- Museum number
WITTNAUER 'POLARA' QUARTZ WRIST WATCH.
Stainless steel case with two battery compartments in the back.
Satinless steel expanding bracelet.
Smoked perspex cover to light emitting diode display.
- Production date
Length: 35.50 millimetres (excluding bracelet)
Thickness: 14 millimetres
Width: 18.50 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text from 'Watches', by David Thompson, London, 2008, p. 158-159.
SIGNED: 'Wittnauer' (on the dial) and 'Polara' (on the bracelet clip)
The first models of quartz watch, such as the Omega Megaquartz, had analogue dials with conventional hour, minute and seconds hands advanced by miniature electric motors. At the same time, however, a new form of watch with no moving parts was being developed. Following hard on the heels of the launch of the first Japanese quartz-controlled wristwatch, which had a traditional analogue dial, the Hamilton Watch Company presented their new electronic watch, the Pulsar, to the press on 6 May 1970. At the time there were only three working examples of this watch, but just one year later a limited edition gold cased watch was made available in the shops, and major production began.
This watch displayed the time in an illuminated 24-hour digital form. The new technology was based around the use of a light-emitting diode, a semi-conductor that emits light on passage of an electric current. The phenomenon was first recognized by Captain Henry Joseph Round, who worked for Marconi in New York. Round published his findings in the journal 'Electrical World' in February 1907, recording in a letter to the editor that: "During an investigation of the unsymmetrical passage of current through a contact of carborundum and other substances a curious phenomenon was noted. On applying a potential of 10 volts between two points on a crystal of carborundum, the crystal gave out a yellowish light." Another pioneer in the field was Oleg Vladimirovich Losev, who published his research in 1927.
Although work continued, it was not until 1962 that the first practical LED was produced by Nick Holonyak Jr, working for the General Electric Company in America. In watches, an LED display consists of four miniature panels, each usually with seven separate sections, each section containing a number of tiny light-emitting diodes. The electronics then switch electrical currents through different patterns of the sections to produce the numerical display. The major drawback of the LED system was its need for relatively large amounts of electrical power to illuminate the diodes. Many watches using the technology had to be provided with two batteries, which needed relatively frequent renewal.
As a result of this shortcoming, the LED display was soon replaced by watches with liquid crystal displays, a technology first documented in 1904 by the German scientist Otto Lehmann and developed to a unit patented in 1936 by Marconi. Despite this early date, a practical liquid crystal display was not made until the late 1960s. This complex combination of molecular science, electronics and optics has now been developed to a point where production is cheap and carried out on a massive global scale, with huge numbers of applications. In watches it very quickly replaced the light-emitting diode, as it needed far less electrical power. The introduction of this new technology and improvements in the longevity of batteries means that watches now run for a number of years before requiring a battery replacement.
The firm Wittnauer was founded by Albert Wittnauer, who emigrated from Switzerland to America in 1872. With his brothers Louis and Emile he established a business that imported Swiss-made watches. In later years, following a merger, the company became Longines-Wittnauer. That Wittnauer was keen to move into the new market is well demonstrated by its early marketing of this LED quartz watch. It uses a unit made by the Hughes Aircraft Corporation, responsible for very large production in America of quartz watch 'movements'. The smoked glass is dark until buttons in the case band are pushed in, either singly or in combination, to illuminate the dial to show either the time in hours and minutes or seconds, or the date.
- On display (G39/dc14/no83)
Latest: 2 (2016)
2 (Aug 1998)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Given new as a birthday present to Michael Bromberg in about 1974.
Gallery labels etc should read, 'Presented by Joseph and Ruth Bromberg in memory of Michael Bromberg'
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number