Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pacer Electric Watch (Hamilton Watch Company / 1957 / U.S.)

What time is it? Why, it's time for yesterday's tomorrow -- today!

This is the Pacer, and it's one of the earliest Hamilton Electric Watches. Which makes it one of the earliest electric watches in the world.

I've wanted a Pacer for many years; it was one of those dream pieces that would keep me awake at night and set me crawling desperately through eBay listings. I first saw one -- along with many other amazing Hamiltons -- at the home of collector Justin Pinchot. I couldn't get over the asymmetric case, the triangular hands, the arrows on the dial, and that amazing, two-tone finish. (It's hard to tell from my photos, but the case is yellow-gold colored and the lugs -- where the strap meets the case -- are white-gold colored.) This is a watch that screams "The Future!" Of course I wanted one of my own.

Please excuse the less-than-perfect pics. I'm still figuring out how to shoot this shiny puppy.

The watch has some serious history. I'll give you the short version of the story, but if you want the whole thing, I highly recommend checking out the book The Watch of the Future, by Rene Rondeau. You can find it -- and tons of information, plus watches for sale -- at Rondeau's web site: www.rondeau.net.

Anyway, in the 1950s, Hamilton was a respected watchmaker at a time when watch sales were sagging. They'd been making mechanical watches and clocks since 1892, but times were changing; the company needed to change too if it was going to survive and thrive in the latter half of the 20th century. So they struck upon a bold idea: make an electric watch.

Thus began years of research and development, trial and error, failure and... success! On January 3, 1957, the company released the Ventura, the world's first commercially available electric watch. Its futuristic design -- by Richard Arbib -- and revolutionary electric guts proved wildly successful, but a hefty $200 price tag kept many potential buyers at bay. So on November 1 of that same year, Hamilton produced the $125 Pacer. Even though it was essentially a stripped down version of the Ventura, it went on to sell more than 39,000 units over its 12-year run.

Today, Pacers are tough to score, especially in nice shape. They're popular with collectors, and clean examples get snatched up quickly. I spent years searching for an affordable example, but eventually I threw in the towel and resigned myself to using cell phones as time pieces for rest of my days.

Fast forward to last night. My birthday had come and gone a couple weeks earlier. My dad was out of town at the time, so he decided to take me and my little sister out to a celebratory -- albeit late -- dinner. And then there was their gift. I'm not big on gifts, and I'd have been perfectly happy with a nice meal. But for weeks, my sister had been dropping hints about something great she'd gotten me, something that hadn't arrived on time for my actual birthday. They planned on giving it to me at dinner.

My sister had been good about keeping the present a secret, but I'd still come up with a couple ideas about what it might be. I decided not to bother guessing, though. Why ruin it, right? Anyway, it turns out I'd haver never guessed right. I wouldn't have even come close. It turns out that my sister and dad got me... yep, you guessed it, a Hamilton Electric Pacer.

Yes, I was speechless. Yes, my flabber was gasted.

It turns out that my sister and dad originally wanted to get me a robot or a ray gun, but they were quickly thwarted in their efforts by not knowing what I had, not knowing what I liked, and not having any idea what anything might be worth. Clearly, it could have been a disaster.

So my quick-witted sister decided to find some help. She trawled through my blog -- this very blog that you're reading now -- and ended up contacting contributor Karl Tate and legendary collector Pat Karris. She also spoke to my girlfriend, who I'd say knows me pretty darn well. Everyone gave her useful advice, but she was still floundering a bit. And then she stumbled on Justin Pinchot. That's when it all came together.

After exchanging something like 30 emails, they hit on the idea of getting me the Hamilton. Justin knew it was something I'd lusted over for a long time -- remember, he'd shown me the one that got this ball rolling in the first place -- and also knew it wasn't something I'd likely buy for myself. With his help, my sister was able to procure a nice example, which she then sent off to Rene Rondeau for a tune up. A couple weeks later, it was back in her hands and ready for the birthday boy. (That'd be me...)

Needless to say, the gift was a success, and I'm immensely grateful to my sister, my dad, and all the friends who worked to get the Pacer into my collection. Thanks guys!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! It says a lot when someone really goes to a lot of trouble to find you a gift they know you will love.

    Happy belated Birthday and congrats on finally getting the watch of your dreams... The Watch Of The Future!


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