#TBT Two Seiko Pulsemeter Digital Chronographs
Checking your pulse might make your heart skip a beat. It’s so much fun. With the Seiko Pulsemeter S234-501x making an appearance in the cult Alien movies, here is another must-have watch for your list.
If you grew up in the eighties, you know the disorder I suffer from. Whatever ugly digital quartz watch is laid in front of me, I somehow find it cute. Some part of our DNA understands those watches at a level where we proudly add them to our collections. And if a quirky feature happens to be thrown in the mix, my mind won’t rest until I know how to use it. Do you remember the first commercial watch ever to have a voice recording feature? It was the Seiko Voice Note M516-4009 and we featured it earlier this year. Today we are reviewing the grandfather of the Fitbit, the Seiko Pulsemeter.
A closer look into this valuable Seiko catalogs library finds the Seiko S229-5001 in a 1982 catalog for the first time, a year earlier than the previously mentioned Seiko Voice Note. As you can see in the catalog clipping, there were three color combinations available. I ruled out the sickly red immediately. The earthy green Seiko S229 definitely has more “balls”. In direct comparison, the red one seems like a plastic toy, while the khaki green could easily aspire to become army equipment. I ended up opting for the funky black Pulsemeter with a yellow pulse button, as I wanted to fit it to the later model. I didn’t have the later model at the time but planned on getting it.
The Seiko S234 appears two years after the S229, in the 1984. Both models were featured in the same catalog page, one next to the other. The market audience at that time probably didn’t find the red model as tacky as I do since the same color was available in the double priced Seiko Pulsemeter S234 as well. The reason for the higher price was the additional Pacesetter function and the running kit with a chest band, shoulder strap, electrodes, case holder and… ehm, a lot of cable work. You see, it is not Nike who invented running! But we will get to that.
Seiko S229-5001 face to face with Seiko S234-5010
You can’t argue with the fact that they are direct siblings. Looking at the round corner of the earlier introduced Pulsemeter S229, you will find it more gentle and simpler. The later S234 Pulsemeter is more sculpted, the edges are sharper and way more masculine. The overall design feeling of the later S234 is closer to the Golden ratio standard than the earlier S229 Pulsemeter. The digital screen is maybe two millimeters taller, while the pulsation button and the touch sensor are a hair thinner.
If you haven’t picked it up yet, the later S234-5010 is my preferred execution of the Seiko Pulsemeter. Another particular detail I like is the steep sloping of the upper-case part carrying the Seiko Pulsemeter name. This model also omits the striking and a bit loud mention of ‘Alarm Chronograph’ making the design less cluttered. I also like the simple butter-brick shape being disrupted on the S234-5010 Pulsemeter. A more sporty feel was achieved thanks to the reshaping of the sidelines into active parts housing the functional elements. To rephrase, while in the S234 the buttons look as if they are randomly cut into the frame, in the later Seiko Pulsemeter they seem rather perfectly seated in special case bunks. Cutting one fifth from the size of the yellow operational side buttons also helped in achieving the body-building effect.
The later S234 Pulsemeter is more sculpted, the edges are sharper and way more masculine.
Speaking of the well-trained musculature on the Seiko Pulsemeter S234-5010 that almost screams for action, it is not surprising it landed a feature in the cult movie Aliens (1986). Seiko scored big time with the Aliens movie, as there were more Seiko watches playing with major characters. Our hero for today is the Seiko Pulsemeter and it was worn by a number of the marines. It is visible when they first come to convince Ripley to join the mission early on in the movie. My favorite watch part as seen on the screenshot is from the scene when Hudson asks Bishop to do the knife trick at the breakfast table.
Only for the US market?
My Seiko Pulsemeter has the S234-5010 reference, while the correct one from the Aliens movie should be a S234-501A. It is basically the very same watch, it just has all the yellow elements in black. Namely the pulse button and side pushers. Interestingly, you won’t find it in the 1984 or the 1985 Seiko catalogs – only the red and black/yellow version are features. Based on this thread I found, the Aliens S234-501A was already available for purchase in November 1984. If you have a black/yellow version, but you want to make it to look more like the Aliens one, there are some NOS black pushers available on eBay.
