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Ruhla Quarz 32768: First quartz watch of the Iron Curtain.

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Ruhla Quarz 32768: First quartz watch of the Iron Curtain.

Post12 Jul 2013, 19:49

On Christmas Eve 1969, a particular watch made his debut on the market. A watch that would've permanently changed the market: it was the Seiko 35SQ "Astron", the first quartz watch ever produced. The impact that the Astron had on the market was devastating, since Seiko was able to produce a watch that was much more accurate than the most accurate electromechanicals, and above all, it would have been possible in future to make the quartz technology more and more affordable, and in a not too distant future, it would've permanently replaced mechanical movements.

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The Seiko 35SQ "Quartz Astron", the first quartz watch ever made. With its debut in 1969, the "Quartz Revolution" began. (Source: Google).


So, with the debut of the Astron, the largest watch manufacturers in the world began to work on their response to a market segment that would've been very profitable: in Switzerland, before 1969 it was already operative the "CEH" consortium, that was developing the Beta 21, the first Swiss quartz caliber, in the United States Bulova made some modifications to the tuning-fork Accutron movement to add a quartz that would've adjusted the vibration of the tuning fork, thus creating the "Accuquartz", the West-German Junghans developed the Astro Quartz, the first quartz watch ever made in West Germany, and back in Switzerland, the solitary Girard-Perregaux developed its first quartz movement, the GP350 series, the first movement to be equipped with a crystal oscillating at a frequency of 32.768Hz. We also shouldn't forget the American Benrus, with its Techni-Quartz, the first quartz watch derived from a mechanical ETA movement, fitted with an electronic module produced by Motorola. And what about the exotic Roamer Micro-Quartz, with its anchor escapement or the Ronda 1377, the first low-cost quartz movement ever produced?

The watchmaking industry was in turmoil because of the Quartz Revolution, that was recording his first successes and claiming its first victims.

And in the Communist world? What was happening?

Beyond what Churchill called the "Iron Curtain", the situation was stale. Mechanical watches dominated the markets, and the few electromechanical ones produced by the Soviet Union (Slava 114ChN, Slava Transistor, NII-Chasprom Elektronno-Mekanicheskye, Luch 3045) didn't have a long life, because of the excessively high production costs. Only the East German UMF Ruhla managed to produce an electro-mechanical calibre that was economically viable, the UMF-26, inspired by the Hamilton 500 (and improved in many aspects) that had a good success both on the domestic and the international market, and it was exported to the United Kingdom with the "Services" brand, and the rest of Europe under the "Champion", "Europe", "Clipper" and "World Time" brands.

What about quartz movements? As I already said, during these years, in the Eastern Block quartz watches still didn't exist. Things, however, began to change in 1970, when the East German government, led by Walter Ulbricht, financed VEB Uhrenwerke Ruhla (formerly VEB Uhren und Maschinfabrik Ruhla, shortened as UMF Ruhla), to produce the first quartz movement of the Communist world. Indeed, the Ministry of Electronics, led by Otfried Steger, believed strongly that quartz technology would represent the future in the world of watchmaking, and the DDR shouldn't have stayed behind in this revolution: the first quartz watch ever made in a Socialist Country should not have been produced in the Soviet Union, but should've been East German.

So, with the investments made, the Ruhla engineers began to develop a quartz caliber that would've been robust, cheap to produce and would've been exported to Western markets, in order to get foreign currency, that the GDR had a compelling need, in order to survive in the long term.

Despite the opinion of Steger about quartz watches (according to the minister, the production of the mechanical watches would be doomed to an inexorable decline and it would've disappeared in the early '80s. So, according to his plans, Ruhla should have started a gradual discontinuation of the mechanical UMF-24 movement, in order to focus itself on the production of analog and digital quartz models), the investments made by the government were not enough to ensure the development of a quartz movement from scratch, so the Ruhla engineers were forced to start from the obsolete-yet-reliable UMF-24 calibre, and they were able to turn it into a quartz movement, leading to the creation of the UMF-28. However, Ruhla was never able to make digital movements from scratch, leading the company to adopt Pravetz (Buletronic) and Orient modules for its LCD models.

The "28" calibre was heavily derived from the UMF-24, which was a mechanical unjewelled pin-lever movement that worked at 18,000 BPH, and was designed to be modular. The "24" received numerous awards for being the first mechanical movement optimized for mass production. Made in numerous variants, the UMF-24 was adopted by all Ruhla watches since the early '60s (as well as being exported all over the world), and was produced with various complications, as well as being adopted on wristwatches, pocket watches and alarm clocks (such as the Sumatic and Midimatic series).

So, starting from the UMF-24, the Ruhla engineers were did only a few changes to the base plate and a few other components, the balance cock was replaced by an electronic module developed by VEB Kombinat Robotron of Dresden, the main manufacturer of computer and chips in East Germany, before the module production was moved to the VEB Kombinat Mikroelektronik "Karl Marx" of Erfurt (which in 1978 merged with the Ruhla and Karl-Zeiss Jena, leading to the birth of the "Ruhla Eurochron" brand).

The movement, is technically very simple in its construction. The majority of its mechanical parts are taken from the UMF-24, and like the Soviet CRP-3050, it has a large sized stepping motor. The electronic module, manufactured in Dresden, takes a lot of space, and has an exposed coil, a trimmer (to allow a fine adjustment of the oscillations of the quartz) and quartz crystal with tubular capsule (and on this the East Germans were the most advanced of the Soviets , since when the Chaika 3050-KR debuted in 1978, the quartz capsule used by the Soviet watch was the rectangular kind). The movement doesn't have rubies, like its mechanical counterpart, and features the day of the month.


