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From Military Aviation to the Silver Screen, the Windup Watch Shop Looks at the History of Hamilton
Words by Justin Hargett

Throughout its 130-year history, the Hamilton Watch Company has played an important role alongside American industry. Founded in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1892, Hamilton first made its name with accurate and reliable pocket watches. These would eventually be used by over half of all engineers and conductors on the railroads, a fact that Hamilton proudly advertised and marketed to the general public. Later, with the invention of the airplane, Hamilton watches were also used to keep the U.S. Airmail running on time.

This reputation for making reliable timepieces led Hamilton to become the official supplier of wristwatches to the American Armed Forces throughout the first half of the 20th century. In 1942, Hamilton ceased its consumer production to ramp up its production for servicemen during World War II, eventually delivering one million watches during the war. This extensive military history still runs through watches today like the Khaki Field Mechanical, a modern re-issue of the classic military field watch which is available in a range of contemporary dial colors, sizes, and case materials. The Khaki Pilot Pioneer is also a reissue of the W10 watches that Hamilton made for the British Royal Air Force during the 1970s.

 

These classic military designs still inspire Hamilton to innovate with modern interpretations of field watch style today. Two recent examples include the hand-wound Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer, which features a textured black dial, bold numerals, and stunning cathedral-style hands, along with the Khaki Field Auto Chrono, which adds stopwatch functionality to the vintage design.

In 1957, Hamilton developed the first electric, battery-powered watch. Shortly thereafter, that technology was put into the Ventura, an asymmetrical, space-age dial, created by the mid-century automotive designer Richard Arbib, who would create a number of similarly lop-sided electric watches for atomic age consumers.

Hamilton’s penchant for innovative design continued in 1970 when they changed the entire watch industry with the invention of the first ever digital watch, the LED Pulsar—originally made of solid-gold and sold for over $2,000 (the equivalent of $14k today). Shortly thereafter, 1972, Hamilton was acquired by SSIH, now known as Swatch Group. An updated reproduction of this “futuristic” TV dial was commissioned in 2020 for the 50th anniversary and is now available as the Pulsar Digital Quartz.

Yet, perhaps no industry is more synonymous with America than Hollywood, where Hamilton has played a pivotal role on the silver screen for over 90 years. Hamilton Watches have appeared in over 500 feature films. The Ventura was first worn by Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii, and revamped as the signature, futuristic watch of the Men in Black. Stanley Kubrick requested a custom watch for 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more recently Jessica Chastain wore the “Murph” in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. If you look closely, you’re bound to see a Hamilton on another star’s wrist the next time you go to the cinema.

Now, as part of the Swatch Group, Hamilton continues to innovate while paying tribute to its historic catalog and American roots. Starting in 2011, working with famed mechanical watch engineers ETA, Hamilton developed the first of its own automatic calibers. Today, there are five calibers unique to the brand, which offer power reserves up to 80 hours. The H-14, for example, is featured in the Khaki Aviation Converter Auto GMT, and H-40 in the Khaki Field King Auto with Day/Date complications.

With over a century of American industrial history to pull from, and the institutional backing of Swiss Made watch design, Hamilton is uniquely positioned to make stylish and reliable modern timepieces. Every Hamilton watch is its own icebreaker once you know its story. 

Shop Hamilton in the Windup Watch Shop today!