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The $20 Watch


At the Chicago Consumer Electronics Show in January 1976, Texas Instruments shocked its competition by introducing the first $20 watch line. The lowest price for a digital electronic watch just fifteen months earlier had been $125 and even a few months before, $49.95. The $20 watch got its start in TI's IDEA program. To encourage innovation, TI provided $1 million annually as grants to employees with ideas for improving products or processes.

The TI watches were the vanguard of an outpouring of low-priced watches made by U.S. semiconductor companies, who were competing against traditional watch firms like Timex and a host of smaller upstart assemblers. By the following year many of these companies, including Gruen, Benrus, Litronix, and Microma, were out of the watch market altogether.

By May of 1977 TI had cut its price on its model 503 sports watch to $9.95, making it the first electronic watch sold for under $10. By fall of 1978, TI, Fairchild, and Timex were the last companies assembling watches in the United States. And by 1980, TI was out of the watch business completely, largely due to competition from even cheaper foreign-made watches.

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