Hamilton Watch Company: Wikis


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Hamilton Watch Company
Type Member of the Swatch Group
Founded 1892, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA
Headquarters Bienne, Switzerland
Industry Watch manufacturing
Website http://www.hamiltonwatch.com

The Hamilton Watch Company was an American manufacturer originally formed to produce high quality pocketwatches and wristwatches. Hamilton would become a corporate conglomerate diversified in other operations. The Hamilton brand name still exists in name as a division of a major Swiss assembler of production grade mechanical and quartz wristwatches.


History of Hamilton America: 1892–1969

Hamilton pocketwatch, ca. 1904

The Hamilton Watch Company was established in 1892, when the Keystone Standard Watch Company was forced into bankruptcy and sold at a sheriff's sale to a group of Lancaster, Pennsylvania entrepreneurs whose "objective was to build only watches of the highest quality." During this same year, a merger took place between the newly established Lancaster based watchmaking concern and the Aurora Watch Company of Illinois. A decision was made to name the new company after James Hamilton, owner of a large tract of land which was granted to him from William Penn and included what is now the city of Lancaster. The new company would be known as The Hamilton Watch Company.[1]

Hamilton Watch Company was housed on a 13-acre (53,000 m2) complex in Lancaster. Hamilton eventually took possession of 'Aurora's' machinery shortly after incorporation. With quality being Hamilton's primary goal, the company set out to manufacture "America’s Finest Watch." The first watch made under the Hamilton name was an 18-size 17-jewel pocket watch in 1893. Within the next six years, Hamilton had developed a reputation for creating pocket watches of the highest caliber of quality. During Hamilton's first fifteen years, only two size movements were produced — the 18-size and the smaller 16-size.[1]

Its first series of pocket watches, the Broadway Limited, was known as the "Watch of Railroad Accuracy," and Hamilton became popular by making accurate railroad watches. Hamilton introduced its first wristwatch in 1917. This watch was designed to appeal to men entering World War I and contained the 0-sized 17-jewel 983 movement originally designed for women's pendent watches. The introduction of the 0-sized wristwatch was the start of a line of wristwatches that included some of the finest American wristwatches made. In 1928 Hamilton purchased the Illinois Watch Company for in excess of $5 Million from the heirs of Jacob Bunn and John Whitfield Bunn. Some of the most collectible early Hamilton wristwatches include: The Oval, The Tonneau, The Rectangular, The Square Enamel, The Coronado, The Piping Rock, The Spur, The Glendale, The Pinehurst, The Langley, The Byrd, The Cambridge, and The Flintridge. Many models came in solid gold and gold filled cases.

During World War II, production of consumer watches was stopped, with all watches manufactured being shipped to troops. More than one-million watches were sent overseas. The company was extremely successful in producing marine chronometers and deck watches in large numbers to fill the needs of the US Navy, and other Allied navies as well.

In 1951, Hamilton rebuffed a hostile takeover bid by the Benrus watch company. The fallout from the failed takeover action culminated in Hamilton Watch Co. v. Benrus Watch Co (206 F.2d 738, 740 (2d Cir. 1953), a Federal proceeding that is considered to be landmark in the realm of Federal anti-trust case law. [2]

In 1957, Hamilton introduced the world's first electric watch, the Hamilton Electric 500.[3] It was available in a variety of non-traditional asymmetrical case styles[4] including the Ventura.[5]

In 1962, Hamilton entered into a joint venture (60% owned by Hamilton) with the Japanese watchmaking firm Ricoh to produce electric watches meant primarily for the Japanese market. The electronic components were produced at Hamilton's Lancaster factory while production of the mechanical works and final assembly was undertaken in Japan. Although production levels of Hamilton-Ricoh watches was high (over 1000 per month), demand was low and consequently, the Hamilton-Ricoh partnership was unable to compete with the substantial market presence of Seiko. The partnership was dissolved in 1965, with the remaining Hamilton-Ricoh electronic movements (marked "Ricoh 555E") re-cased as "Vantage" and sold in the US.[6]

Joint Swiss/US operations: 1969–1972

Swiss Hamilton/Buren Microrotor movement

In 1966, Hamilton acquired the Büren Watch Company in Switzerland, including all factories and technologies that had been developed by Büren up to that point. From 1966 to 1969, Hamilton Lancaster and Buren Switzerland were operated as a joint concern, with Hamilton using a number of Swiss movements for their "American" watches and Buren utilizing a number of components manufactured by Hamilton Lancaster. It was during this time that Hamilton started to selectively incorporate the highly innovative Buren Microtor (aka Micro Rotor/Microrotor) movement into small numbers of certain upper tier watches (in addition to their ordinary hand-wind and traditional automatic watches).

