First Solid State Watch: Hamilton Pulsar
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