Deep in your watch is a small piece of quartz. What is it doing there? Well, it is keeping time.

Quartz has a little secret. It wiggles when zapped by electricity. This strange phenomenon is called piezoelectricity and it was found in the 1800s by Pierre and Jacques Curie. What they found is if you squeeze quartz, it will give off a bit of electricity. What was found later is that if you zap quartz, it will move.

A small gem of quartz is being zapped in your watch by a circuit connected to a battery, and those wiggles are used to count time.

In the early 20th century, there was a little known scientist named Warren Marrison who created the first quartz clock. He was actually using quartz as a way to help radio stations know what was the right frequency to send their programs. But he noticed that quartz wiggles the same number of times a second and thought this would be a neat way to mark of time. So one day he got a gem, which came from Brazil, and then sawed off a piece and then polished it. His gem wiggled 100,000 times a second and those wiggles were counted to make accurate clocks. Before quartz, clocks were less accurate, although many people thought they were useful, in fact one woman even sold time.


Many people don’t know who Warren Marrison is and he would have been lost in history. But he was recently profiled in a new book called The Alchemy of Us.  You can find out more about him and quirky quartz in that book.


Quartz may seem like an ordinary gem, but it keeps our world ticking.




In the late 19th century, there was an Englishwoman who was in the business of selling time. Ruth Belville would leave her home in Maidenhead and make her way over to London and then to Greenwich. There, she would walk up the steep hill to the Royal Observatory, where she would get the time. Then, she would make her way back down the hill and make her way over to the businesses in London that needed to know the time. Ruth Belville was called ‘the Greenwich Time Lady.’

Knowing the exact time was important for various businesses like newspapers, train stations, and navigators for ships. Ruth also had clients that were factories and wealthy people who loved having the precise time.

A time distribution business would not be a lucrative business today, but in Ruth’s day society was living more and more by the clock, which is why her business was so important. You can find out more about Ruth and other unusual characters in The Alchemy of Us.


The Alchemy of Us Book jacket

A new and exciting book from Ainissa Ramirez the maker of Science Underground!