The Buren (now Hamilton/Buren) Microtor was the first patented automatic wristwatch movement to eliminate the sizable external oscillating weight inherent to most automatic winding watches. Instead, it utilized a much smaller weight that was entirely integrated into the chassis of the movement. This design allowed for a substantially slimmer automatic watch that still retained a center sweep second hand. The Microtor concept was also conceived by Universal Geneve for use in their famous Polerouter series of timepieces during this same time. The official title of "first Microtor movement" is still in dispute amongst some horology aficionados, even though Buren patented their design in 1954[7] while Universal Geneve applied for their patent in May of 1955.[8]

In 1969, the Hamilton Watch Company completely ceased its American manufacturing operations with the closure of its factory in Lancaster, PA, shifting the entire balance of its manufacturing operations to the Buren factory in Switzerland.

From 1969 to 1972, all new Hamilton watches were produced in Switzerland by Hamilton's Buren subsidiary. In 1971, the Buren brand was returned to Swiss ownership and by 1972, the Buren-Hamilton partnership was dissolved and the factory liquidated, due to decreased interest and sales of the Hamilton-Buren product.[9]

Transitional Hamilton Watches: 1970s–1990s

In 1971, the Omega & Tissot Holding Company Société Suisse pour l'Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) purchased the Hamilton brand and utilized the Hamilton name for a number of branding efforts, including numerous Quartz watches in the 1980s.

The Hamilton Watch Division became a subsidiary of HMW. The Hamilton Watch Company changed their name to HMW at the time they sold their Watch division to SSHI. There has been much confusion as to who developed the Pulsar, the world's first digital watch. The watch division that today is known as Hamilton, was not involved in the development of the Pulsar.

Through the enforced merger of SSIH and ASUAG Groups in 1984, Hamilton has become a subsidiary of the now denominated The Swatch Group Ltd..

Hamilton modern day: 1990s–present

The Hamilton name brand is currently owned by The Swatch Group Ltd.. Swatch Group Hamilton brand watches have grown increasingly popular. Modern Hamilton watches no longer use proprietary "in house" movements, instead using movements made by The Swatch Group's movement making subsidiary, ETA.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, Hamilton began a marketing campaign that resulted in a comeback. Vintage designs were coming back in style and Hamilton had a large portfolio of popular designs from the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's to draw from. Playing on this resurgence, Hamilton replicated several of these original designs such as the Ardmore, Boulton, Cabot, Piping Rock, Spur, Wilshire, and the 1957 Hamilton Ventura. These reissued watches incorporate a modern Swiss made quartz movement.

In 2007, Hamilton introduced special editions of the Ventura to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the electric watch. For the US market, stainless steel quartz and automatic versions were released with a production of 1,957 each; for the Asian market, yellow and rose gold plated Ventura models were released with a total production of 1,000 each.

In 2009, Hamilton released three new Ventura models to celebrate what would have been the 75th birthday of Elvis Presley. Presley wore a Ventura in the movie Blue Hawaii. The automatic PVD version is an updated design of the Ventura.

Hamilton In popular culture

Ivanoff's Hamilton-sponsored plane racing in Berlin

The first movie to portray Hamilton product was the Oscar-nominated Frogmen in 1951 when the diving expertise of the characters and watches was put to the test. In the 1960s Elvis Presley followed suit and wore the Ventura in Blue Hawaii. The Ventura reissue was prominently featured in the Men in Black movies. To date Hamilton Watches have appeared in over 300 movies. In 2005 Nicolas Ivanoff started competing with the world’s leading acrobatic pilots, in his proudly branded Hamilton plane. The character Sylar on NBC's Heroes wears a modified Hamilton watch on which the "Hamilton" logo has been changed to "Sylar."

See also



  • Hamilton Watch Co. - America's Finest Watch by Will Roseman - Comprehensive Early Hamilton Reference Guide
  • American Pocket Watches Identification and Price Guide Beginning to End ... 1830 - 1999 by Roy Ehrhardt and William "Bill" Meggers
  • The Watch of the Future by René Rondeau
  • Hamilton Wristwatches, a Collector's Guide by René Rondeau

External links

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