In May of 1970, 36-year-old John Bergey, head of research and improvement at Hamilton Watch Co., in Lancaster, PA, was a visitor on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was there to show Johnny not simply another watch that Hamilton had made, however another sort of watch.
Called the Pulsar Time Computer, it was the world’s first advanced watch. It was not normal for any watch that Carson, or any other individual, had at any point seen previously. It had no hands or dial. All things considered, it had a clear, red, rectangular computer-like “time screen” (Hamilton’s term), made of synthetic ruby, set in a gold cushion-shaped case. To tell the time, you pushed a catch on the case. Three (or four) red digits, showing the hours and minutes, showed up on the screen for slightly over one second and afterward squinted off. On the off chance that you squeezed the catch longer, red seconds digits supplanted the hours and minutes digits on the screen and afterward disappeared.
The watch was excessively odd for Carson. To Bergey’s horror, he proclaimed, “This won’t ever made Mickey Mouse bankrupt,” and threw the gold watch over his shoulder.
Johnny’s decision ended up being right. Advanced watches didn’t supplant watches with hands, Mickey’s or otherwise. Before the finish of 1977, Hamilton had quit delivering Pulsars as well as had sold the Pulsar name.
Moreover, Pulsar’s battery-exhausting, time-on-request, light-up-show technology, known as LED (light-emanating diode), was before long supplanted by a predominant technology, LCD (fluid gem show), which showed the time continually and is the norm for computerized watches today.
With the Astron, Seiko made the world’s first electronic quartz watch.
But Carson’s thumbs-down audit of the Pulsar was a particularly minority see in the mid 1970s. The Hamilton Pulsar was a sensation and the primary star of the quartz watch upset. Valid, Seiko had dominated the competition to present the world’s first electronic quartz watch; it presented the Seiko Astron five months before Bergey besieged on The Tonight Show. Yet, the Seiko Astron was a quartz simple, with customary hands, dial, and hour markers and was never a commercial success.
Pulsar, then again, was a hit and the most popular watch of its (in fact short) time. It had various cases to fame:
*It was progressive in its space-age plan and strong state (i.e., no moving parts) technology.
*It was a pioneer of another watch class that brought scores of American gadgets firms into the watch business.
*It was imitated by any semblance of Switzerland’s Omega, which bought modules from Pulsar for its own Pulsar-like LEDs.
*It was hailed in American business and media circles as the head of a pattern that would make America a watchmaking power again.
Failed to remember Flop
History, however, has not been caring to Pulsar and the American gadgets firms that brashly burst into the watch business afterward. They were the most extremist of the quartz progressives. They were out to wipe out mechanical timekeeping, yet all simple time-telling, quartz or mechanical. They were persuaded that they were ushering in an advanced just watch future. As Tom Hyltin, CEO of Micro Display Systems, advised me in the last part of the 1970s, “All the checks in schools today are computerized. Children today just know computerized time. What’s more, by the turn of the century, all watches will be digital.”
Today, the American LED producers are failed to remember. “The phenomenon of the American computerized watch is very exceptional in the history of watchmaking,” composes watch master Lucien Trueb, in his exhaustive 2013 book about electronic watches, “Energizing the Wristwatch” (Schiffer Publishing Ltd.). “Hardly anyone recalls the short-lived [American] watch ‘experience.’ Their once encouraging expansion into the watch business finished as a failure, which no one truly needs to remember.”
Hamilton’s Pulsar Time Computer was the world’s first advanced watch and the primary star of the quartz watch revolution.
Trueb is right, and that’s a pity. The world’s first advanced watch was made in America: Pulsar should be associated with that, if nothing else. Yet, the American LED watch experience, which endured from 1972 to 1981, is really a whale of a watch story that merits its place in watch history.
What follows is the lost chapter of the quartz-watch insurgency: a succinct history of the American LED watch. Think of it as an addendum to the “Four Revolutions” arrangement of articles we have published in the course of the last not many months.
Pulsar Fever: 1972-73
The watch that Johnny Carson threw away on the air was really a model, one of three or four (accounts change) that Hamilton had rushed into creation. Indeed, Hamilton was nowhere close to prepared to deliver the watch, yet felt it had to declare it.
There were two explanations behind Hamilton’s hurry. In the first place, Seiko and the Swiss had just stood out as truly newsworthy with their new electronic quartz simple watches and Hamilton needed to flag that it was likewise a quartz-watch player. (The Swiss declaration came at the Basel Fair in April 1970.) The subsequent explanation was that Hamilton was in genuine monetary difficulty in 1970. It lost $24 million on deals of $74 million that year, because of a lethargic economy, a drop in its military items business, and hardened watch competition. The board hoped a declaration about its cutting edge watch would balance the terrible news.
