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The Inside Story Of The Pulsar Time Computer

<On January 21st, 2024, we engaged in a dialogue with 88-year-old Gary. (whose last name has been omitted for privacy) The discussion centered on his experiences and perspectives regarding the launch of The Pulsar Time Computer. With his consent, the conversation was recorded and transcribed verbatim. The following content reflects his own words and recollections.>

Times Ticking: 
Hi Gary,  
Thank you for chatting with us. Can you please tell us about your relationship with Pulsar? 

Gary:  
My relationship with Pulsar began with a gentleman by the name of John Charles Miller. We both worked at the American Rolex Watch Corporation in New York City. He hired me as the National advertising manager for Rolex, back in 1966, and so I oversaw advertising and sales promotion for the American Rolex division of Rolex of Geneva, Switzerland. That position entailed any advertising that was created within the United States for the US market only, not for Rolex worldwide. Rolex worldwide advertising was generated from J. Walter Thompson advertising in London. They were the official advertising agency for Rolex of Geneva, the parent company. What I did in the United States was more to do with producing advertising sales promotion materials that Rolex retailers could use locally in newspapers, radio and the TV markets as they had the budgets for. There was no real national advertising generated from our office in New York City because there was no budget for it. But we managed to create a fair amount of material that was well received by the Rolex retailers. We referred to them at that time as jewelers, the Rolex jewelers, and they were the very high end, the most prestigious jewelry stores in every major U.S. market. Such as, Tiffany and Cartier in New York and Bailey Banks & Biddle in Philadelphia.  

Rolex was very particular about who they wanted to carry their watches because there was limited production. They were able to control that very well with these small accounts.  

So that was the basis of my relationship with John Charles Miller. He left the company at some point, and he joined the Hamilton Watch Company. Although Hamilton was based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they had a showroom and sales offices in Rockefeller Center and that’s where he preferred to work. So, for a while, he was based there.  

At some point, after that, I left Rolex for personal reasons regarding my opportunity for growth within the Rolex organization, as I was not a Swiss or French person, so my opportunities were very limited. Rolex Geneva was very particular about who they brought up through management. So, the senior management people for Rolex in New York were both Swiss and Swiss French and there weren’t that many of them, but I saw where my ceiling was, and I wasn’t satisfied.  

I decided to leave Rolex and I took an offer to join an advertising agency. I then had an opportunity to join up again with John Charles because he was now a client for our advertising agency. And he always liked working with me in advertising when we were at Rolex. So, we had a good report. 

Now, the Hamilton Watch Company wasn’t a big advertiser, so to speak. Their advertising was mostly done through their retailers. But he told me about a very exciting opportunity that was developing, and that was for the Pulsar.  

He invited me to go with him down to Lancaster to visit the factory and to talk to the people that were developing the Pulsar, which was Hamilton Technology, shortened to Ham Tech.  <While Hamilton encompasses the broader watchmaking company, Ham Tech specifically refers to the technological innovation arm of Hamilton, dedicated to advancing the technical aspects of watch design and functionality.>

John Berger was the chief engineer and the driving force at Ham Tech, and he showed us around, he showed us the product. It was all very exciting and new. But they were still polishing it up and getting it ready to come to market.  

Times Ticking:  
What year was that?  

Gary:  
That was 1970. So, we had to be patient about this because they didn’t want to rush to get this watch to market before it was ready because they knew if they did it prematurely, it could be a big flop. They didn’t want any operational failures in the production end of it.  

We had to have a good head start in getting the watch ready to come to market and once it was ready for market that meant setting up distribution as to where the watch would be sold. It wasn’t going to be a direct sale from Hamilton. They wanted it to come to the retailers and let the retailers do the selling.  

The hope was because we had experience with these top-of-the-line retail stores that our familiarity with Tiffany and Bailey Banks would open the door for compensation. And it wasn’t as easy as it might seem. 

