Hamilton PSR Review

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OMEGA made the original moon and James Bond watches. Not my jam. Contrarian that I am, I was captivated by Bulova’s “other” Moon Watch, the Lunar Pilot. It stands to reason that I find the “other” Bond Watch appealing. Enter the Hamilton PSR, a remake of the Pulsar P2 digital wonder-watch of 1972 . . .

Hamilton’s first all-electronic digital watch was hugely expensive: $2100 ($13,330 in today’s money). It was also a huge hit – until processor prices crashed. Within a couple of years, you could buy an LED watch for $15. Not to mention an always-on multi-function digital watch.

The Pulsar brand went from hero to zero, taking Hamilton down with it. The Swiss swallowed-up on the once all-conquering American pocket watch producer. Seiko scooped up was left of Pulsar for [yet another] sub-brand of quartz watches.

Here I go again!

A few months ago, visiting a local jewelry store for a Breitling service, I spotted a Hamilton PSR in a display case. (Who knew you could go out and see watches in the flesh?) It felt like a well-made piece; the build quality was evident. My inner 10-year-old hankered after the LED display.

At $745 the PSR was a no-go. When I found some examples listed on Amazon and eBay for less, resistance was futile. Once again, Jeff Bezos got my bucks.

Sweet!

My first impression: the Hamilton PSR is quite the chunky monkey. I immediately noticed the PSR’s resemblance to Hershey’s nuggets. Sweet!

On a more practical level, the PSR’s brushed-finish stainless steel case laughs at your dress shirt cuff. Its slab sides transition from the face sharply, lest the 40.8mm case resemble a metal brick.

The Hamilton’s smudge-magnet crystal protrudes beyond the thick case. In the battle over the bulge, I’m on PSR’s side. After all, the watch is same as it ever was. But definitely not your grandfather’s non-Hamilton LED watch with its flush ruby-colored crystals.

Less contentious: the PSR’s case back. The embossed diagram of a pulsar –  “a highly magnetized rotating compact star that emits beams of electromagnetic radiation out of its magnetic poles” – is a clear, entirely acceptable nod to the original watch.

Where we’re going, we don’t need lume!

Traditional LED watch displays took a powder in bright light. The Hamilton PSR’s clever LCD/OLED hybrid display solves the problem – 48 years too late. The LCD picks up where the LED lacks and vice-versa.

The dot-matrix LED display is bright and sharp in subdued light or, obviously, in the dark. The PSR’s LCD is always on and is visible when ambient light is brighter and LEDs are less visible.

Again, what took you so long? We put a man on the moon in 1969 for goodness sake! That said, it took the Apple Watch five goes to get there.

In direct sunlight (above), the PSR’s LCD display is easily read. Curiously, when I push the button to fire up the LEDs, the LCDs turn off, and the LEDs are washed out by the bright sun.

The LCD half of the hybrid display is brilliant in concept but a bit dim in practice. It’s not as legible as a traditional black on gray LCD display. You need a fair bit of ambient light for the LCD to be reflective enough to be readable.

In the end, between the two (LCD and LED) display modes, I found the PSR legible in any and all ambient light conditions.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day

The PSR”s single button requires a firm push to activate. One press brings up the time (hours:minutes), which remains illuminated for four seconds. Press the button a second time (while the time is displayed) and it delivers a running seconds count.

The seconds remain illuminated for 10 seconds and then turn off. That’s it! No other functions. Not even the date. Just like the original Pulsar P2.

There isn’t even a 12/24 hour mode option. However, there’s an AM/PM distinction when setting the time. For reason best known to Hamiltonians, the 12 am hour displays as zero in operating mode.

It’s always something

As Roseanne Roseannadanna said, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Here, it’s the PSR’s integrated bracelet. More specifically, its butterfly clasp.

The online WIS community dislikes butterfly clasps. Their kvetch? Butterfly clasps don’t tend to offer micro-adjustments and they’re more tedious to secure on the wrist.

First world problems, for sure. But there’s a good reason to grouse about the Hamilton PSR’s affixing gizmo: the clasp’s buttons are made of milled metal. They have SHARP edges and corners.

The buttons are scratchy and annoying against the skin. Scratchy and annoying should be the name of a 1930’s comedy act, not characteristics of a daily wear watch.

I happen to own some precision polishing instruments. Rolex lovers may be pleased to learn I don’t normally take a drill to a new watch. But the unmodified PSR was a horological hair shirt. So I put on yet another mask and attacked the digital Hammy’s sharp edges and corners with extreme prejudice.

I don’t feel the buttons at all now (and I won’t need a manicure for weeks). If you don’t have rotary polishing instruments, an economy pack of fine sandpaper and a few days of mindless effort will also git ‘er done.

