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Pulsar Quartz Wristwatch

In competition with other watch companies, Hamilton had begun the process of reinventing the watch in the 1950s. Makers of high-end watches since 1892 with a strong tradition in research and development, the firm introduced its first electro-mechanical watch, a conventional watch powered by a battery, in 1957. By the 1960s, the goal for Hamilton's researchers became a completely electronic timekeeper. On the verge of bankruptcy in 1970, when the Pulsar was introduced to the press, Hamilton hoped the Pulsar would pull it to prosperity.

Unlike mechanical watches with scores of moving parts, the new Pulsar consisted of four basic stationary elements: the quartz-crystal oscillator, the electronic circuitry, the time display, and the battery. The Pulsar's source of power was a rechargeable three-cell, 4-1/2-volt battery that Hamilton claimed would provide an average of about six months of service with an average of 25 time checks a day.

(In designing watch batteries, the challenge was to make a long-lasting power source as small as possible. Short-life miniature batteries had been developed during World War II, but it was not until 1954 that National Carbon Company--later Union Carbide and now Eveready--developed a constant-voltage, low-drain, leak-proof battery for Hamilton. The only other miniature battery on the market at the time was for hearing aids.)

In place of the mechanical watch's dial, the new Pulsar had a dark-red synthetic ruby "time screen." To conserve battery energy, lighted numerals appeared only when the wearer pressed the "command button." The numbers appeared digitally, as 11:02 or 03:27, for example, instead of on a traditional round dial. No other electric or electronic watch had attempted a digital display before. These lit digits depended on an emerging technology: light-emitting diodes.

Hamilton released a Pulsar with a built-in calculator in 1973 with a $4,000 price tag. In 1974, in response to consumer criticisms about time display only on demand, Hamilton introduced a model that was activated by a flick of the wrist.

The Pulsar was not the first quartz watch on the market. Numerous Swiss firms, and Seiko in Japan, were all selling high-end quartz analog watches in 1971 before Hamilton marketed the Pulsar. The novelty of the digital display held enormous appeal for many consumers, though, and the fad was launched. Pulsar was, for its first four years, Hamilton's most successful product. Sales totaled $17 million in 1974, more than twice 1973's sales, and continued to rise until 1977.

However, the mid-1970s marked a turning point in what would become the quartz revolution. By then, competitors--mostly semi-conductor producers, not watchmaking firms--could sell low-end digital watches for as little as $10. Suddenly, digital watches were everywhere. At the height of the digital-watch mania, there were as many as 40 manufacturers making about 90 brands. By the 1980s, fashions had changed. Enthusiasm for digital displays had declined, and consumers--perhaps in search of a "familiar face"--had for the most part returned to watches with analog dials.

Pulsar watches continue to be made, but they are no longer made by Hamilton. HMW (the successor to Hamilton Watch Company) sold its watch division to the Swiss in 1974, and the separate Pulsar division, called Time Computer, Inc., continued on until 1977, when it was sold to Rhapsody, Inc., an American jewelry firm. Rhapsody in turn sold the name "Pulsar" to Seiko in Japan.




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