Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Sinclair Radio Watch

The post this week features another watch from our archive: a Sinclair radio watch from 1985. Before talking about the watch I'd like to give a bit of context, especially for those outside the UK:

Sinclair was one of the most exciting companies of my childhood - for most of the 1980s they produced amazingly futuristic products, things that had only previously been seen in Science Fiction. Their products ranged from the first pocket calculator, to the first pocket television, to the first (only) recumbent electric tricycle.

They were an extraordinarily brave company, prepared to take enormous risks on developing new products and bringing them to market. I really don't think there has ever been anyone else to match them for this level of corporate bravery (or foolishness - inevitably they went bankrupt).

The drive and vision of the company came from the eponymous (Sir) Clive Sinclair. Sinclair's genius was to marry the nascent electronic technology to a strong sense of design and brand. Sinclair was a talented engineer, but he really excelled at carrying a vision through from idea to reality. I think this is the most interesting aspect of Sinclair and something that is often lost in the carping about his many follies.

Enough background - the Sinclair watch was released in 1985. I don't remember it from my youth and indeed the company had more pressing concerns than promoting it: The watch was released at the moment when the Sinclair empire was collapsing. This was principally due to the failure of the C5 electric vehicle, on which they had basically gambled the company. Indeed this watch was produced in very low numbers because the company effectively went bankrupt and was sold to Amstrad who had little time for such fripperies.

In it's own unique way, I think this watch is a miniature masterpiece of 80s design. The detailing on the industrial design is exquisite. It was done chiefly by Dagfinn Aksnes who was the product design manager at SRL (and if Sinclair had been as well run as Braun, would probably be as famous as Dieter Rams is now!) You can read an extremely in depth story of the development here.

The watch is very distinctively of it's time. Probably its most notable feature is the articulated sections, that are covered by the rubber bellows. These have an extremely satisfying feel - they move back and forth in a very controlled, smooth way. Of course this is only partly watch - the bulk of it is actually radio: the middle section is the speaker and the upper section the tuner. The aerial for the radio is concealed within the strap, but apparently this was less than functionally ideal as you had to hold your arm in the air to maximise reception. Finally the battery is held in the fastening of the strap.

These days we're blasé about miniaturised electronics and especially personal audio players, but these developments have only been possible by building on the work done by pioneers like Sinclair. Sinclair had made miniature radios previously, but this was their smallest radio (indeed in 1985 it was the smallest radio in the world).

Currently the watch that I own is not functioning - I need a little clear time to have a look at it in depth and figure out what needs doing. I also need to find a way to replace the neoprene strap that seems to be rather rapidly disintergrating!

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