Hamilton’s 'Space Odyssey' Timepieces
Pulsar was not Hamilton Watch Co’s. first cutting edge watch. Three years before Pulsar’s launch, Hollywood chief Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi essayist Arthur Clarke visited Hamilton Watch Co. in Lancaster, PA to request help on a sci-fi film they were chipping away at. They needed Hamilton to make wristwatches and table tickers for the film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” that would show one century from now styling.
Hamilton concurred. It made two “Odyssey” timekeepers and a few wristwatches for use in the film, all donning the Hamilton name and logo.
The experience had an immediate effect on the plan of the Pulsar Time Computer. Incidentally, Pulsar got its look from the clock, not the watch. The watch highlighted a customary round face with hands and numerals in an enormous bended rectangular case. Beneath the dial were three little round windows with digits for GMT time, date and month.
The clock, then again, had a smoothed out, ovoid-shaped case that helped one to remember a UFO. It had a curved comfort with five little screens showing light-up digits. The whole impact was very space-age and was the motivation for Pulsar.
As it happened, the watches are seen conspicuously on the wrists of the astronauts throughout what got perhaps the most commended films ever. The clock, tsk-tsk, was left on the cutting room floor; it doesn’t show up in the film.
It did. Hamilton’s advertising of Pulsar was splendid. In May 1970, it ran full-page advertisements reporting the improvement of the watch and held a public interview at New York’s posh Four Seasons eatery. Notwithstanding the Tonight Show, Bergey and Pulsar showed up with Hugh Downs on The Today Show. The media rush made enormous buzz about the watch. Trueb calls it “a planetary sensation” in his book. “The Emperor of Abyssinia [Ethiopia], the King of Jordan, the Shah of Iran, Roger Moore, Sammy Davis, Jr. furthermore, numerous other big names put orders right away,” he writes.
Hamilton introduced Pulsar as the embodiment of room age cool.
Horologically, Pulsar was more progressive than even the new quartz simple watches. So progressive that, in its press declaration, Hamilton didn’t consider it a watch, however a “wrist computer”: “The Pulsar is a strong state wrist computer customized to read a clock. It has no moving parts, no dials, hands, pinion wheels or springs; nothing to wrap up, run down or wear out, and it never needs routine support or cleaning. Basically press a catch to see the time showed in numeral structure on the screen of the computer.” The idea of an all-electronic watch driven by semiconductors, incorporated circuit, quartz precious stone and a battery caught the public imagination.
So did Pulsar’s Space Odyssey styling. Indeed, Pulsar’s plan was impacted by a clock that the company had made for the 1968 blockbuster film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The film’s maker Stanley Kubrick and screenwriter Arthur Clarke had visited Hamilton in Lancaster in 1967 to demand watch props for the film that would shout 21st-century. (See sidebar.)
Hamilton’s showcasing unobtrusively connected the watch with space. All things considered, it was just 10 months since papers around the globe had blastd the best headline in human history: MAN WALKS ON MOON. Hamilton’s limited time writing called attention to that Pulsar made no commotion. It didn’t tick like mechanical and quartz simple watches. Pulsar was “quiet as space,” Hamilton said.
The clock that Hamilton specially crafted for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The most clear connect to space was its name. Bergey thought of it subsequent to seeing an article on pulsars, short for “throbbing stars,” in an astronomy diary. Bergey saw an equal between pulsars, which discharge radiation at incredibly exact spans, and his watch, which utilized explosions of energy to read a clock and was very accurate.
Worth The Wait
It took Hamilton two years to really put up Pulsar for sale to the public. On April 4, 1972, a full-page advertisement in The Wall Street Journal declared that the wrist computer was discounted. It was, the advertisement said, “A completely better approach to read a clock, unobtrusively valued at $2,100.” That, Trueb notes, was “$150 in excess of a gold Rolex.”
Apparently, the watch was worth the stand by. Pulsar arranged 400 watches for the launch. They were sold at chosen upscale retailers like Tiffany’s and Neiman-Marcus, and sold out in three days. Pulsar fever was on.
The client who bought the last Pulsar in stock at Tiffany’s before Christmas 1972 got two proposals for it on out of the store.
