One of the perennial debates in the watch fraternity is that of whether a model defines a brand…
Is Patek Philippe defined by its 1970s Nautilus? Is Audemars Piguet defined by its Royal Oak?
Does it actually matter? A victim of its own success…. pigeonholed into one super starring role?
Well, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I am a big fan of the Hamilton Ventura… and if ever a model defined a brand this could well be the case in point.
Now let us start off by re confirming that Hamilton – despite its iconic North American spirit has for the past 40 or more years been Swiss owned… its part of the Swatch Group.
Founded in 1891 from the bankrupt remnants of the Keystone Standard Watch Co., Hamilton was initially a pocket watch and marine chronometer manufacturer.
The US at this time was the world centre for mechanised watch manufacture, with many now vaguely recalled brands such as Elgin, Gruen, Benrus, Waltham and of course Bulova.
Mass market was the single focus. The Swiss industry was but an antiquated by water – but one which was soon to benefit both from American mechanised know how and from a short sightedness towards the luxury sector – a significant niche which the Swiss trade has now dominated.
RADICAL APPROACH TO DESIGN
By 1917, in its quest for the mass market dream, Hamilton had issued its first military watch and plans were further boosted in 1927 when it purchased the prestigious Illinois brand. The combined skills of the two houses went on to create some amazing deco time pieces demonstrating Hamilton’s radical approach to case design.
Hamilton were also radical with their period marketing strategies – being amongst the first to work on product placements in period movies such as ‘The Frogmen’ with Richard Widmark who sported a Hamilton Diver.
However, it was to be the $200 Ventura that would prove to be Hamilton’s technical, stylistic, and marketing high point. (Today a nice example would be £2 – 2500) . After three years of intensive research and development they beat Elgin to launch the world’s first electric wristwatch on 3rd January 1957.
Its beautiful triangular case designed by Richard Arbib who had cut his design teeth at General Motors has become one of the recognised style icons of the 1950s and its launch at New York’s Savoy Plaza Hotel was redolent of the period – described by observers as ‘a massive and flamboyant occasion’ fit for Hollywood.
‘Elvis Presley is to the Ventura as Stallone is to Panerai’
12,000 Venturas were made - but of all - the most famous was that owned and used by Elvis Presley in his 1961 celluloid adventure ‘Blue Hawaii’, a placement, which nearly 40 years later, was repeated with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in ‘Men in Black’.
By 1969 Hamilton ceased all watch movement manufacture in the US, moving production to Switzerland. The brand continues mid-market amongst a wash of other labels – but the history, the style high water marks and Hamilton’s ‘American-ness’ remain undiminished.