Digital watches: The hot tech trend of the ’70s & ’80s

Digital watches for everyone The hot gift-giving trend of the late '70s

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A few decades ago, digital watches were the perfect gift for everyone on your list

Battery-powered digital watches deserve serious consideration as Christmas presents, because they can be used either as stocking-stuffers or as major gifts for friends or members of your family.

Watches are popular gift items, and industry sources say that as many as seven out of every 10 digital watches are bought by customers as gifts for someone else.

Prices begin as low as about $10 and run up into the hundreds of dollars for either of two different types of digital watches. These are sold in jewelry shops, gift shops, department and discount stores, and many drugstores.

The first digital watches on the market a few years ago were called LEDs, meaning light-emitting diodes.

Their faces, or “displays,” feature colored backlighted numerals against dark backgrounds. These displays remain dark until one pushes a button to get a time read-out.

Digital Watches 1976

LCD digital watch displays

Liquid crystal display models — LCDs — provide displays in which the hours and minutes are constantly visible, appearing as black numerals against a light background.

Often LCDs provide such information as seconds, the day of the week and month when a button is pressed several times in succession. A few also have a night light feature for read-outs in the dark.

Some of the more expensive and more sophisticated LCDs called “chronographic” models perform multiple and often simultaneous tinting jobs when various buttons are pressed. These can be handy for timing sports events such as races and become. in effect, wrist computers.

Bulova quartz digital watches
Bulova quartz digital watches (1977)
Digital watches have their own issues

Before you buy a digital watch, it should be pointed out that satisfaction among owners is far from universal. Many find them of limited use compared with a conventional watch, and one out of every 10 owners reports having problems getting service from dealers when the watches need repair.

The fact that a digital watch, unlike a regular spring-driven watch, contains no moving parts is no guarantee of reliability.

In most digitals, a tiny battery provides the power to vibrate a small quartz crystal. An electronic circuit transforms these vibrations into one electrical pulse each second. Thus digital watches are extremely accurate, and the better models lose less than three minutes a year.

When you shop for a digital watch, you should bear in mind that there are a number of differences between LCDs and LEDs that may influence your choice.

The numerals on most LEDs have a tendency to wash out in bright sunlight. People who wear them often must shade the display to read it in strong artificial or natural light. Those who wear glasses often cannot read the time on LEDs without glasses.

LCDs are easier to read in strong light because their displays use reflected light to make the numerals stand out more prominently.

On the other hand, it may be hard to read the time in dim light and impossible in darkness unless the watch has a button-activated night light. Such models generally require an additional battery and are more expensive.

On some LCDs, the numerals are deeply recessed, so one must hold the display directly in front of the face to read the time.

Digital watches 1977
Digital watches (1977)
LED digital watch shortcomings

LEDs have their drawbacks, too. One will find it almost impossible to push the button for a read-out while driving or carrying something in the other hand. for example.

One of the LED’s greatest shortcomings, however, lies in the fact that the display remains blank until the read-out button is pushed.

If one is in the habit of checking the time several dozen times a day, an LED’s battery may need replacement every two to three months because of the power drain resulting from too frequent activation of the electronic circuit. New batteries can run from $5 to about $8 each.

In fact, battery replacement constitutes one of the largest single sources of complaint among digital watch owners. Many dealers just don’t want to be bothered with opening the watch case and putting in a new battery.

A major manufacturer reports that more than half of the watches returned to his factory for service merely need new batteries. In many cases, dealers simply ship watches back to the manufacturer instead of replacing batteries themselves. This usually means the owner is stuck without a watch for a few weeks unless he or she happens to have a spare.

Vintage Casio digital watches 1980
Vintage Casio digital watches (1980)

Seiko introduces the first multi-mode LC Digital Quartz Alarm Chronograph

It features continuous readout of the time; displays the day, date and month; converts into a precision stopwatch and functions as a wrist alarm. All in one slim compact case.

Seiko sold the first quartz wristwatch in 1969. Today Seiko has one of the world’s largest selections of quartz watches. And now, the new Seiko LC Digital Alarm Chronograph. Never has a wristwatch done so much.

Like every Seiko Quartz, Seiko makes every part except the battery, to insure flawless quality control and a superb product. That’s why Seiko Quartz is changing the world’s standard of accuracy. Seiko Quartz.

Seiko digital quartz alarm watch-1977 vintage

Here’s how the new Seiko Multi-Mode LC Digital Alarm Chronograph works:

Time and day: The large, easy-to-read LC digits continuously display the hour minute, second and day of week.

Month and date: At the push of a button, the time display disappears and the month and date appear.

Electronic stopwatch: Push the mode button, and the stopwatch readout in minutes. seconds and 1/10 seconds is displayed.

Lap timing: The display freezes to show time for a single lap while, internally, race timing continues.

One-two finish: Press two buttons in sequence: the winning time is displayed, and the second-place time is held in memory for instant retrieval.

Alarm mode: Push the mode button, and the alarm display appears. Then set electronic alarm to exact hour and minute desired. No resetting required for the same alarm time every day.

Simultaneous functioning: All modes function simultaneously through electronic memory.  You select the display readout of mode desired.

Easy-reading design: The large, bright numerals are always visible. In total darkness, the touch of a button illuminates the face for easy display readout.

Someday all watches will be made this way. Seiko Time Corporation

Seiko digital quartz alarm watch-1977
Seiko digital quartz alarm watch (1977)

Star Wars micro-electronic digital watch (1978)

The “space age” Texas Instruments Star Wars watch could be earned as a prize for selling Christmas fundraising products.

In 1977, the movie Star Wars took off, and broke records all across the galaxy

Star Wars Digital Watch July 1978

Retro Casio watches of from 1989 

Casio watches 1989

Vintage ’80s Seiko Multi-Mode LC Digital Quarts Memory Bank Calendar watch

Announcing an 80-year calendar watch, with a memory bank that keeps you from forgetting important dates.

Seiko digital watches of the 80s

Remember Swatch & the colorful watch craze of the 1980s?

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I remember that first generation of LED watches; they were chunky, wildly inaccurate, and you had to press a button to see the time (which kinda defeats the whole purpose of a wristwatch). However, they did impress people. The LCD multifunction watches really caught on in the early 80s. By default, Casios would beep hourly; in many of my college classes, you’d hear a cluster of beeps at the top of the hour that would drive the professors crazy! Until I got an Apple Watch, I had a series of Casio watches, including — yes — the calculator watch.

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