Why Is Quartz Used in Watches?

Quartz, made up of silica and oxygen, is one of the most common minerals on Earth. Billions of people use quartz every day, but few realize it because the tiny crystals they use are hidden in their watches and clocks. 

But what do the clear or whitish crystal rocks found all over the world have to do with keeping time?

Some materials, such as certain ceramics and quartz crystals, can produce electricity when placed under mechanical stress., and vice versa The ability to convert voltage to and from mechanical stress is called piezoelectricity. 

Inside of a watch is a tiny piece of quartz that is shaped like a miniature tuning fork. When an electric current is passed into the quartz tuning fork, it vibrates at a high frequency, more than 32,000 times per second, and loses hardly any energy when it vibrates

Watchmakers can translate this mechanical ticking using an electrical circuit into the ticks of a watch with very high precision. For digital watches, the vibrations of the quartz crystal is translated into seconds, minutes, hours and days, whereas in manual watches, different formulas are used to translate the vibration of the crystal into the movements of the second, minute and hour hands of the watch. Quartz is also used in radios, microprocessors, and many other technological and industrial applications.

Quartz makes for highly accurate timekeepers, but it's also cheaper to slip a bit of quartz into a watch than to manufacture a bunch of tiny, highly precise gears.

While it's interesting to think that the quartz you find beautifying a landscaped lawn is also in your wristwatch, most of the quartz in electronics is synthetic, and specific quartzes can be created with specific frequencies for specific functions.

Live Science Contributor
Benjamin Radford is the Bad Science columnist for Live Science. He covers pseudoscience, psychology, urban legends and the science behind "unexplained" or mysterious phenomenon. Ben has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in psychology. He is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and has written, edited or contributed to more than 20 books, including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries," "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore" and “Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits,” out in fall 2017. His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.