Retro! Or is it?

The Hamilton PSR inspired three Boomers to make references to the old TV space soap opera Lost in Space. The first words out of my wife’s mouth: Danger, Will Robinson! Then she wrinkled her face and shook her head. “It looks 1970s cheesy.” Copy that.

The Hamilton PSR appeals to 50 and 60-something nostalgic nerds who recall the fascination of digital watches in the 70s. I bet it’s also worn by tech geeks who snigger at their predecessors’ “ancient” technology while secretly lusting after a Patek. Either way, the PSR’s a watch that proves that mechanical watches don’t have sole claim over retro vintage mania.

Model: Hamilton PSR Model #H52414130
Price paid: $602

SPECIFICATIONS:
Case: Stainless steel.
Crystal: Sapphire.
Strap / Bracelet: Stainless Steel.
Display: LCD / OLED hybrid.
Dimensions / weight: 40.8(w) x 34.7(l) x 13.5 (h)-mm / 125 grams (bracelet sized for 7 inch wrist)
Movement: Quartz
Accuracy: No data available from the manufacturer’s literature, but it’s dead-nuts at 0 seconds / day after five days.
Battery life: ~5 years (manufacturer’s claim).
Water resistance: 100 meters.
Functions: Digital hours, minutes, seconds.

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Design * * * * *
The design doesn’t stray from the original. At all.

Legibility * * * *
The LEDs are sharp and bright, but on the small side. The always-on LCD is a nice modern touch allowing for reading the time (without pushing the button) when there’s adequate ambient light.

Comfort * * *
The nicely articulated bracelet is very comfortable. The clasp, not so much.

Overall * * * * *
The retro design pings on technostalgia while the 007 provenance adds to the cool factor.

10 COMMENTS

    • Like comparing a Pontiac Fiero to a Ferrari Testarossa of the same era. Since this is a watch blog… comparing a Casio Duro to a Rolex Submariner.

      The Armitron is cool, simply because it’s “retro” and uses LEDs. But, it looks and feels like a $30 watch. And, it’s worth every bit of that $30 (and then some but not a lot more).

      Similarly… the Casio Duro is a fantastic VALUE-DRIVEN watch. It’s a good watch. It’s an especially nice diver-style watch at the <$50 price. But, it's no Rolex Submariner. The Hamilton instantly makes the difference apparent as soon as you hold it. It's a SOLID watch from the crystal to the case to the bracelet. Everything about it exudes quality / luxury, by comparison. On the wrist, the difference is immediately apparent. The same goes for the display. It's just on a different level. And, the hybrid LCD/LED is a brilliant solution to the illegibility of pure LED displays in bright ambient light. But, it's 20 times the price... and worth it.

  1. As I only see the one button, I assume that setting the time is long press/short press in the right time interval affair?
    I was wondering if this was based on the ones with the wacky magnet on the back used for setting time and all, but apparently that was a later development.

    • Correct. I didn’t want my review to be an “owner’s manual,” so I left that part out. But, yes… the setting of the watch involves a long press on the single button.

  2. I picked up a silver Computron from Bulova’s Archive series maybe 18 months ago. It was on sale. I’ve worn it twice. Now it sits in a watch box. These 70’s digital pieces bring a smile but aren’t worth spending more than a couple hundred dollars on because the appeal just doesn’t have any staying power. For me, at least.

    • I’ve been very happy with my two Bulovas, so far. It started with the “Archive Series” Lunar Pilot. Then the Sea King (not “Archive Series”).

      I’ve looked at and considered the black Computron. The overall esthetic doesn’t appeal that much to me. The nostalgic part does. So, I remain on the fence with it. It’s just funky looking. I’ve seen it on Amazon for ~$150… not bad.

      The Hamilton PSR is simply a quality piece. The Computron has that cheap look to it…. maybe not as cheap as the Armitron. But, definitely “chintzier” than the Hamilton.

      The PSR won’t sit in a box for me. It will definitely be a part of the regular “rotation.” The Armitron, not so much, if I’m honest. It will come out occasionally, but not a rotation piece. The Hamilton got the “nod from Johnny” to come sit on the couch. 🙂

  3. I think $150 is an excellent price for a Computron – particularly because this kind of watch seems to resonate with you. I say go for it. As for the Bulova Lunar Pilot, I have one myself. I have a few Bulovas and love them all. I tend to stick with Precisionists and Accutron IIs. Anything with the 262kHz movement. Quartz watches that don’t need to apologize for anything.

    • Yes… I’m very impressed with the 262 kHz movements, as well. I love the accuracy and the smooth second hand sweep.

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