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The UMF-28, the first quartz movement ever produced by VEB Uhrenwerke Ruhla (Source: vendor from whom I bought the watch).


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The UMF-24, the pin-lever movement that led to the creation of the UMF-28. (Picture Source: The Metatechnical Cabinet).


So, in 1972, the movement was completed, in its pre-series version. Unofficially, the German Democratic Republic had "beaten" the Soviet Union 1-0. Ruhla produced 3000 prototype watches, in order to verify the quality and robustness of the movement. The responses were positive, and so, in 1976, almost as a surprise, Ruhla put into production its first quartz watch, the Ruhla Quarz 32768, which also became the first quartz watch ever produced in the Eastern Block.

The Soviet Union had been "defeated": the first quartz watch product in Warsaw Pact country was born in the GDR, the first Socialist State on German soil.

With its debut, the Ruhla Quarz 32768 had a good success on the domestic market, due to its simple and robust caliber, and also thanks to its highly repairability, as it was derived from the UMF-24, which allowed an high interchangeability of parts. The watch was produced in many combinations of cases and dials, both with the crown at 4 o'clock or 3 o'clock, and was also distributed as a gift by the Central Committee of the SED (Unified Socialist Party of Germany, the Communist Party that ruled in the GDR) to the most deserving citizens. It was also exported to Western countries with Saxon, Meister Anker, Clipper and Karex brands, with a good success.

Before continuing, let's make a bit of atmosphere with a piece of East German electronic music made by Cantus Chor & Orchester Lothar Kehr in 1978, a special year for this watch:





The reputation of the Quarz 32768 reached its peak in 1978, when there was the space mission "Interkosmos", which was attended by the Soviet cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky and the East German Sigmund Jahn, who became the first "German" in space, an event that was praised by both the GDR and the FRG. For the mission, Ruhla created four commemorative models, which were placed in the space station Salut-6, and the fourth was given to Jahn himself, although it's not unlikely that other models were produced for the "civilian" market.


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The East German cosmonaut Sigmund Jahn (first pic above and in the second picture on the right) was the first German man who went in space.
His mission was highly praised by both East and West Germany.
During the mission he wore a Ruhla Quarz 32768 with a commemorative dial of the "Interkosmos '78" mission,
a project aimed at bringing citizens from countries that had relations with Soviet Union in space. (Picture Source: The Free Dictionary and Sekondtime)



So, the Ruhla Quarz 32768 not only was the first quartz watch ever produced behind the Iron Curtain, but it was also the first quartz watch from the Iron Curtain to go in space, giving the model an aura of prestige. The life cycle of the UMF-28 ended in 1982, replaced by the second generation of "Made in GDR" quartz calibres, the UMF-14, which made its debut in 1979. Now, I can proceed with the presentation of my latest purchase, which is coming from East Berlin.


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The Quarz 32768 that I purchased is one of the many variants of the watch that was produced from 1976 to 1982, and its particular feature is the crown positioned at 3 o'clock, instead of the more common 4 o'clock position. The case is made with chrome plated brass, as well as the crown. Technically, we could consider it quite similar to its Soviet counterpart, the Chaika 3050-KR, although this watch is actually much simpler than the Chaika, on a technical level. Unlike the other models of the East German company, this Ruhla has a screw back caseback, rather than a snap-on one. The glass is acrylic, and applied markers have tritium dots on them.

The clock is not "assigned" by the SED, but it is a civilian model, and its rectangular case makes it quite elegant IMHO. The second generation, fitted with the UMF-14, was also made with a very similar case.

It might seem an average early quartz watch, but the Ruhla Quarz 32768 has many merits: it's been the first Eastern quartz watch to go in space and the first quartz watch ever produced in the Communist world, and the first watch that has "beaten" the Soviet Union in development times, achieving an important result.

In short, in this friendly challenge, the GDR was able to beat the USSR on its biblical development times, despite the investments made by the East German government were far less than those made by the Soviets for the development of the CRP-3050 and Elektronika 3045 calibres.

I'll post more pictures and impressions when the watch will arrive. Thanks for your attention. ;-)
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Re: Ruhla Quarz 32768: First quartz watch of the Iron Curtai

Post12 Jul 2013, 20:34

hmmm excellent story...just love it..a nice bit of history..thanks for sharing. :dwf:
I almost could feel the curtain rising up again like i was a teenager.
Hey you all...this board is FREE and without ADS, so at least post something every now and then to show your appreciation.


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Re: Ruhla Quarz 32768: First quartz watch of the Iron Curtai

Post12 Jul 2013, 20:38

Thank you Kasper! I was searching for this watch for a long time. Ruhlas with the UMF-28 movements don't appear often on the 'bay, so when I've seen this one, I had to make it mine. :-)
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Re: Ruhla Quarz 32768: First quartz watch of the Iron Curtai

Post16 Jul 2013, 15:27

Hi vpn,

excellent information, thank you! It just makes fun to read your posting. And this is what I like so much about this forum: We have many intelligent users and the quality of articles, ideas, pictures and postings is exceptional high. Something you cannot say in general about internet platforms. Keep on the good work!

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Re: Ruhla Quarz 32768: First quartz watch of the Iron Curtai

Post16 Jul 2013, 19:37

Thank you so much Hanno! :-)
I'm glad you enjoyed the article about the genesis of the first East German quartz watch.
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