Hudson Instalite

Guest Bum review by Zach Gulsby, an Account Manager by day, and a lifelong wristwatch enthusiast.  His Instagram handle is @zgulsby.  

I recently went through the equivalent of a watch enthusiast’s mid-life-crisis. I've owned sports watches, dress watches, tool watches, chronographs, time only, white faces, black faces, vintage, new, homages, originals, and so on. I thought I had my bases covered until I came to a truly horrifying realization – I didn’t own a single piece that wasn’t round.  No squares, no rectangles, no barrels, no tonneaus, nothing. So after a few long nights of late-night research and a bit of goading at a local meet up, I hit “Buy It Now” on an auction for a NOS (new old stock) mid-70’s Hudson Instalite.  Pull out the bell-bottoms and flower print – rectangle case, here I come.  

The Hudson Instalite is a byproduct of the so-called Quartz Crisis – the introduction of inexpensive, highly accurate, battery powered movements that flipped the global watch market on its head in the 1970’s and 80’s. In an attempt to compete with the new Japanese technology, European manufacturers released a plethora of funky direct-read designs (Technos Digilight, Alihor Digital Automatic, etc.) that were slated to compete with the quartz digital pieces overtaking the lower-end market. These bold designs housed inexpensive movements with rotating hour and minute wheels instead of the standard two or three hand 12H dial layout. This allowed the current hour and minute to be read directly through a window on the face of the watch.  While the direct-read design was not new, this was the first time they were truly produced for the mass market.     

The Hudson Instalite is powered by an EB 8461 – a manually wound, 17 jewel pin-lever movement made by Ebauches Bettlach – a Swiss manufacturer that would eventually fold into the ETA that we know and love today. Despite the fact that Bettlach was on the lower end of the Ebauches portfolio, the no-nonsense EB 8461 gets the job done accurately – I have tracked the watch at a few minutes fast per day.  It beats at 18k bph and carries about 40 hours of power reserve. The watch itself was produced by Zürich-based Itraco and branded by Hudson for sale in the US market.  

The case measures 30mm by 35mm and is 11mm tall.  It has a brushed finish on the face and back, while the sides, bevels, and lugs are polished. The crown measures in at a tidy 5mm by 3mm, and does not screw down.  Lug to lug distance is 37mm. With many watches pushing 50mm lug to lug, I have to admit that this size wears refreshingly well. It fits comfortably on my 6.5” wrist and slides nicely under a cuff if necessary. This example features a silver gray inlay, but other colors, such as red and blue, can be found. The hour wheel features bright red numerals, while the minute wheels are black.  The watch arrived riding a NOS 18mm mesh bracelet that pairs awesomely with the head.  The links are polished, and the clasp is adjustable for wrists up to 8.5” in size.  

You likely noticed the odd pusher above the crown, which brings me to my favorite feature of the aptly named Instalite – a battery powered LED light that tries its damnedest to allow the time to be read in the dark.  While the LED isn’t the most powerful, depressing the pusher and seeing the face light up is a fun throwback to the 70’s, and a nifty little feature.   

I have always considered the Cartier Tank á guichet to be my absolute grail watch.  So when searching for an affordable, rectangular cased watch, I was naturally drawn to jump hour complications. Many of these 70’s direct read watches are falsely claimed as true jump hours, but to my surprise, the Instalite implements the complication well – until the time nears 55 minutes, the hour dial remains stationary.  Only in the last five minutes of the hour will the dial start to tick over to the new hour. 

Overall, I can’t say that I’m not happy with the purchase. While the Instalite’s build quality is expectedly not in line with some more expensive options, for around $100 you get a cool piece of history from an era when European watchmakers almost met their demise. It has earned a permanent spot in my rotation…at least until I can afford that Cartier Tank á guichet!  ⬩

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