Originally one of the great American watchmakers, Hamilton was founded in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1892. The brand would become dominant in the booming railroad industry, owning over half of the market with strictly approved pocket and wristwatches. Hamilton also provided early wristwatches to soldiers during World War I as the shift from pocket watches began. Civilian production stopped altogether during World War II to focus on military needs, including the now legendary field watches for the US Army and marine chronometers for navies around the world. After the war, Hamilton became the first brand to produce a battery powered wristwatch that soon became the Ventura line. These had asymmetrical, triangular cases that skyrocketed to fame after Elvis Presley wore one in Blue Hawaii, his eighth movie in 1961. Unfortunately, the American watch market disappeared in the second half of the 20th century with Hamilton stopping all US operations in 1969, ceding to Swiss dominance.
Today, Hamilton is a major Swiss brand and subsidiary of the Swatch Group, but its American roots are alive and well. Among its most successful collections is the Khaki Field line that looks back at wartime field watches, while the Khaki Navy and Khaki Aviation collections have similar themes albeit with more modern designs. The Ventura collection is also thriving with modern interpretations of the early “Elvis watch,” although there’s a quartz model that remains true to the original design. That piece and newer variants were also popularized by the Men in Black franchise, which gave the watches plenty of screen time.
The Ventura wasn’t the only first for Hamilton as it launched the first electronic digital watch as well, the Pulsar. It used LED technology and users had to push a button to briefly show the time as the display was battery hungry, but this was certainly futuristic at the time. Pulsar is now under the Seiko umbrella, but Hamilton recently introduced the retro PSR with similar aesthetics to the original and a LED lookalike display.
Hamilton has had a huge presence in Hollywood with watches appearing in over 500 movies, starting with Shanghai Express in 1932. Iconic placements have included 2001: A Space Odyssey, Men in Black, Interstellar, Tenet, Ocean’s Eleven and Live and Let Die (James Bond’s Pulsar). Hamilton even created its own awards show in 2006, the Hamilton Behind the Camera Awards. It honours the off-screen talent that makes movies possible, from screenwriters and set designers to prop masters and costume designers. For the 10th awards show and to celebrate 86 years in movies, Hamilton introduced the Jazzmaster Regulator Cinema-themed watch with miniature movie reels, a film strip on the dial, a camera grip base dial and more.
Although Hamilton is now a Swiss brand with financial and marketing backing of the Swatch Group, it continues to embrace its American heritage with field and military watches, the Ventura collection, Hollywood influence and more. Best of all, both mechanical and quartz watches are attainable for most enthusiasts and represent some of the best values in the Swiss industry.