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Mardi, 03 Janvier 2012 12:30

Jan. 3, 1957: Electric Watch Debuts, a Space Age Marvel

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Jan. 3, 1957: Electric Watch Debuts, a Space Age Marvel

1957: The Hamilton Electric 500 is announced at a press conference. It is the first battery-operated electric wristwatch and the first to never need winding.

The 500 was made by the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which began developing the timepiece in 1946. Eleven years later, that development was not yet complete but the company, feeling the pressure of competition and wanting badly to be the first out the door with this innovation, called the press conference and went into production.

It was an instant hit at a time when “progress” was the watchword and all eyes looked expectantly to the future. And it was, briefly, the “watch of the future,” with its ultramodern design and cutting-edge technology. But there were fundamental problems with the 500 that soon became apparent.

Battery life was relatively short, for one thing, so while winding was no longer necessary, frequent battery replacement — in some ways a more arduous chore — was. And “newer” doesn’t always mean “better,” which the 500 proved by being prone to failure, making it less reliable than the standard wind-up watch.

In the end, though, Hamilton’s technology was not only flawed, but transitional: The watch’s hands were driven by a complex wheel train. By the late 1960s, quartz movements — with many fewer parts — had arrived, and Hamilton ended production in 1969.

The 500 is now a highly prized collectors’ piece.


Photo: The watch battery is smaller than the button on the shirt cuff.

This article first appeared on Jan. 3, 2008.


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