This Build-It-Yourself Watch from the 70s Was Impossible to Put Together

The story of the Sinclair Black Watch, a digital watch that, for some reason, was sold in kit form. It was not an easy watch to build.

Mar 3 2017, 2:41pm

Re-Exposure is an occasional Motherboard feature where we look back on delightful old tech photos from wire service archives.

Why don't we generally buy our watches in kit form? Why are they usually pre-manufactured?

The answer to that question brings us to this photo of the Black Watch, a product produced by Sinclair Radionics in the 1970s. 

"It's simple—anybody who can use a soldering iron can assemble a black watch without difficulty," a 1975 ad for this device promised. "From opening the kit to wearing the watch is a couple hours work."

It was the product of a very bright man—Sir Clive Sinclair, one of the greatest technologists in British history—but there were many, many problems with this setup.

For one thing, it was a bear to put together. In the June 1976 issue of the hobbyist magazine Practical Wireless, a reviewer described the arduous process, which required hours of hands-on work and a multi-day process to get the watch properly set. At one point, the author described the use of a slightly unusual tool to connect the batteries.

"The idea of using two wooden clothes pegs (of the spring type), two drawing pins and a piece of insulated wire solved the problem," the article explained. "This enabled the batteries to be fitted one at a time and made the procedure comparatively easy."

And even when you did get the LCD watch put together, it had numerous problems, according to Planet Sinclair: It was susceptible to static from clothing, it ran at different speeds based on the outside temperature, and the batteries had a tendency to die out quickly or even explode.

On top of all this, there were supplier and manufacturing issues. According to a 1982 InfoWorld article, Sinclair's first manufacturing partner backed out, and its replacement partner, ITT, struggled to produce them at scale and had static problems of its own—often ruining the watches before they even got to consumer.

The watch faced numerous returns and nearly bankrupted Sinclair Radionics, which had to be bailed out by the British government. 

Sir Clive Sinclair is brilliant in many ways, but he probably should have left this idea on the shelf.