The retailer would welcome us in for a first meeting and we’d talk to them about the product and show them a prototype or a first edition model. There would be a certain amount of excitement, but then there would be a lot of hesitation. How reliable are they? How do you service them? What’s the expectation for production availability? Normal things that you would expect from a retailer. They were being asked to invest in this new product, something that they had no experience with, and we saw that there was a fair amount of resistance.  

We went back to the drawing board and set about to produce some material that we could bring to the retailers that would explain what the product was, because it was all new technology and not many people knew about the kinds of things that go into this watch. I, with my advertising agency, made a proposal to Ham Tech that we would produce certain essential materials to help promote the watch to the retail industry. And that meant packaging.  

How do you package the product? What do you put it in? You don’t just put it in a box like other products. Oh, it’s got to be something exciting, something to commensurate with what the product itself is and what you would hope to see.  

To begin with, it needed a logo. This is the Pulsar Time Computer. What does that logo look like? Is it an ordinary type? Do you pick an existing typeface, or do you create something that embodies what the essential point of Pulsar is? What is a Pulsar? It’s a star and it radiates. And from that, our director at the advertising agency, Alan McGinley, put together several designs for the Pulsar.  

One of his submissions was very quickly adopted by Ham Tech and they loved it. They thought it was perfect and that’s what we went with. And then we needed some more materials, but at the same time we also realized that we needed something to present the product, to take around the country, to visit or to gather together groups of retailers in a region or in a metro market where we could present this and explain this is Pulsar, it’s the future of time.  

I hired a writer, and we had our own art director plus I hired a production company in New York City. I interviewed half a dozen production companies. I brought them the product, which was Generation 1, the Pulsar. To capture it on film you had to capture the light emitting diodes getting the readout and most of them failed. I knew some top line photographers from my advertising days, and they couldn’t get the image on file with the still camera. How could you hope to do it with a motion picture camera with a 16mm anyway?  

So, I continued searching and I found this one small production company on West 44th St., not very far from our office, in fact. I left the watch with this fellow, Harry Coleman, and over the weekend he worked with it, he called me on Monday, and he said, “I’m very excited to tell you that I’ve got a motion picture film with this watch lighting up.” I went to his office and sure enough, he was right. 

Months later, we had a a storyboard and an unapproved script. The writer had to learn everything about it and had to understand the watch. So, he spent hours on the phone talking with some of the engineers at Ham Tech, just so that he could understand what he was to write about. He was a technical writer; he was not technically proficient in this because this was new technology. But he mastered it, and he did a beautiful job. 

We took Coleman’s crew down to Lancaster for a week and he did a lot of shooting. He shot thousands of feet of film. Then we brought it back to New York and spent a couple of weeks editing it.  

We had a version of the film to take back to Ham Tech and show it to them for their review to make sure we got everything right and they were happy with it. It took quite a few months to get that done.  

In the meantime, we continued with some of the other stages of promotion. We went to a plastics manufacturer in New York, and we asked them to see if they could put together a prototype of a plexiglass cube. We wanted to suspend a Pulsar watch in the cube which would break into two parts so you could get access to the watch. Essentially, this is your display box for the retailer, and it would double as the box that the owner would keep too.  

This was for the person who bought Generation One, the first limited edition of the Pulsar Time Computer, there would be 500. That would be the total run – 500 watches for sale; Generation One, 18 carat, matching bracelet, etc.  

Times Ticking: 
What was the response from the factory? 

Gary:  
We were thrilled when they showed us what they produced – the plexiglass cube. It looked like something suspended in the air. The watch sat there like a jewel, rightly, so. We took pictures and sent them to Ham Tech for preliminary review because they were excited to see it and we didn’t want to just run down there with it. Everyone loved it and they said, well, okay, how much will it cost to do this? And it was like 3000 bucks! The molds were expensive. When you’re only ordering 500, it’s almost like they were handmade, right? So, that thing took a dive and that was very disappointing.  

