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Hall of Fame: Hamilton Pulsar

The first ever digital watch had celebrities and the super-rich seeing red

Think of the early 1970s and you’re probably thinking about flares, shaggy hair, wacky baccy and classic rock – not cutting edge digital technology.

And yet it was in 1972 – a frankly frightening 44 years ago – that the world got its first sweet taste of what was set to become a staple of nerds everywhere: the digital watch. And it came in the still-gorgeous shape of the Hamilton Pulsar.

What’s the story?

What’s the story?

After hundreds of years of time-keepers using big hands and little hands, a glimpse was given of a hands-free future: the first digital, no-moving-parts watch was born.

Having designed the concept clock for 2001: A Space Odyssey at the request of Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, Hamilton realised that if it could make a watch using the same principles, the result would be revolutionary.

Six years later the Pulsar was born, paving the way for a tidal wave of digital miniaturisation that continues to flood the world. Sadly, five years after that, the company went the way of the dodo.

Why should I want one?

Why should I want one?

This is a watch that Roger Moore pre-ordered two years before it went on sale. So did Richard Nixon, Jerry Lee Lewis and King Hussein of Jordan.

Today we might look upon digital watches with a tinge of disdain mixed with rose-tinted nostalgia for our childhood Casios, but this was the exciting age of space exploration, the birth of the modern computer and the genesis of video games – the year Pong blazed its arcade trail.

The Pulsar embodies the optimism and excitement of its age, and thanks to a resurgence in retro-futuristic styling, it’s well in fashion. Unlike Roger, the human walnut.

Buying one? Here’s what to “watch” out for

Good pun. The first 300 models had gold cases and sold for the ludicrous-in-1972 price of US$2100 – yet sold out in three days and are now worth a fortune – while the subsequent steel ones were $275.

Around 100,000 were sold and most of them still work, with little needed other than a new battery. The solid-state operation means minimal wear and tear, and many have spent the last 30 years in the hands of collectors (rather than on their wrists), so have hardly been worn.

Very early models had less reliable internals that had to be replaced by Hamilton’s service team.

Search for a Hamilton Pulsar on eBay

Also in 1972…

Film – The Godfather

Brando breaks out the cotton balls for his iconic role as Don Corleone. Fact: oranges are used as portents of death, from Don Vito buying them before he’s attacked to Michael dropping one as he dies in the last film.

Gadget – Magnavox Odyssey

Gadget - Magnavox Odyssey

The world’s first games console beat Pong to the punch and introduced the first light gun game, Shooting Gallery. Creator Ralph Baer later sued Nintendo, nabbing a pile of royalties.

Album – Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St

Recorded at a former Gestapo head- quarters near Nice, Exile… is a messy, sprawling masterpiece. Arguably one of the Stones’ last great records, "Tumbling Dice" and the evergreen "Rocks Off" are stand-out tracks.