Collect, repair and wear vintage digital watches


Electronics enthusiasts have the opportunity to be on the cusp of a trend with vintage digital watches (VDW). Vintage digital watches are those watches that date back to the late 70s and throughout the 80s. They are unlike any style of watch today, and for anyone who got their start, they offer a healthy dose. of nostalgia.

From a monetary standpoint, it’s not worth paying a watchmaker to restore a digital watch, but for those of us with basic electronics skills, we can put the time and effort into making them. make it work again and be one of the few that will be able to work. VDW. It is a statement as well as a sign of your own aptitude.

Earlier this year, Steven Dufresne introduced us to the history of the digital watch. In this article, we are going to dive into the world of vintage digital watch repair.

LED wristwatches are hard to find

LED watches were the very first digital watches because LED display technology predated LCD technology. The first commercially available LED watch was the Hamilton Time Computer, shipped in 1972, followed by many others. With LED technology American watch manufacturers dominated the digital watch market in the early 1970s.

These early digital watches consumed large amounts of power, burning out the batteries every three to six months, even when used lightly. Most LED watches feature the day, date, month, seconds, and perpetual calendar. Some even have alphanumeric segments to display the day. It is difficult to find working VDW LEDs. Plan to either pay fair market value for a working watch, or buy many modules (the module is the name of the VDW movement) or complete watches to make one that works. Considering this rarity, if you can get an LED to work, you will become the king of geeks.

I purchased this watch, made by National Semiconductor, as New Old Stock (NOS). He was completely dead and suffered from battery corrosion that went so far as to damage the connecting wires going to the integrated circuit. I ended up buying two more watches to make this one work.

1970s Liquid Crystal Watches (LCD)

If you want to wear something different, consider a VDW LCD from the mid to late 1970s. These watches are relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain, most of the time only requiring cleaning of the battery contact terminals. and buttons.

With 1970s VDWs, you can find everything from perpetual calendars, chronographs, alarms to global timers. In the 1970s, digital watch cases were oversized, big, metallic, and heavy. These bold designs hold up well today.

Fairchild, National Semiconductor, Commodore Computer Company, Texas Instruments

The legendary tech companies of our youth have only one thing in common; they each made digital watches in the 1970s. Apparently, the selling price and cost of goods aligned with the business plans of these tech giants, in particular; Commodore Computer, National Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, and Fairchild Semiconductor.

The calculator watch

Michael J. Fox wore one of the most iconic electrical engineering movements of all time, Back to the future. In the movie, he wore the Casio CA-50. Surprisingly, you can buy a new one today for $ 18-24.

If that’s not cool enough, consider calculator watches from the late ’70s, many of which feature stainless steel buttons. Of all the watches in my collection, the one pictured below attracts the most attention. I like to tell my young daughters that this watch has an “elf keyboard”.

But if you feel that simple multiplication, division, addition and subtraction watches aren’t enough for your needs, you should consider upgrading to a scientific calculator watch like the Casio CFX-200 pictured below. Look at all those buttons!

The first smart watch, Seiko UC-2000

BASIC was the programming language of the 1980s and if you wanted to run a BASIC program on your wrist, there was only one way to do it; with a Seiko UC-2000 and 3000 watch:

Any serious VDW collector should have one in their collection. The Seiko UC-2000 is always ahead of its time, even the Apple Watch cannot run BASIC programs yet.

King of VDW, Ana-Digi

The king of all VDWs is analog-digital (called “Ana-Digi”). The Ana-Digi has both a digital and an analog display on the same watch. Best of all, the analog display is electronically synchronized with the digital display, they both work in unison! A technological tour de force in digital and mechanical watchmaking.

The VDW community

The watch collect and repair community has traditionally focused on mechanical timepieces, but recently Tibi Fleseriu has garnered tremendous interest and has followed VDW through its Youtube channel. Like many others in this growing hobby, I discovered the world of VDW through the Tibi Channel.

Tibi’s interest in VDW started at a young age,

What got me started in VDWs was that I was always a watch guy but never in mechanical watches, I was into the likes of altimeter watches and compass watches so a cheesy electronic device in your watch “It tells the time but also does that…” I finally wanted to add a digital watch to the collection, but I was not happy with today’s new products, so I ended up researching what was back in the days of digital watches. And here I am 5 years later with an obsession 🙂 Also, I have always been in electronics, especially early miniaturization technologies.

Tibi describes the atypical VDW manifold,

She / He is above all a watch enthusiast but he is not the type to aspire to Rolex, JLC or Patke Phillippes
She / He does not aspire to what are called “haute horlogerie” pieces

She / He usually has one or more high school hobbies involving vintage electronics, games or computers
She / He likes to tinker or at least knows a little more than changing the battery in a watch
She / He’s a nerd whether we’re talking about watches or electronics
She / He had part of his life in the 70s to 90s

Seems familiar? You have a house in the VDW community.

How to repair a VDW

There is no way around this, sooner or later your watch will break or you will want a part that needs repair to make it work. Fortunately, most VDW repairs are well within the grasp of Hackaday readers. For reference, you will want to obtain a copy of The digital watch repair manual which is the best repair manual on repairing digital watches. Once you have familiarized yourself with how VDWs work, I suggest you watch this video on how to fix a common VDW, most VDW repairs aren’t even involved:

Combine the two traditional skills of mechanical watchmaking and now you can repair an Ana-Digi as shown in this video. And here how to repair the Sieko UC-2000 the most common problem of which is damage to the inductive communication coil used to charge and read data to / from the watch.

Or buy

Once you’ve found your VDW muse and can’t wait to buy one for your collection, here are my suggestions;

Buy a new one:

The easiest way to get into VDW is to buy a new one. Casio continues to manufacture many models unchanged since the 1980s, including the calculator watch CA53W, the ubiquitous F91W, the ‘Casino Royale’ and others. With a new watch, you won’t have to worry about getting it wet or making repairs.

Buy new old stock (NOS):

Live the experience of owning a new watch from the 1970s. Millions of digital watches have been made and some of them have never been sold. These watches were put aside, never to be found again until the advent of online auction sites. Today you can find many examples of NOS VDW watches.

Buy a second hand :

There is nothing like the character of a used watch. Strange as it sounds, watch collectors like to leave scratches on the case and notches in the crystal of their vintage pieces because it tells a story. In other words, wearing out your watch is like wearing good jeans. So don’t worry about scratches and scuffs. A fully functioning watch with wear is a desirable look these days.

The future of VDW

The value of vintage watches has exploded in recent years. I can’t even buy Bulova movements from the late 1940s without paying about 4 times what I had 7 or 8 years ago. Likewise, digital watches are poised to arouse the interest of the large watchmaking community. According to Tibi:

These gems are in finite number, they no longer manufacture them at least as before. Mechanical watches are still produced today in many forms and prices, but not so much digital watches …

Remember to wear your vintage digital watches

For the first time, as hackers and electrical engineers, we can be on the cutting edge of fashion. Wearing a VDW is an achievement because you can make it work again. It’s a statement and a conversation piece because nobody wears digital watches from the 70s and 80s anymore. For these reasons and more, let’s not forget to wear our digital watches.


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