapport annuel du Directeur sur l'exercice & Rapport sur le Concours chronométrique, République et Canton de Neuchâtel, 1964
  • Observatoire Cantonal de Neuchâtel, Rapport annuel du Directeur sur l'exercice & Rapport sur le Concours chronométrique, République et Canton de Neuchâtel, 1965
  • Observatoire Cantonal de Neuchâtel, Rapport annuel du Directeur sur l'exercice & Rapport sur le Concours chronométrique, République et Canton de Neuchâtel, 1966
  • Observatoire Cantonal de Neuchâtel, Rapport annuel du Directeur sur l'exercice & Rapport sur le Concours chronométrique, République et Canton de Neuchâtel, 1967
  • Suwa Seiko Newsletter 1966.07 No.127, Suwa Seiko, July 1966, p.24-25
  • Suwa Seiko Newsletter 1968.03 No.147, Suwa Seiko, March 1968, p.04-17
  • Suwa Seiko Newsletter 1968.07 No.151, Suwa Seiko, July 1968, p.20-21
  • Horological International Correspondence, Vol.6 No.85, 1965, p.94-95
  • Horological International Correspondence, Vol.7 No.69, 1966, p.42
  • Horological International Correspondence, Vol.7 No.70, 1966, p.70-71
  • Horological International Correspondence, Vol.8 No.82, 1967, p.74-76
  • Horological International Correspondence, Vol.8 No.81, 1966, p.64-67
  • Koji Fujita, About Quartz Watch, Journal of the Japan Clock Society, Vol. 49, 1969, p.13-17