Times Ticking: 
So, you didn’t go with it? Pulsar Time Computer Instruction Booklet

We did not go with it and lost time on the presentation production. Then we came up with this silver box. It was more conventional. It was a box that was typically made for Rolex Presidential watches. However, we asked the manufacturer to make something unlike anything that they had done. So, they had this brushed aluminum finish. And it was very good looking! Practically speaking, it was very affordable and that’s the one that got approved. We made a 3×3 inch instruction booklet that would go with the watch.

We were asked to design a letterhead. Companies used letterheads for newsletters to communicate with their employees and their accounts. We needed a nice letterhead and a small 3×4 shammy cloth which was embossed Pulsar Time Computer in the corner.  

OK, I’ll tell you what happened that began to muddy the situation. John Bergey was head of Ham Tech – he was really an engineer, and his heart was not in marketing, nor did he have any background in marketing. He was very likable, intelligent, and could carry on a good conversation, even if it wasn’t about his product. Hamilton, the parent company, decided, though, to hire an outside person to head up the official launch of Pulsar, the worldwide introduction.  

A new president and CEO was brought in at Hamilton, and he changed the dynamic. His vision was different in that he wanted to make this a product that everybody could have. It would be affordable and accessible to everybody and that would mean that you had to lower the price on it, and you really had to bring it down.  

Before his introduction, we had put together an ad for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. We were going to run this ad in major market papers, coast to coast.  We put together a double, it was two facing pages. On the left-hand page was a large photograph of a fist, the Pulsar was wrapped around the fingers. It was set up like you were going to punch them in the face. It was exciting! The headline was ‘The Days of Your Watch Are Numbered. The Time Computer Is Here.’ We included the whole story of the watch – what it was, how it worked and so on. It was a great sales pitch! On many levels, this ad had a message that could resonate with different parts of the audience in different ways.  

So that was the ad that we presented to the new president of Hamilton. He looked at it and he stared at it, and he read it. He said, “Yeah, that’s damn good!” But he said, “I don’t think the audience is going to understand what you mean by that.” He said, “I prefer to be very straightforward, and I would rather see a headline that says, ‘Introducing Pulsar, The Time Computer.” He said that should be the headline, so, we had no choice. He was a one-man committee. We went with his idea.  

John Charles Miller, who was still their marketing director, didn’t have authority anymore. This new president, his name was Jerry something or other. <Jerome W. Robbins, 45 years old, a former vice president of Brunswick Corporation and former president of The Elgin National Watch Company from 1965 to 1968, was made president, chief executive and director of the Hamilton Watch Company on Jan 07th, 1971>  We were so excited about our ad campaign and couldn’t wait to present it to Ham Tech management, but that’s where it died. They went with their own ad. 

They fired our advertising agency because the new president had his own advertising agency that he was working with previously, so he had a relationship with them and that’s how advertising goes, you know? Yeah, it’s relationships, unfortunately, 100%. Yeah.  

Times Ticking: 
So, you didn’t see the culmination of your efforts?

Gary: 
We did complete the sales presentation. It was a 15-minute film that we took around the country. We invited the top end retailers, and we signed them all up.  

However, Tiffany did not feel that the watch was right for their store. They felt it was still too gimmicky. Tiffany had a guy in charge of their sales named Bob Swanson. He said, “We don’t want to be pioneers. That’s not what we know.” He said give it some time. We would like to see how it takes off, and if it survives the first year or not. He did not sign on initially but, as you know, eventually Tiffany did come on board because there are Hamilton Pulsars that have the Tiffany name in the corner. 

Times Ticking:  
This watch ends up being an incredible achievement in American horology history. The prototype, for the original Pulsar watch, sits in the Smithsonian Institution, as an important contributor to the technology of quartz watches. How do you feel having contributed to that success?  

Gary: 
I just chalked it up as just one more experience. The watch industry has become a very different animal, you know. I would say that was a revolutionary time for the watch industry and especially the watch industry in this country.