First Solid State Watch: Hamil­ton Pul­sar

Plaza Watch International - - World - First -

wore one. The Shah of Iran wore one. Even the US pres­i­dent, Gerald Ford, wore one. It was not a su­per-com­pli­ca­tion, nor even a big sta­tus brand, even if its gold model weighed in at a hefty $2,100. It's hard to say at a time when it is the me­chan­i­cal watch that it so lauded, but it was elec­tronic and dig­i­tal. In­deed, US man­u­fac­turer Hamil­ton’s Pul­sar was, as the com­pany put it in 1970, a “sold state wrist com­puter which is pro­grammed to tell time, has no hands and no mov­ing parts [and] records the time only when asked to”. See how they turned a neg­a­tive – the need to press a but­ton to get the LED dis­play to light up, nec­es­sary to save its bat­tery life – into a pos­i­tive there?

Nev­er­the­less, the Pul­sar – launched in 1972, de­signed by John Bergey and jointly de­vel­oped with Elec­tro/Data Inc. of Gar­land, Texas – was, as Hamil­ton per­haps rather ex­cit­edly called it, “the most im­por­tant step in per­sonal time­keep­ing ever”, even more so than the first elec­tric watch, which it has also cre­ated back in 1957. Come Live and Let Die in 1973, even James Bond would wear one. The watch looked very 2001: A Space Odyssey – the case was de­signed by metal sculp­tor Ernest Trova. But the gad­getry is what im­pressed: 44 in­te­grated cir­cuits – the equiv­a­lent to some 3500 tran­sis­tors, a pro­pri­etary de­sign of recharge­able bat­tery, sealed wiring one third the width of a hu­man hair, even a light sen­sor so that the time dis­play was just as bright as it needed to be. It was, Hamil­ton trum­peted, ac­cu­rate to within three sec­onds a month – more ac­cu­rate than any quartz watch then on the mar­ket.

In­deed, Ham­li­ton pre­dicted that, with a lit­tle re­pro­gram­ming, it could find ap­pli­ca­tion in the sports arena as a chrono­graph, as a uni­ver­sal time­piece able to give the time wher­ever you were, even given a count­down func­tion and, with sweet naivety, so be in­valu­able to as­tro­nauts. That may not have hap­pened: the Pul­sar had ini­tial soar­ing sales, but by the mid1970s com­peti­tors were of­fer­ing mass-pro­duced solid state watches for as lit­tle as $10. All the same, the Pul­sar rev­o­lu­tionised the watch in­dus­try – and fore­shad­owed the touch-screen watches be­ing launched to­day. JS

Sammy Davis Ju­nior

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