You may be aware of the Hamilton Pulsar Time Computer for one of several reasons. First created in 1970, it’s recognised as the world’s first electronic digital watch.
It was also the first timepiece to employ an LED display – and an immediately recognisable bright red display at that.
These beauties may look charmingly retro today, but when they first hit shelves they were positively space age. More than being revolutionary, they were eye-wateringly expensive; retailing at a higher price than a gold Rolex.
Let’s be honest, though, you’re probably more likely to have heard of the watch thanks to its cinematic debut in James Bond flick Live And Let Die.
At one point in the movie, M comes knocking at Bond's door and the mighty Roger Moore checks his Pulsar watch to see what time it is (5:48 am, if you’re wondering).
Could you ask for a better piece of advertising? The world-famous spy demonstrates how the watch works: to see the time, he pushes the button on the side of the watch, so that the LED time lights up.
James Bond demonstrates how the Pulsar works in Live And Let Die
Even now, this watch conjures images of the 70s gent, spy tech, and futurism – I hope whoever thought of putting it on Bond’s wrist got the pay rise they deserved.
Gladly, the new version (available in a limited-edition yellow-gold PVD or a non-limited steel version) leaves all of this retro enjoyment intact, with just a few functional changes underneath the hood to aid performance. More on those later.
The story of the Pulsar isn’t so much a horological feat as a technological one – and, with that in mind, it’s worth dipping into the history of computers. (Yay!)
There are several key dates to bear in mind here: the first electronic digital computer was the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) of 1937, which gave us a glimpse of what the future could hold; the first general-purpose computer followed in 1946 in the form of the absolutely gigantic ENIAC (electronic numerical integrator and computer); while the first commercial computer, the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC 1), was launched in 1951.
It was only the invention of the integrated circuit in 1963 that brought with it the kind of smaller, powerful machines we would today recognise as a computer. So, just seven years before Hamilton brought us a tiny electronic wristwatch, we were getting used to the idea of this alien electronic doohickey called a computer, and all of a sudden we have a timepiece on our wrists that tells the time digitally? No wonder it was mind blowing – it was a leap in technology.
Let’s get back to the new Hamilton PSR. As mentioned previously, its hardware is upgraded from the Pulsar for performance.
That original LED-only display had one major downfall: it needed a bunch of power to run. To get around this problem, Hamilton fitted the Pulsar with a button on the side of the case, which would turn on the display at a single click, therefore conserving battery until the wearer needed to view the time.
It was a clever solution but was swiftly made obsolete by the superior battery life and always-on display of LCD watches – the Pulsar's brief tenure as watchmaking’s most fascinating object ended in 1977 when it was discontinued.
Unsurprisingly, the new PSR makes a few modern concessions, rather than staying wholly true to the original. Unlike the Pulsar, it boasts a hybrid display: reflective LCDs ensure the dial remains readable during daylight hours (as opposed to the dial being left completely dark when not in use), while operating the push button activates an OLED display that is the spitting image of the iconic scarlet pop of colour on the original.
There’s also a new anti reflective-coated sapphire crystal, and a 100m water-resistance rating for further convenience.
Add To Your Collection
Here at Square Mile, we love the vintage and the old school – something ornate, or maybe a piece from a bygone era suits us quite nicely.
The Hamilton Pulsar lives in a particularly unique corner of watchmaking history, with its faithful reprisal the PSR offering a charming window into its revolutionary past. If nothing else, it’s just great fun pushing that side button and remembering a simpler time when Bond wowed audiences with his chic new gadget.
The Hamilton PSR is limited to 1,970 pieces in yellow-gold PVD for £900 or available in a non-limited steel case for £675.
For more info, see hamiltonwatch.com