When we reached out to Abe Megahed at the watch retail site Time Trafficker to source an image of a Pulsar P2 watch to illustrate Alan Finkel’s column on LED lights we also received a fascinating history into the timepiece we thought we’d share:
The Pulsar P2 was the first digital wristwatch to enter mass production. It became available in 1973 and made its public debut in the opening scene of the Roger Moore James Bond film Live and Let Die. After this, it became a sensation and was worn by movie stars and other celebrities and high rollers. The P2 cost $395 in 1973, which was more than a Rolex Submariner at the time.
Although the P2 was a huge success, as with most revolutionary advances, the digital watch was almost a disaster.
As you can infer by the name, the P2 was actually the second model produced by Pulsar. The very first digital watch was the Pulsar P1, introduced in April of 1972. The P1 was a limited edition model, a step beyond a prototype, but not really a production model.
Only 400 were produced. The P1 featured a solid 18 kt case and the crystal was made out of a solid slab of synthetic ruby. It cost an astounding $2,200. However. the real innovation of the P1 was the 25-chip module inside of the case.
It had 25 individual tiny integrated circuit chips and over 400 gold connections, each of which had to be painstakingly hand soldered. It was rumored that the module was by far the most expensive part of the watch and that Hamilton Pulsar was building them at a loss, even at the astronomical price.
It was thought that they would last 100 years without maintenance so the cases were soldered permanantly shut using gold solder. Unfortunately, the modules started failing within a few months and Pulsar recalled them all, replacing the overly complex 25 chip modules with a variant of the single chip modules that were made for the P2.
The original 25 chip modules were destroyed and currently only about 6 are now known to exist.
Since the P1 was such a technological revolution, I thought I’d also put together a link to a set of images of the Pulsar P1 25 chip module.
It’s a pretty interesting story. Since the digital watch preceded calculators and computers and was the first consumer electronic gadget to employ microelectronics, you could rightly say that is where the entire digital age began.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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