Orient Place

Orient Place

Thursday 23 February 2023

1976: When Orient Went Digital

1976 was an interesting year for Orient. It was a year when the brand's catalog exploded with digital innovation. So this post will diverge from the blog's usual penchant for the mechanical and the analog, and we'll look at some numbers that instead of being painted on a metal dial, are composed of seven segments.

That fateful year (just kidding, it wasn't really fateful, just technologically good) Orient introduced two models of particular interest, one a world's first – and the other a Japan first.

The world's first was the Touchtron – the first touch-operated digital watch, developed jointly with Sharp Corporation of Japan. The touchtron's display would turn on to show the time when touched, and then display the date when touched again. Normal buttons were used to set the time.

Orient presented a number of models, ranging in price from JPY 34,000 to 38,000. They were technically the same, only differing in size and construction. For comparison, Seiko's King Quartz would cost JPY 58,000 that same year, as would Casio's "Casiotron" – the first digital watch with an automatic calendar.

The first models introduced were ref. 680101, shown above, ref. 680102 – shown below, and 680103 beneath it. More models emerged later on.

Novelty aside, it appeared that owners complained about the watch lighting up inadvertently, as the touch sensors were, indeed, sensitive to touch. So not long after Orient introduced the "Touchtron II", where the touch display was replaced by a button below the LCD screen.

The other novelty presented in 1976 was a solar-powered LED watch – the first in Japan, and fairly novel globally as well. It should be mentioned that round about the same time, Citizen presented the Crystron, which was the first solar analog watch.

As you can tell from the ad above, Orient were quite proud of their digital quartz watches; so much so that they started selling the "quartz meter" – a device designed for timing and testing other quartz watches.

It's worth noting Orient also produced "normal" digital watches at the time, like this oh-so-seventies piece below, adorned in the brand's signature "Jaguar Focus" color scheme.

It's also interesting to see that LCD watches equipped with a internal lighting, to enable night-time viewing, were also priced at around JPY 38,000 – similar to the Touchtron. So, the true novelty was valued similarly to a standard LED light… Apparently, even back then Orient would price their watches almost too modestly.

Luckily the Touch and Solar watches had LED displays, that shone in red and did not require additional lighting, or their price might have risen close to a whopping JPY 50,000…


Pictures that appear in this post were taken from old Orient catalogs and sale ads.