Checking your pulse
Checking your pulse might make your heart skip a beat. Don’t forget the metal case back has to be touching your skin. Also, if you are touching the sensor with a fingertip of the other hand, be careful that the rest of your fingers are not touching the hand where the watch sits. I’m only acting smart, as I managed to buy a full kit with the instructional manual inside. I’ll tell you, it’s been a long time since I’ve had as much fun reading a watch manual. If you bought a Seiko Pulsemeter but are missing the instructions and aren’t sure on how to use the pulsemeter properly, here is the official recommendation.
Pulsemeter cable work
Both Seiko Pulsemeters I grabbed seems to be in mint condition, with no signs of use. The earlier Pulsemeter S229-5001 came without a box, but with a tag attached to the strap. The “Aliens” model came in a flat box with set of extras. The SEIKO branded blue and red striped elastic chest band looks so specific that no one would make a wrong guess on what era the watch comes from. The wearer is supposed to attach a shoulder strap to it as well as a pair of electrode clips for pulse reading. Now comes the funny part. To ensure proper connection, one had to connect a long cord from the electrode clips on your chest to the Pulsemeter case holder on the wrist. Imagine figuring out how to comfortably run in such a contraption. The beauty of the manual is that all the illustrations guide you in how to adjust the wiring so that it doesn’t bother you while running.
Running before it was cool
To give you some historical context. The Nike „swoosh“ was first used in 1971 and registered in 1974. In 1976, Nike went into big advertising and by 1980 they had attained a 50% US market share in the athletic shoe market. Inspired by pure curiosity, I googled how Nike running shoes looked like back in the early eighties when the Pulsemeter S234-5010 was introduced. I was shocked when I saw the price tags of a couple of dead stock runners, so I think I am okay with sticking to the Pulsemeter only, without an urge to fit it with a vintage pair of Nikes. Also, I hope you forgive me for not putting all the wiring to the test and taking a couple of illustrative photos. I have no doubt it works. I was just afraid of looking like I escaped from a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest casting.
Far future use of Seiko Pulsemeter
As far as running is concerned, it’s an activity I hope to never have to engage in. I don’t have any heart problems and I might feel terrified when watching the Alien movie. So why have the watch then? One would expect I might end up with some art deco three-hander and honestly, I already have a few candidates lined up with an invisible tag saying I am too young for this watch now. But while writing this piece, I equally see myself with one of the Seiko Pulsemeters (or both) on my wrist while trying to catch my breath walking up the stairs a few decades from now. While my wife, hopefully, a grandmother by that time, checks her Pulsemeter at the same time and shows it to me with a grin on her face.
The pulsemeter in the earlier Seiko version worked at the time when I bought it, but now it is acting up strange. Don’t know what the problem is, it seems that the touch sensor is stuck in a specific position. The pulse checker on the preferable Aliens Seiko works perfectly. Readings are consistent, fast and stable. You just need to follow the procedure described in the manual. You can also set a pulse alarm causing the watch to ring if your heartbeat jumps above it. The pacesetter is another interesting feature you will only find in the later Alien Seiko Pulsemeter.
The straps are as different as the wearing experience. Seiko S229-5010 comes with a two-piece nylon band with an aluminum buckle for the velcro strap going through. Wearing a Velcro strap is new to me, as I don’t remember wearing one before. The strap on the S234 is stiffer, also due to its age, but visually fits perfectly to the tough army-like image of the watch.
Shall I? Yes, you should.
I do not expect the value of these watches to break down the hammer at Christie’s anytime soon, which is why collecting them is so much fun. Especially when you realize that acquiring all the Submariner or Speedmasters references is a utopia. It is nice to have a Seiko Pulsemeter, but seeing them in a pair doubles the fun. With a bit of luck, you can find one for 100 dollars. In NOS condition, expect to pay between 400 – 500 dollars. One thing is for sure – with this and many other articles being posted about them, their price won’t get any lower.