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.
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.
|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.
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.
|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|
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.
|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|
|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|
|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|
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.
|1||Ebauches SA||101||0.0313||Scherrer, Igor||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|
|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|
|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.
|2||Suwa Seikosha||S806||0.88||Aizawa, Susumu|
|3||Suwa Seikosha||S805||1.22||Aizawa, Susumu|
|4||Suwa Seikosha||S804||1.67||Aizawa, Susumu|
|5||Suwa Seikosha||S808||2.19||Aizawa, Susumu|
|6||Ebauches SA||7||3.07||Scherrer, Igor|
|7||Suwa Seikosha||S815||4.51||Aizawa, Susumu|
|8||Suwa Seikosha||S810||5.05||Aizawa, Susumu|
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.
|1||Suwa Seikosha||S842||0.247||Aizawa, Susumu|
|2||Suwa Seikosha||S823||0.270||Aizawa, Susumu|
|3||Suwa Seikosha||S828||0.296||Aizawa, Susumu|
|4||Suwa Seikosha||S836||0.351||Aizawa, Susumu|
|5||Suwa Seikosha||S839||0.409||Aizawa, Susumu|
|6||Ebauches SA||1||0.413||Scherrer, Igor|
|7||Suwa Seikosha||S835||0.453||Aizawa, Susumu|
|8||Ebauches SA||2||0.563||Scherrer, Igor|
|9||Suwa Seikosha||S832||0.587||Aizawa, Susumu|
|10||Suwa Seikosha||S838||0.597||Aizawa, Susumu|
|11||Suwa Seikosha||S830||0.714||Aizawa, Susumu|
|12||Suwa Seikosha||S833||1.041||Aizawa, Susumu|
|13||Suwa Seikosha||S829||1.065||Aizawa, Susumu|
|14||Suwa Seikosha||S821||2.849||Aizawa, Susumu|
|15||Suwa Seikosha||S822||2.902||Aizawa, Susumu|
Below is a table showing the different entries for the quartz entrants in the 1967 Wrist Chronometer category.
|11||Suwa Seikosha||W-004||0.301||Aizawa, Susumu||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||0.88||2||18.02 cm3||Aizawa, Susumu||S80x / S81x|
|1967||953||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.
- 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