Centre Electronique Horloger

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The Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) was an organization founded to produce electronic watches in Switzerland.

A consortium of 20 Swiss watch manufacturers, the Centre Electronique Horloger was founded in 1962 and based in Neuchâtel. Foundation of the CEH was driven by Ebauches SA and the FH. The best-known product of the CEH was the beta family of quartz watch movements that would enable the Swiss to compete with Japanese and American quartz watches. The production beta 21 movement was launched in 1970, following prototypes produced from 1967.

Although ostensibly intended to produce a working electronic wrist watch movement, the CEH was also a defensive move in terms of intellectual property. With so much electronic and semiconductor research being done in Japan and America, the Swiss watch industry intended for the CEH to develop patentable innovations that could be cross-licensed with companies in these other countries, protecting the Swiss watch industry.

The CEH, lead by Swiss-born American scientist, Roger Wellinger, actively recruited Swiss scientists with experience in the American electronics industry. The CEH built up a respectable semiconductor laboratory but was hampered by disinterest among Swiss watchmakers. Indeed, the most-interested party was Communauté Industrielle Suisse SA (CISSA), a Swiss/Dutch consortium lead by Philips who wanted to purchase the CEH to obtain its patents rather than to produce Swiss quartz watches.

The CEH team resisted the CISSA buyout and focused instead on producing prototype watch movements, proving that the Swiss were capable of competing with the American and Japanese developments. They produced an electronic Alpha caliber, which used a figure 8-shaped resonator, as well as a Beta project which used a tuning fork like the Accutron. Neither was successful, so the CEH turned to quartz crystals.

In late 1965, the CEH decided that a quartz crystal was the best hope for an electronic watch. Their strategy for 1966 was production of "montre-bracelet à quartz", a quartz-driven wrist watch. Although the final product used the "Beta" name, it was not related to the earlier Beta project. Indeed, Max Forrer, director of that project, refused to have anything to do with the quartz project! Nevertheless, the CEH was successful in producing a functioning quartz wrist watch calibre, Beta 1, by July 1967. As tested by the Neuchâtel Observatory, the resulting CEH-1020 watch was an order of magnitude more accurate than mechanical chronometer watches.

In 1968, the Swiss industry agreed to allow the CEH to lead production of a quartz movement. The resulting Beta 21 movement came to market in 1970, shortly after the Seiko Astron. It was a commercial and technical flop, but showed that the Swiss could compete in the quartz wrist watch market. Soon, Swiss companies began developing their own quartz wrist watch movements.

In 1984, the CEH was merged with two other watchmaking institutes in Neuchâtel, the Fondation Suisse pour la Recherche en Microtechnique (FSRM) and the Laboratoire Suisse de Recherches Horlogères (LSRH), to become the Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique SA (CSEM).

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