Asymmetrical watch cases have never been really a success. Most brands have flirted with the idea at some point in history, with varied success. Only one brand was able to create a design icon out of it; Hamilton with its Ventura.
The reasons for this are multiple. When the watch was introduced in January 1957 it was the very first battery powered watch ever available for the public. The Hamilton caliber 500 was the result of more than a decade of research. The movement features a balance wheel with an integrated coil and two magnets that are placed in the movement plate.
As soon as the coil in the balance wheel is between the magnets, the contact springs are closed and a current will run through the coil. Because the current will run in the magnetic field of the magnets it will get a pulse and this way power the movement. Despite the decade of research was the caliber 500 basically not ready for mass production. Lots of them where returned back to Hamilton for service. This certainly dented the reputation of the Ventura that was embraced by the, mainly American, public as a watch of the future.
Of course, it was not only the movement that made people buy this watch. It was most certainly also the design. Responsible for its futuristic looks was Richard Arbib. This American designer had worked for General Motors, Century Boats and Harry Winston, and had a way of creating designs that seemed to embody the rapid technological breakthroughs that the world had seen after WWII. He most certainly achieved this with the Ventura.
Upon introduction, the Ventura was only available in 14K yellow gold with either a black or a silver dial. Hamilton charged US$200,- for this model, and an additional US$100,- if you wanted six diamonds as hour markers. Later on, Hamilton also introduced a 14K white gold version, but this one was not so popular since the American public ruled white gold as old fashioned….. Hamilton also exported the Ventura, but only on a very modest scale. In Europe an 18K yellow gold version was available, and South America could purchase an 18K pink gold version.
That the Ventura had star power was also underscored by many celebrities that choose the watch. Amongst them was Rod Serling, writer of The Twilight Zone, that introduced some episodes of this TV-show while wearing his Ventura. But it is of course Elvis that gave the Ventura everlasting fame when he wore it in the 1961 movie “Blue Hawaii”. The star power of the Ventura has not faded over the years. In 1997, Will Smith strapped on a Ventura re-issue in the blockbuster “Men in Black” and in 2010 featured a Ventura in an episode of the TV-show “Mad Men”.
In 1963 Hamilton stopped the production of the original Ventura. The electric movement had already been labeled obsolete, mainly during the introduction in 1960 of the, technically superior, Bulova Accutron. However, the attraction of the design stayed and in 1988 a re-issue of the Ventura once again graced the catalogues of Hamilton. Apart from some little retouches was it very much the same design as Richard Arbib created in the 1950’s. The main difference was that the 1980’s model had a quartz movement and the gold case had become gold plated steel.
Today the Ventura is almost a complete collection of its own. Hamilton offers the model with a wide variety of movements (even an automatic) dials and straps, and in 2010 even released two special editions to commemorate what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. One was the re-issue of the model as he wore in Blue Hawaii, the other was, what could best be described as, a Ventura on steroids. The Ventura design was adapted to the 21s century and bolder then ever. The watch was even more streamlined and sculpted in an oversize pvd case with inside an ETA 2824-2 automatic movement. But whither you choose this model or the ones closer to the original, the common factor that all Ventura’s share is that futuristic design that even in 2011 is surprisingly refreshing.