DIGITAL SHOWDOWN: HAMILTON PSR VS BULOVA COMPUTRON

See who prevails in this collision of two pioneering digital watches.

By Alexander Clark Shelton and Morgan Clyde

Welcome to a contest of ones and zeroes, a showdown of two digital timepieces that kickstarted the quartz revolution. In one corner we have the Hamilton PSR, a modern-day homage to the Pulsar, the first digital watch to hit the market in 1970. In the other corner we have the Bulova Computron, which came hot on the heels of the Pulsar while offering a driver-biased take on a digital watch.

I also want to introduce Morgan Clyde, whom I mentioned in my first VALT article about my Omega Speedmaster Tintin. Morgan is the biggest watch enthusiast I know and just as I managed to give him the car bug, he in turn stoked my interest in fine watches. Morgan will be arguing on behalf of his stoic Computron, and I’ll be going to bat for my golden PSR. This will be playful shit-talking at its finest.

Morgan: Your Hammy is a fine watch but it’s hard not to think the Computron has the goods to win this shootout. I knew very little about the history of the Computron before stumbling on a Reddit conversation about it and I can tell you it stirred my interest right away. My Computron is a reissue of a watch from the 1970s that was born in the depths of the Quartz Crisis. For those who don’t know, the invention of quartz watches knocked traditional Swiss makers on their asses for a while. Quartz is more accurate and far simpler to build, making it hard to justify the premium of that fancy Rolex Day-Date.

I’m chiefly a fan of mechanical watches, but owning a quartz watch with such strong roots in this era was one of the things that drew me to it; in my mind, it is exactly because mechanical watches survived the introduction of something scientifically better that cements an automatic or hand-wound watch as something deeper than mere tools. Owning a watch that calls back to that crisis was attractive to me. Especially one that doesn’t scream “Look at me!” like your PSR.

Alex: That’s a great argument and I think I’ll steal it. I can’t imagine how the likes of Omega and Rolex felt seeing these futuristic timepieces for sale in the 1970s. And although quartz watches would indeed prove to be far cheaper in the years that followed, the Pulsar was very much a premium piece when it debuted. James Bond wore one in Live and Let Die and the steel model retailed for about the same price as a Rolex Submariner; roughly $3,500 in today’s dollars. The gold Pulsar sold for quite a bit more.

The modern PSR homage is pretty darn faithful to the original. There’s really just one noteworthy update—while the original Pulsar solely uses an LED screen, the PSR uses a first-of-its-kind LCD/LED hybrid. In addition to having far better battery life than the original, this means the time is always visible on the PSR and can be brightened with the touch of a button. Overall it feels straight out of 1970.

Morgan: You’re not wrong—the Hammy’s aesthetic is all 70s. It’s fun and funky and reminds me of the then-booming Space Age. To me, the Computron is all of that and more, especially with its asymmetrical case and unusual driver’s time display. Those aspects are also fun and funky but to my eye they add up to more; with its trapezoidal case and display that can be read while keeping your hands on the wheel, it’s looking ahead of the Space Age. Call it beautiful retrofuturism from a time when the future was showing up in a hurry. When I see the PSR, I imagine it’s what the first crew of Skylab would wear; when I see the Computron, I imagine it’s what the first crew of the Enterprise would wear. That’s why I prefer it. 

Alex: I can’t deny that the aesthetic of your Computron is pretty dope, though I’d say it’s more Darth Vadar than Captain Picard. I dig the all-black look with red contrast. That said, my inner 49er fan loves the red-on-gold look of the PSR. I guess that’s what this battle really comes down to since there isn’t really a distinction in capabilities between the two—are you looking for something that’s as eye-grabbing as a mustache and aviators or as classic-cool as an X-Wing? 

Morgan: Definitely. I’d recommend the Computron for the quietly confident—the under-the-radar cool. Those personalities will like it because it will rarely provoke a second glance from the uninitiated, but is rooted in a seismic shift in horology and the moment America’s Space Age stopped being about the few with the right stuff and instead a vision of our collective future. And for what it’s worth, you can also order it in red on gold or blue on silver.

Alex: Big words. Conversely, I get questions and compliments about my gold PSR almost every time I wear it out. I can’t say I mind that it jives nicely with a dress shirt, either. And if you prefer subtlety, Hamilton will happily sell you a PSR in steel that likely doesn’t capture quite so much attention. The steel models aren’t a numbered limited edition, however. It’s also just come to my attention that Hamilton sold its full run of 1,970 PSRs in gold, so you’ll have to turn to the secondary market if that’s what you’re looking for.

The Verdict

So there you have it—pick up a Computron to complement your Space Age aesthetic or a PSR to match your leisure suit. Which do you prefer? Tell us in the comments. And if you have a suggestion for our next timepiece showdown, don’t hesitate to let us know.

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