Let’s Get Digital: After 50 Years, The Hamilton P2 Is Back, Baby!
The original LED watch gets a long-awaited revival.
Flashback to 1970. Cars were muscular. Movie stars wore mustaches (the male ones, anyway). And wristwatches were solid chunks of funk.
Humankind had just stepped on the lunar surface the year before, so society was open to all kinds of social change, including the way we read the time. And at the forefront of all this space-age technology was the Hamilton Pulsar, a flying saucer-shaped timepiece with a futuristic red Light Emitting Diode (LED) digital display.
Despite the fact that, in those days, these watches cost about as much as the down payment on a house (the first version, known as the P1, came in 18k Yellow Gold and sold for $2,100 or about $13,300 in 2020 dollars), they were highly desirable. The second generation, aka the P2, had a sportier stainless steel case and were collected by cool dudes such as Jack Nicholson, Joe Frazier, Elton John, and Keith Richards. Priced at $395 in 1973, it was more expensive than a Rolex Submariner at the time.
Perhaps the ultimate tribute to its high-end gadgetry was the fact that Roger Moore sported a P2 2900 in the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973).
Before the decade was over, LED technology was superseded by Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). But collectors kept the spirit of the '70s alive, and original P2s have been fetching a pretty penny on resale sites. And now Hamilton is resurrecting this classic — but with a few essential upgrades.
While light-emitting diodes had been used in laboratory and electronic test equipment, they were costly to manufacture. Adapting this science to a wristwatch took a joint effort by the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Hamilton Watch Company and Electro/Data Inc.
This next wave watch was announced at a historic press conference at the legendary Four Seasons restaurant in New York on May 6, 1970. They called it the Pulsar after the pulsating neutron stars that emit beams of radiation at ultra-precise frequencies. Johnny Carson demonstrated a prototype on The Tonight Show. It was important stuff.
When the P2 hit the stores in spring 1972, it was an immediate sensation. There were no moving parts. No ticking sounds. Just the world's first all-electronic, LED display digital watch. To read the time, you pressed a button on the side of the case — a quick push to make the red LED numerals flash the time across the dark screen, or you could hold it down to indicate the seconds. And you set it using a unique magnetic bar hidden in the bracelet.
Still, while it was one of the world's most technically advanced timepieces at the time, it only had the capacity to show the hours, minutes, and seconds — there was no date, stopwatch, nor alarm features.
By 1975, Hamilton released a Pulsar with a built-in calculator, but there were other issues associated with digital LED watches. Mainly the price and the fact that the more you displayed the time, the faster the battery drained.
By 1978, Seiko acquired the Pulsar brand, and the P2 was put to pasture.
There’s no denying that the P2 ushered in a whole new era in watchmaking. And as impractical as the old clunky LED technology was, its forward-looking design was due for rediscovery.
So to honor the anniversary of this milestone of American ingenuity, Hamilton is bringing it back as the Hamilton PSR (Seiko still owns the Pulsar name).
We were fortunate enough to be able to examine both an original P2 and the new models, and we have to say that the Hamilton PSR has all of the visual integrity of the original. The wide, cushion-shaped case has the same dimensions (40.8mm x 34.7mm). And the metal bracelet has the same heft and feel as the original (but without the secret magnetic tool).
For the 2020 version of the PSR, it’s what’s inside that counts. The biggest is in the digital display. The Hamilton PSR features a hybrid technology that uses both reflective LCD and emissive OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes). In its passive state, this allows the wearer to see the time in any daylight condition. A press of the button will bring up the bright red OLED numerals in the familiar ‘digit dot’ style. Because there is no backlight, the display has very low energy consumption.
Staying true to its high-end roots, the new Hamilton PSR is available in two versions: one in yellow gold PVD coated stainless that's limited to 1,970 models, and an unlimited edition in stainless steel and a model in yellow gold PVD coated stainless that's limited to 1,970 models.
Both watches have a very premium presence thanks to touches like brushed finishing and sapphire crystals with anti-reflective coating.
The PSR is also water-resistant to 10 bar (100m). Perfect if you want to evoke that super ’70s, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood action man vibe. You know, when you could be macho and a little flashy at the same time.
Prices are $745 for the Stainless Steel and $945 for the Yellow Gold PVD version. The PSR will soon be available in stores and online.
(Images provided by Hamilton)