Hamilton before long followed the first gold watch with gold-filled-case models valued at $1,275 and steel-case models at $275. It couldn’t stay aware of interest. Wear Sauers, author of a history of Hamilton, “Time For America: Hamilton Watch 1892-1992” (Sutter House, 1992), depicts Pulsar fever. “Consider the client who bought the last Pulsar in stock at Tiffany’s in New York not long before Christmas, 1972, and got two proposals for the watch before he could escape the store. Or on the other hand the plight of Senator [Wallace] Bennett of Utah, who needed to be the primary individual from the U.S. Senate with a Pulsar, and afterward found in a committee meeting that Senator Mike Mansfield previously had one. Furthermore, there were bits of gossip that one of President Nixon’s daughters had dropped into Tiffany’s and selected a Pulsar as a Christmas present for her father.” (The gossipy tidbits were true.)
An unique promotion for the Pulsar LED watch. (Photo: Courtesy The Advertisement Gallery)
“The Shah of Iran was a recurrent purchaser,” Sauers proceeds. “He had a standing request for each new model as it was presented.” Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was so happy with his Pulsar that he sent a Certificate of Excellence to Hamilton. Sammy Davis Jr. was distraught when his Pulsar was taken. “Thunderbird Jewelers in Las Vegas telephoned Hamilton with an unglued rush request. Mr. Davis needed a substitution ‘immediately.'”
In late 1972, Hamilton rearranged and made Pulsar its own auxiliary (Time Computer Inc.) separate from the watch division, with Bergey as president. In mid 1973, Sauers states, “Bergey detailed that orders were pouring in so quickly the company could hardly stay aware of them. Creation had been ventured up to 1,000 units week after week and, even at that pace, they were sold out through April… . Pulsar was a runaway blockbuster. Before that year’s over, they were delivering 10,000 units each month and retailers were asking, ‘Send us more.'”
The Semiconductor Stampede: 1974-75
A Litronix LED watch from the 1970s. (Photo: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons )
Inevitably, Pulsar’s strong state achievement aroused the curiosity of American hardware firms, who could undoubtedly compete with Pulsar on cost. A 1985 Harvard Business School concentrate on the worldwide watch market depicted what happened: “Customer interest for digitals started to fill in 1974, when National Semiconductor reported that it would sell a LED watch at $125, about half the overall cost. Promptly subsequently, Litronix, Texas Instruments and Fairchild Camera and Instrument – all producers of incorporated circuits – presented their own LED watches. Each firm put resources into high volume, completely robotized watch fabricating plants.”
That stream before long transformed into a rush, remembering the greatest names for the American semiconductor business: Commodore, Intel’s Microma, Hewlett-Packard, Hughes Aircraft and scores more. Trueb gauges that upwards of 30 American makers delivered their own LED as well as LCD modules. Another at least 50 U.S. companies created computerized watches utilizing modules purchased from others. (See sidebar.) There was no hindrance of section into the advanced watch business. “These companies had no involvement with watchmaking,” Trueb notes. “No horological expertise was required for this kind of item, which had no mechanically moving parts beside pushers for setting the time.”
Almost the entirety of the newcomers delivered LEDs. LCD shows, presented in 1973, had readability issues; they got overcast following a couple of months. The flood of LED watches available drove costs down and request up. The outcome was a LED blast. Costs in 1974 went from $100 to Pulsar’s $275. Bergey had foreseen lower LED costs. That year he anticipated that costs would hit $20 by 1978. Meanwhile, Pulsar remained lord of the computerized hill.
President Gerald Ford wearing a Pulsar as he affirms before Congress. (Photo: Courtesy Mark Sirianni )
One scene in October, 1974, outlined Pulsar’s force. President Gerald Ford was a major Pulsar fan. As VP, he had been given one by White House counsel Philip Buchen, who likewise claimed a Pulsar. “Portage’s Pulsar was unmistakable in a photo that showed up in the Washington Post,” composed Norma Buchanan in a 1997 profile of John Bergey in American Time magazine. “The image showed the president affirming about the Nixon pardon before the House Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice. During that year’s Christmas season, gem dealers showed the photo in their windows.”
Pulsar deals multiplied in 1974 to $17 million; benefits dramatically increased. (That year, HMW Industries, parent company of Pulsar and Hamilton, bet everything on the LED. It sold the customary watchmaking division, Hamilton Watch Co., to Switzerland’s SSIH, a forerunner to what exactly is presently the Swatch Group. Today, Hamilton stays one of the Swatch Group’s 19 watch brands.)
Driven Mania: 1975
Calculator watches were a famous offshoot of the LED watch pattern. This is the HP-01.
In 1975, the LED was America’s hottest watch. As increasingly more watch companies presented new models, costs fell beneath $100, animating much more demand.
