Discovering the Rich History of Hamilton Watches

Discover the captivating history of Hamilton watches, where craftsmanship and legacy intertwine. From their meaningful role in World War I to their iconic presence in Hollywood movies, Hamilton has left an enduring mark. Let’s start a journey through the remarkable heritage of this beloved brand, appreciating its timeless appeal and enduring craftsmanship. Get ready to be captivated by the stories that have made Hamilton watches a favorite among enthusiasts worldwide.

The Watch of Railroad Accuracy

The Hamilton Watch Company was founded in 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA. Hamilton made a name for itself during the early days of American railroads. They supplied accurate watches that were crucial in preventing accidents by synchronizing timing on the rails. Thanks to Hamilton, the trains ran like clockwork, keeping people and goods moving safely and efficiently across the country. Earned them the title of: The Watch of Railroad Accuracy.

Hamilton Watch Company Lancaster

World War 1: Trench Watches

Hamilton used to make pocket watches, but during World War 1, they had to switch it up and create what’s called trench watches. These watches were basically modified pocket watches that soldiers could strap onto their wrists. They were more practical for war since you wouldn’t want to be fumbling around with a pocket watch when you’re trying to hold a gun. Trench watches were a mix between pocket watches and wristwatches. By making these watches for the military, Hamilton became known as a trusted supplier of reliable timepieces.

US AIRMAIL – From Rail to Air

In 1918, Hamilton was commissioned to make watches for US Airmail pilots. During the final months of the First World War, US Army pilots started delivering mail by plane. At that time, pilots needed wristwatches for navigation, calculating fuel consumption or air speed, and timekeeping.

As Sylvain Dolla, the current president of Hamilton Watches, said, “Aviation also needs prevision, which is why Hamilton started timing the skies in 1918.”

While timekeeping in aviation has been replaced by electronics today, Hamilton watches are still worn by pilots worldwide.

Hamilton US Airmail
Pilots receiving Hamilton Watches
Pilots receiving Hamilton Watches

World War 2: Chronometers & Field Watches

Hamilton stopped making watches for the public from 1942-1945 and focused on supplying the US military with over a million watches during World War 2. The US Navy was one of Hamilton’s main customers and they received over 10,000 marine chronometers during the war years.

Besides chronometers, Hamilton also produced a series of field watches for the US military. These watches were designed to meet the rigorous demands of military use, with features such as luminous hands and markers for easy reading in low light, a hacking feature that stopped the second hand when the crown was pulled out to synchronize time, and a rugged build to withstand rough conditions.

World War 2 (WW2) US Military Watches by Hamilton
WW2 US Military Watches by Hamilton

Hamilton’s Khaki Collection

Hamilton’s Khaki collection of watches first emerged in the 1940s as a line of military timepieces designed to be tough, precise, and reliable. These watches quickly earned a reputation for their excellent quality, durability, and accuracy. As time passed, the Khaki line expanded to include land, air, and sea watches to cater to different activities.

Khaki Field (Land)

The Khaki Field watches are designed for land-based activities and feature rugged, durable designs that can withstand tough conditions. They typically have large, easy-to-read dials with bold Arabic numerals and luminous hands for increased visibility in low-light situations.

Khaki Aviation (Air)

The Khaki Aviation models are designed for pilots and aviation enthusiasts. They often feature large, easy-to-read dials with multiple time zone displays, chronograph functions, and other features useful for aviation.

Some iconic designs include the Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical. The original version was produced in the 1970s and was a popular choice among military pilots. It featured a 36mm stainless steel case, black dial with white Arabic numerals, and luminous hands and markers for increased visibility. The modern reissue of this watch was released in 2018 and features a similar design with updated materials and technologies, including a 33mm stainless steel case and a hand-wound mechanical movement.

Another iconic model is Hamilton’s Model 23, a pocket watch designed during WWII for use by the US military. Its accurate timekeeping and durability made it a popular choice for pilots. Today, the Model 23 serves as the inspiration for the Hamilton Aviation Khaki Pilot Pioneer (yes, the same name as the previous) watch, which pays homage to the original design while incorporating modern features and materials.

Khaki Navy (Sea)

The Khaki Navy watches are designed for water-based activities and are suitable for diving and other water sports. They often feature water resistance to at least 200 meters, rotating bezels for timing dives, and other features for use in aquatic environments.

One example of a vintage Hamilton watches under the Khaki Navy lineup that has a modern reissue is the Hamilton Khaki Navy Frogman. The original vintage model was introduced in the 1940s and was designed for use by US Navy underwater demolition teams during World War II. The modern reissue, the Hamilton Khaki Navy Frogman Auto, was introduced in 2016 and features a water resistance of up to 300 meters, 80-hour power reserve, a rotating bezel for timing dives, and an automatic movement.

Over the years, Hamilton has continued to update and improve their Khaki Collection – introducing new models and features such as sapphire crystal, automatic movements, and chronograph functions. Today, in particular, Hamilton’s field watches remain popular among watch collectors and enthusiasts for their rugged style and functional design.

World’s First Electric Watch in 1957

Hamilton Electric 500

The Hamilton Electric 500 watch was the world’s first electric watch, introduced in 1957. The electric movement used a battery-powered balance wheel and was a revolutionary development in watchmaking at the time. The original Hamilton Electric watch was produced in a variety of styles and was highly popular throughout the 1960s.

World's First Electric Watch: Hamilton Electric 500
World’s First Electric Watch: Hamilton Electric 500

Hamilton Ventura

One of the most iconic models of the Hamilton Electric watch was the Ventura, which featured a distinctive shield-shaped case and was famously worn by Elvis Presley in the movie “Blue Hawaii.” The Ventura line was reintroduced in the 1990s and has since become a popular modern watch model.

Elvis Presley with Hamilton Ventura
Elvis Presley with Hamilton Ventura

Is the Electric Watch the same as a Quartz Watch?

An electric watch uses a battery to power a small electromagnet that drives the watch’s movement. A quartz watch also uses a battery, but it uses the vibrations of a tiny quartz crystal to keep time. Quartz watches were able to be made smaller and more accurate than electric watches, which made them more popular. In addition, the quartz crystal is more reliable than the mechanical parts in an electric watch, which can wear out over time. This is why quartz watches eventually became the standard for accurate timekeeping.

Hamilton Becoming ‘Swiss-Made’

In 1974, Hamilton was bought by the SSIH, which is now called the Swiss Swatch Group. Even though it was part of a new group, Hamilton kept its reputation for making quality and accurate watches from its home headquarters in America.

The Swatch Group
The Swatch Group

However, in 2003, Hamilton moved its headquarters and production facilities to Biel, Switzerland, which is known for its watchmaking for brands like Rolex & Omega. This move helped Hamilton to add the “Swiss made” quality mark to each of its watches produced in the new location.

OMEGA Factory in Biel, Switzerland
Another SWATCH’s acquired brand: OMEGA’s factory in Biel, Switzerland

Today, Hamilton is considered a Swiss watch brand because its watches are designed and put together in Switzerland, and most of them use Swiss-made movements. But even though it’s technically a Swiss brand, Hamilton still has connections to its American heritage. Its design inspiration and association with Hollywood movies reflect this unique identity.

So, although Hamilton is now a Swiss watch brand, its rich history and character show its roots in both the United States and Switzerland.

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