About LED Watches
Nothing screams "1970s!" like an LED watch.
LED watches display the time using a set of glowing red digits that briefly light up at the touch of a button instead of using a dial and hands. LED watches were the first entirely electronic digital watches and use a quartz crystal for extremely accurate timekeeping.
"LED" stands for "light emitting diode" which is a technical term describing the glowing slabs of silicon that make up the display. Much has been made of the notion that LED waches are "power hungry" and require you to push a button to view the time. They are only power hungry when actually displaying the time, which is a tiny percentage of the time. As far as the need to push a button to see the time, this limitation has been hugely exaggerated. A few LED watches display the time at the "flick of the wrist" eliminating the need to push a button. Some like the unobtrusiveness of the LED display, turning this so-called limitation into a feature.
President Ford with his
1974 Pulsar P3
As the first watches with no moving parts, digital watches could acheive an accuracy of 30 seconds per year. This is a factor of 50 times better than the finest Rolex or about 25 times better than an Accutron. LED watches from the 1970s are as accurate as any quartz watch made today. LED watches use a quartz crystal and a tiny digital computer to count the time. In any timekeeping device, the faster the oscillator, the more accurate the timekeeping. A balance wheel beats between 5 and 8 times per second. A tuning fork vibrates almost 100 times faster at 360 - 720 times per second. A quartz crystal beats another 100 times faster at 32,768 times per second!
Roger Moore as James Bond
with his 1973 Pulsar P2
Claims to Fame
When LED watches were first introduced, they were seen not as cheap disposable electronic gadgets, but as fashionable status symbols worn by celebrities, rock stars, and heads of state. The first LED watch was the Pulsar P1, which sold in 1972 for $2100. The first LED watch sold to the public in significant numbers was the Pulsar P2 which made its debut a year later in the 1973 James Bond movie "Live and Let Die" and still cost $275 to $500 depending on the model.
LED watches made appearances on many movies and TV shows of the era. On the big screen, Jake Ellwood wore a round faced LED watch in "The Blues Brothers". On the small screen, the cast of the sci-fi TV show "Battlestar Galactica" wore chunky Hughes calculator watches, Telly Savalas wore a Hamilton LED watch as TV detective Kojak, and Bill Bixby wore a P2 astronaut on the TV show "The Magician".
1973 Pulsar P2 "Astronaut",
the "Bond Watch"
LED watches were worn by many rock stars, polititans, actors and other celebrities of the 1970s including president Ford, Elvis, Yul Bryner, John Entwhistle of the Who, Peter Sellers, Roger Moore, Paul MacCartney, Joe Frazier, Sammy Davis Jr, and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Unfortunately, the LED watch, which burned so very brightly in the early 1970s burned out just 6 years later. LED watches came to be seen as impractical because of the need to push a button to view the time. By 1977, Pulsar and other LED watchmakers went out of business as LED watches were replaced by the serviceable, but not very colorful or flashy LCD watches which have become so cheap and ubiquitous today. LED watches were the first digital microelectronic products and were the direct ancestors of today's digital world.