Electronic watches, not that new

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Since the launch of the smartphone, we knew that one day we would end up with “smart-watches”. Not that we were all nostalgics of Michael Knight and his Knight industries 2000 wrist-watch but because it would be the natural evolution of things. Despite the fact that iWatches are a hot trend right now, their concept is not new.

The Electronic watch, a concept older than 50 years

Everybody is talking about the Apple iWatch (even if nobody knows exactly when this will be launched) and the Samsung Galaxy Gear (already launched). But did you know that the idea of a watch capable of doing certain electronic functionalities and powered with a battery is pretty much old?
The pioneer was not a Japanese company. It was Hamilton that in 1957 launched the Hamilton Electric watch 500. The uniqueness of this wrist-watch was that a small electric battery replaced the mainspring. The advertising, as you can see below, shows the watch and the size of the miniaturized battery. It was as small as a shirt button.

Hamilton Electric 500
This was the first step. It was the first watch that never required winding. And this was a technical revolution. The idea of this watch came in 1946, several scientific work around electricity and power battery miniaturization was taking place, so Hamilton definitely took advantage of that to inspire the creation of a revolutionary watch. 11 years later and several trials, the company successfully presented a true elegant watch with an electric heart.
In parallel, the first quartz clock was built in 1927 by Warren Marrison and J.W. Horton at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Of course it did not have the size of a wrist-watch, but the understanding of Quartz crystal and its capability of frequency accuracy opened a new door for measuring time.
1967 is a very important year. In Switzerland, there is a presentation of the first analog Quartz wrist-watch by the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) in Neuchâtel. It is called the Beta 1. At the same time Seiko Japan reveals its first Quartz wrist-watch called Astron.

Seiko Astron
Seiko has been working on the Astron project since 1957 and in 1969 they launched the very first commercial Quartz wrist-watch.
After this epic episode, we would need to wait more than 10 years until electronic components could be industrially miniaturized and give more possibilities to the electronic watch business. Of course it was only the beginning but a very important one. Without electric source or energy, how could we power a digital screen today right?

And LED screens came to radically change the face of watches

One of the big changes with the arrival of digital in watch-making was the LED display. A 7 line liquid crystal display that would replace the current dial of a watch. This opened the possibilities. Certain current complications would not be a problem any more.

Hamilton, a true visionary

In 1970, the first ever digital watch with a LED screen was commercially produced. Once again Hamilton Watch company got the lead by launching a watch called Pulsar. And this was a real blast in the quiet watch-making industry. Here are some Press articles about it.

Hamilton Pulsar

Hamilton Pulsar Watch
The idea of a watch with no “hands” and no mechanical components were definitely Science fiction for that time.

Hamilton Pulsar
In 1968, the movie 2001 Space Odyssey had shown a Hamilton prototype Digital watch on screen. Since then, Hamilton wanted to bring fiction to reality. And it is exactly what they did.

Hamilton 2001 Space Odyssey

Hamilton 2001 Space Odyssey movie

And suddenly came Asia and they were here to stay!

Nothing could predict that in 1946 when Kashio Keisanki founded Kashio Seisakujo that this company would become the biggest electronic business from 1970 to 1990. And if you did not notice yet, we are here talking about Casio Computer and Electronics.
The 60’s and the 70’s were true challenges for Casio. Despite the intense internationalization of the company, economic crisis was hard as well as competition. So to get the company out of that, Casio top management decided to use their know-how in pocket computers and calculators into watch-making. That’s why in 1974, Casio presented the very first digital watch called the Casiotron.

Casiotron

Casio Casiotron
The specificity of this watch, despite the hours, minutes, seconds display was the presence of an electronic perpetual calendar. The watch would display the day, month and year as well as he bissextile years.
Since this launch, Casio multiplied the versions and variants. Each watch had more or less functions, all for a very affordable price. Probably the most popular one was the watch-calculator.

Casio Calculator Watch

Casio Calculator
In the 80’s another Asian giant, Seiko, invested a lot of resources on PC-connected digital watches. Some of them had little display functions and others even integrated Pagers.

The Smart-watch finally arrived

End of the 90’s IBM and Citizen, joined forces and launched the first watch with what we could consider a mobile OS. In deed, this watch held a linux system although screen possibilities were limited.

Linux watch
It was also the rise of a Korean giant, Samsung. With the know-how in Smartphones getting to an edge, they launched in 2009, the first Samsung smart-watch-phone called
the Samsung S9110.

Samsung S9110
2012 was the launch of several Fitness watches like the Nike watch. Measuring the body metrics became something that made sense for several digital watch constructors.
It was also the launch of the Peeble watch. Smart-watches become fashionable and clever.

Nike watch
Nevertheless the small amount of sales shows that the audience for such products is still small. In 2013, Samsung launched the Galaxy Gear watch. You can receive calls, check your emails and everything can be manageable via a watch app.

Samsung Galaxy Gear
Now we are waiting for Apple to launch its iWatch. Rumors say that is going to be launched by the end of this year but nothing was promised yet. The Smart-watches became part of people’s life already and probably the best is still to come.

LA

Info sourced at wikipedia, Samsumg, Hamilton, Seiko and Nike websites. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available.

Sebastien Eich

Sebastien Eich is passionate about Swiss watch-making and throughout the years he gathered a tremendous amount of knowledge about the beautiful art of creating a watch. Based in Switzerland, the mother land of watch-making, he has exclusive access to Brands and events. He shares all of it here for the great pleasure of sharing.