Today, it is difficult to envision the grasp the LED had on the U.S. watch market around then. Seiko was making a huge push in the United States, on its approach to becoming the world’s biggest watch company (that happened in 1978). Be that as it may, the LED halted the Seiko juggernaut here. Seiko didn’t deliver LEDs: its R&D group thought of it as technically questionable and wager on the LCD all things being equal. Scorning the LED ended up being a shrewd move. Be that as it may, it appeared to be insane at that point and caused alarm in Seiko’s U.S. activity. Jack Norvell, of Norvell-Marcum, in Tulsa, one of Seiko’s 15 U.S. wholesalers, later depicted the circumstance to me. “When the LED hit the market,” Norvell said, “the merchants were asking for LEDs. We revealed to Moriya [Seiko’s unbelievable U.S. chief, Hideaki Moriya] ‘We have to have it. That’s what the market needs.’ But he said ‘No, this item will pass.’ And it did.”
‘If you folks don’t come out with a LED,’ one diamond setter revealed to Patek Philippe sales rep Hank Edelman, ‘I’d prefer to understand what you intend to do in your next job.’
“My deals tumbled off in 1974 and 1975 due the LED,” Milton Putterman, head of Seiko’s private name division, which offered watches to retail chains, advised me. He had quite recently joined Seiko and dreaded he would be terminated. Moriya revealed to him not to stress: the LED fever would ultimately pass and retail chains would need his quartz simple watches.
It wasn’t simply mid-evaluated brands that were influenced by the LED phenomenon. Hank Edelman was a sales rep for Patek Philippe in those days. Today, he is chairman of Henri Stern Watch Agency, Patek’s wholly claimed U.S. auxiliary. He distinctively recalls clients requesting LEDs and their chagrin when he disclosed to them Patek didn’t have any. “Half of our clients asked me, ‘In the event that you all don’t come out with a LED, I’d prefer to understand what you intend to do in your next job.'”
This is the strong gold Pulsar Calculator watch that Gerald Ford needed for Christmas 1975.
Timex additionally didn’t have any LEDs. It had presented a $85 LCD in 1974. The watch bombarded. Kathleen McDermott, in her book “Timex: A Company and its Community: 1854-1998” noticed that Timex VP Fred Nelson told his clients that 1975 “was the most competitive year the watch business has ever seen.”
At Christmas time in 1975, Gerald Ford had Pulsar back in the news once more. Asked what he needed for Christmas, the President revealed to White House correspondents he was hoping to get the new gold Pulsar Calculator Watch as a present. When correspondents revealed to Betty Ford of her husband’s wish and its cost – $3,950 – she cordially poured water on the thought.
The headline on a Business Week main story in October 1975 was ‘Advanced Watches: Bringing Watchmaking Back to America Again.’
Pulsar incomes took off in 1975, up 47% to $25 million on deals of 150,000 watches. Another indication of the blast times for push-button clocks: Hughes Aircraft, a provider of LED modules to both conventional and electronic watch companies, which had entered the market in 1973, was delivering 100,000 LED modules each month before the finish of 1975. Its Newport Beach, CA, watch plant utilized 500 people.
Business Week caught the assumption of the occasions in the headline of the main story of its Oct. 27, 1975 version: “Computerized Watches: Bringing Watchmaking Back to America Again.”
It announced that there were 77 advanced watch brands on the U.S. market. By far most were American LEDs. America was driving the worldwide quartz watch unrest. Texas Instruments was providing LCD modules to Switzerland’s Ebauches SA (presently called ETA). From 1972 to 1974, Trueb reports, Omega had purchased around 30,000 LED modules from Pulsar to use in Omega Time Computer watches. Publication kid’s shows showed the Statue of Liberty with a Pulsar on her raised wrist. Watch astute, America was back. Or on the other hand so it seemed.
The Collapse, 1976-77
A Commodore LED watch. (Photo: Courtesy Wired )
The first difficult situation came right off the bat in 1976. You could see where the computerized market was headed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. “Interestingly, the show was packed with purchasers from mass merchandise retailers such as Sears, Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penney,” composed Buchanan in her Bergey profile. “The advanced had headed down a single direction road from class to mass, from unmistakable image of status to nondescript commodity. Furthermore, although the LED-type computerized still had the high ground, LCDs had begun to set up some genuine competition.”
When the end came, it came rapidly. The LED blast of 1975 prompted a LED overabundance in 1976 and a bust in 1977.
A world of fond memories: American Digital Watch Producers Of The 1970s
The book, “Jolting the Wristwatch,” by Swiss essayist Lucien Trueb, with co-authors Günther Ramm and Peter Wenzig, offers an uncommon rundown of various U.S. firms that made advanced watches, essentially LEDs, in the 1970s.
