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Smartwatch Era Begins (1970s)
Hamilton Pulsar P1 - World’s First All-Electronic Digital Wristwatch (1972)
The Hamilton Pulsar P1 was released in the Spring of 1972 and was the world’s first all-electronic digital wristwatch. It had no moving parts as was powered by electronics instead of a mechanical movement. A button was pushed to display the time which was created by light-emitting diodes (LED). It was described and advertised as a "Time-Computer" using "Space-Age" technology and sold for a whopping $2100.00 ($12,300.00 in 2015 dollars). One Hamilton Pulsar P1 is on display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. It is one of the few wristwatches displayed by the prestigious museum, which should be an indicator of the horological importance and rarity of this timepiece.
Smartwatch Era Begins (1970s)
The Smartwatch era began with two early digital wristwatch models: the Hamilton Pulsar P1 and the Synchronar (both released in 1972). These new Smartwatches caused quite a stir in the international watch industry. They introduced new technologies that challenged the traditional thinking, styling and usage of what a watch was generally thought to be. Later in the 1970s calculator wristwatches became available and some even featured memory recall capabilities.
Synchronar - World’s First Solar Powered Wristwatch (1972)
The Synchronar was released late in 1972 and was the world’s first solar powered wristwatch. It had an LED display and sophisticated complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuits. It also featured several ‘smart’ functions never before seen on a wristwatch including a programmed calendar (set to the year 2100) that kept track of the number of days in the month and it incorporated leap years. Additionally, its digital LED display automatically adjusted the display’s brightness based on available light conditions, and was the first LED display that was visible in full sunlight.
Seiko C153 Calculator LCD Wristwatch (1977)
Seiko released their C153 calculator wristwatch in 1977. It has normal calculator capabilities, but also includes square root, percentage functions and memory recall. Its 8 digit display uses LCD technology, and doubles as a time display when it is not in calculator mode.
Intel Microma - World’s First Complete Electronic System on a Single Silicone Chip - Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) - (1974)
The Intel Microma liquid crystal display (LCD) digital watch was the first product to integrate a complete electronic system onto a single silicon chip, called a System-On-Chip or (SOC). The first true SOC watch was the Intel Microma that was released in 1974. Peter Stoll is credited with integrating the LCD driver transistors as well as the timing functions onto a single Intel 5810 CMOS chip. This LCD technology extended battery life by orders of magnitude and was the leading catalyst to make LED technology obsolete.
Hewlett Packard HP-01 Wrist Instrument – Sophisticated Calculator (1977)
The HP-01 wrist instrument was Hewlett Packard’s first watch and algebraic calculator and it performs more than thirty six functions to manipulate and interrelate time, calendar and numeric data. It was actually ‘smarter’ than many pocket calculators of its time. Additional functions include time, alarm, timer/stopwatch, date/calendar, calculator and memory. The user operates the 28 small keys with a stylus that is built into the bracelet. The HP-01 Wrist Instrument project was code-named “Cricket” but was not a commercially successful product for Hewlett Packard. It proved to be too bulky and heavy and was quickly made obsolete by liquid crystal display (LCD) calculator watches. HP discontinued it in 1980 and destroyed a lot of its design tooling and documentation. Development of an LCD version was started but cancelled due to unfavorable economic conditions. Due to its short production run and extraordinary miniaturized package engineering it is a highly collectible digital watch in today’s market and it commonly fetches many times its original price.
On-Line Articles about the Hamilton Pulsar P1
On-Line Articles about the Synchronar
On-Line Articles about the Intel Microma
On-Line Articles about the Seiko C153
On-Line Articles about the Hewlett Packard HP-01
Index of Selected Smartwatches Released during the 1970s
(This list is a ‘selection’ and does not include all 1970 - 1979 Smartwatches)
Gruen Teletime - First “Field-Effect” Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) Watch - (1972)
The Gruen Teletime was released in 1972 and featured the first field effect liquid crystal display used in a wristwatch. This field effect LCD watch display technology rendered the LED and dynamic scattering LCD technology obsolete very quickly. Field Effect LCD technology are the displays commonly used today in wristwatches, Smartwatches and most other forms of electronic gadgets. The earliest LCD watches used a technique called dynamic scattering, but this had quite high power consumption and poor contrast. In 1969, James Fergason developed a new method called field effect display based on the twisted nematic field effect (some other sources credit this to Schadt and Helfrich in 1971). He took his idea and formed a company called ILIXCO to produce the longer life, lower power consuming and higher contrast display he'd developed. The first watch to use this display was the Gruen Teletime.
The Seiko Quartz LC V.F.A. 06LC was a fully-electronic watch that used the world's first six-digit liquid-crystal display to indicate the time. Capable of continuously displaying the hour, minutes and seconds on a field-effect liquid crystal display that Epson developed for quartz watches, this groundbreaking digital watch attracted wide attention when it was first marketed in October 1973. The Seiko digital quartz 06LC was designed such that the electric signals were sent directly to the liquid crystal panel, where they were converted to digits on the display. The internally developed LCD was long-lived (50,000 hours) and had good contrast. A lamp provided enough illumination to make the numbers on the display easy to read, even in the dark. The timepiece boasted some very user-friendly features. Users could, for example, set the time down to the second with pushbuttons, or reset the hour and minute independently.
On-Line Articles about the Seiko Quartz 06LC
Early Innovations in the Development of Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) Watch Displays
Since nearly all Smartwatches have digital displays (the majority being of LCD technology) the following is a brief overview regarding early innovations and development:
In 1968, RCA announced a breakthrough in the liquid crystal field as new research indicated that significant improvements in electronic displays for solid-state electronic clocks, dashboard instruments and watches were possible. In 1972, digital watches with dynamic scattering liquid crystal displays were released by Optel (a former electronics corporation located in Princeton, NJ who was one of the first manufacturers of LCD displays - they contracted to manufacture LCD modules for a variety of Swiss watch manufacturers, who at the time did not have the in-house capability to produce their own LCD quartz movements), Microma (a former digital watchmaker that had developed LCDs for use in watches and other products - in 1972, Intel acquired the company - in 1978, Intel sold the watch designs to Timex and the Microma name to a Swiss company) and Texas Instruments. The dynamic scattering LCDs suffered from low contrast, high power consumption, limited life and were difficult to read. Additional research and development by the International Liquid Crystal Company of Cleveland, Ohio (lLIXCO) resulted in the field effect LCD display. In 1972, the first watch with a field effect LCD display, which was manufactured by ILIXCO, was the Gruen Teletime, caliber 606. The field effect LCD display was an improved design as compared to the dynamic scattering LCD as it is easier to read and is more energy efficient. The field effect LCD quickly became the type most commonly used on watches and other products that utilize LCD displays.
On-Line Articles about LCD development
Epsa-Optel - Quartz - Dynamic Scattering (DSM) LCD Digital Watch - ca. 1972.
Waltham - Walchron - “Marketed” as the World's First Quartz Powered Dynamic Scattering (DCM) LCD With No Moving Parts - ca. 1972.
Optel Quartz - Dynamic Scattering (DSM) LCD Model PS-2 Digital Watch - ca. 1972.
Tell Dynamic Scattering LCD watch made by the 'Société des Garde-Temps S.A.' (SGT) a group of six watch factories which produced about 15,000 of these watches. They are powered with a Motorola quartz crystal and an SSS (Solid State Scientific) IC - ca. 1972.