You wouldn’t believe that a small, innocuous LED watch could bring a company like Sinclair Research Ltd to its knees — but that’s exactly what happened in 1976 after a catalogue of problems with the Black Watch resulted in many of them being returned and replacements having to be sent out for no financial return.
The story is told in entertaining detail at Planet Sinclair – it’s definitely worth a read. Long story short, the UK Government bailed out Clive Sinclair and his company that would go on to develop some groundbreaking home computers (ZX80, ZX81, ZX Spectrum) along with some less successful, but equally innovative products, too.
Now nearly 50 years later, the Black Watch is highly sought after, and working models very expensive, due to the vast majority of them making their way to landfill toward the end of the 1970s.
Low quality production values and, of course, leaking batteries, have sealed the fate of most of the Black Watches but working versions do still exist — like this one, bought locally and in very original condition.
The original pleather strap has degraded, and the buttons need a firmer press to make them work, but it’s fully working.
This is a slightly later model — where Sinclair added a date function and two power (brightness) modes which is amazing to see in an LED watch. Press one button and you get a dimmed display; press the other and it’s full power.
Press a button a second time and you see the date (not the day, or the month — just the date) and pressing it a third time displays the seconds.
The time and date is set with a third button (on the back) and the watch takes two 301 (SR43SW) batteries.
If you grew up with a Sinclair computer, owning the Black Watch is like reclaiming a piece of history. Even though they were never available to buy in NZ (only UK/USA) I’m glad this one made it here, and even more happy that it still works all these years later!
If you find one, at a reasonable price, definitely buy it. One of the few LED watches made in the UK and a watch from a different time when digital wrist technology was yet to hit its peak.
RIP Sir Clive Sinclair — 1940-2021