The book records 23 American companies that delivered LED or LCD modules. For perusers of a particular age, they may ring a bell, notwithstanding watches, then perhaps computers or number crunchers (or extremely sharp edges!). The companies were American Microsystems, Bowmar, Commodore, Fairchild Semiconductor, Frontier, Hewlett-Packard, Hughes Aircraft, Integrated Display Systems, Litronix, Micro Display Systems, Microma (a division of Intel), Motorola, National Semiconductor, Ness Time, Nortec, Optel, Pulsar, Ragen Semiconductors, Siliconix, Suncrux, Texas Instruments, Timex, and Uranus.
The book covers another 36 U.S. firms who purchased LED or LCD modules from others and collected their own computerized watches. They were Advance, Alcor, Armitron, Arnex, Avatar, Benrus, Bulova, Chronex, Collins, Concord, Cronex, Croton Time, Datatime, Duratime, Elgin, Gillette, Helbros, Innovative Time, Jupiter Time, Majesty, Marcel, Mercury Time, Microsonic Digital, Quantum, Saturn, Savant, Sensor, Speidel, Stanford Scientific, Timeband, Unitron, Waltham, Water Watch, Westclox, Windert, and Wittnauer.
The records, Trueb composes, are “surely incomplete.”
The guilty party was Texas Instruments. TI had significant watch desire. Digitals allowed it to challenge Timex’s situation as the mass-market watch ruler. Timex, whose watch yield through the 1970s was still generally pin-switch mechanicals, had become the world’s top watch company in deals through a strategy of merciless value removing that cleaned competitors. Texas Instruments’ technique came right out of the Timex playbook.
In 1976, in a surprising turn of events, TI dropped its LED costs to $19.95. The LED had hit $20 an entire two years before Bergey’s cynical conjecture. The following year, TI cut LED costs once more, to $9.95. It could stand to offer such low costs since economies of scale had drastically brought down the expense of advanced modules. “Somewhere in the range of 1973 and 1980, the cost of a complete advanced module dropped from above and beyond $300 to $3 or even less,” Trueb writes.
The TI value cuts sounded the death toll for the LED. Two American LED makers, Bowmar and Ness Time, failed in 1976. Setbacks began to mount. The most unmistakable was Pulsar. The market for costly LEDs vanished. In 1976, Pulsar deals dropped 14% to $21.6 million. Through the main half of 1977, Pulsar, whose costs never went underneath $249, lost $5.9 million on deals of $13.5 million. That year 42 million digitals were sold around the world, however just 10,000 were Pulsars. With no hope of recuperation, HMW reassessed the exploring computerized in July 1977 and offered the name to Rhapsody Inc., a Philadelphia watch and adornments distributor.
Hughes and numerous others deserted the advanced watch market in 1978. Business Week, in another main story on watches (June 5, 1978) offered a contemporary record: “The advanced watch field is covered with setbacks of the LED fiasco in mid 1977, when purchaser inclinations shifted to LCDs and left makers with exorbitant inventories.”
No longer expecting to push a catch to show the time was serious for LED watches. (Photo: Courtesy TimeTrafficker)
LCDs inherited the computerized mantle, yet their costs plunged, as well. In 1978, Commodore presented an assortment of 15 LCD watches estimated from $7.95 to $19.95. They were sold in rankle packs in retail chains, supermarkets, pharmacies, and gadgets shops.
By 1980, just a single American hardware firm was as yet in the watch business: Texas Instruments. It threw in the towel in 1981, laying off the 2,800 workers in its watch division.
One American company proceeded to appreciate huge accomplishment with LCD computerized watches. Amusingly, it was Timex, the customary watch maker. Its Triathlon watch, presented in 1984 and Ironman watch (1985) were successes. Timex actually creates them.
In 1978, Rhapsody Inc. offered the rights to the Pulsar name to Seiko. In 1979, Seiko relaunched Pulsar as a quartz simple watch valued underneath Seiko. It stays a sister brand to Seiko to this day.
After getting scorched in the watch business, the American hardware firms went to more rewarding shopper gadgets items, similar to computers, computer games, smartphones, and, these days, watches again.
A last note: John Bergey stayed in Lancaster subsequent to resigning from HMW. He claimed a fine assortment of Pulsar watches. However, now and then in and out of town, he would wear an alternate computerized watch. When inquired as to why, he said, “Individuals frequently ask me what happened to Pulsar. I highlight this and say, ‘This is what happened! I paid $3.79 for it and it works great.'”