Ode to the Pulsar P2 LED Watch

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My refurbished Pulsar P2 "Astronaut" LED watch came in the mail today, an early Xmas gift to myself that I've been anticipating for more than ten years. That's about how long it's been since my dad gave me his old watch and I've been looking for someone to fix it ever since.

A recent fascination with the new crop of LED watches coming out of Japan led me to pull the old P2 out of the bottom drawer of my dresser a couple of weeks ago and renew my search for a repair person capable of replacing the battery. My first stop was a jeweler in downtown Minneapolis who had assured me over the phone that he could fix the watch no problem. You can guess how that turned out. Oh, they don't make batteries for that watch anymore. And there's corrosion inside that has probably rendered your watch useless.

Useless? You mean the watch that Roger Moore wore in his debut as James Bond in "Live and Let Die" can be disabled by the ravages of, ahem, time? I took the watch back from the repairman and told him rather snootily that I was sure I'd find the right batteries somewhere in the pipes of the Internets.

Indeed, I found a kit from the Small Battery Company in the U.K. that would let me use Energizer 357 batteries in place of the old Eveready 355s my dad's watch came with back when he bought in 1972. I was five years old then, and I clearly recall the sense of amazement I felt when he brought that watch home and flashed up the time in tiny glowing red lights. Pulsar was established as a brand by the venerable Hamilton Watch Company in 1972 ostensibly to market the first digital watch ever sold to the general public. It would be 35 years before I could call my dad on the phone and tell him that the LEDs were made of aluminum gallium arsenide and make a gallant effort to explain to him the wonders of compound semiconductor LED technology, which was why he paid more than $500 for it (the 18-kt gold version sold for $2100) lo those many years ago.

Unfortunately, the Small Battery Company only ships its precious wares to EU countries, so the kit--which is basically just some strips of rubber that help position the smaller 357 battery to fit the 355 slot in the watch--was out of my reach. I'd resigned myself, not unhappily, to the prospect of shelling out for one of those crazy new Japanese LED watches that display time in binary code when I somehow found my way to Retroleds, the site of a watch repairman and vintage LED watch merchant by the name of Ed Cantarella, who also happens to run LEDwatches.net. He assured me he could fix whatever needed fixing for a reasonable price. So I shipped the watch off to him a couple of weeks ago and within a day of his having received it, I got an email with the subject line "Say 'Hello'" as in Hello, World. Ed had my watch working on his bench. Somewhere in Michigan, an electrical engineer (once I saw the "Hello" subject line, I suspected Ed was an EE and he confirmed this), had brought a piece of my childhood back to life.

After a painless Paypal transaction, I received the watch today. It worked well enough, but the time was off by an hour. How, I wondered, do I change the time on this thing? After fruitlessly pressing the two indentations on the back of the watch where it reads "MIN" and "HR," I started fiddling with the band, hoping to unlock some secret 007 mechanism.

And I did. Inside the clasp is a small compartment that houses a "U"-shaped magnet. Touch the magnet to the MIN and HR indentations and, voila, the time changes. What better way to while away a lunch hour than unlocking the secrets to vintage electrotechnology and in the process opening a window on the wonder of childhood. Merry Christmas, Ed Cantarella, and thanks for the memories.

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