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06/23/2022
 2 minutes

Hamilton: Swiss made, American at heart?

By Thomas Hendricks
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Founded in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1892, Hamilton manufactured watches in the United States for over seventy years. The company was named after James Hamilton, the son of a Scottish attorney who laid out and founded Lancaster County, where the watch factory was later built. The company gained momentum manufacturing incredibly accurate pocket watches for the railroad industry, and by the early 20th century, Hamilton had captured over half of the US watch market. The Broadway Limited was the first serially produced pocket watch from the brand; it was marketed as the “Watch of Railroad Accuracy.” It wasn’t until 1917 that the Pennsylvania-based brand introduced its first wristwatch. By 1928, Hamilton was able to acquire the Illinois Watch Company to further expand its domestic manufacturing, offering well-built functional movements in an array of gold and gold-filled cases. Of particular note are the Piping Rock and Spur models from the 1920s and 1930s, which are heavily influenced by the Art Deco style. As World War II loomed, Hamilton ceased consumer production and focused solely on marine chronometers for the US Navy and watches for the US Army, shipping over a million of them overseas. 

What is Hamilton known for?  

Hamilton continued to push boundaries of design during peacetime, launching its Ventura and Pacer models with the help of designer Richard Arbib in the 1950s. These models were influenced by the neo-futurism of the time, and featured irregular case shapes and electric movements. Along with the Altair and Gemini, these timepieces came to mark the last decade of Hamilton’s watch manufacturing in America.

Hamilton is known for its functional and sporty designs

Is Hamilton still an American watch company? 

With the onset of the quartz crisis, Hamilton continued producing electric watches, eventually launching the Pulsar with its iconic digital display. The US manufacturer had strayed far from its roots, though, and was eventually divided into several smaller divisions in order to remain in business. While Hamilton’s electric watch inventory was sold to Seiko, its American manufacturing was shut down in 1969 and relocated to Switzerland. As Hamilton struggled to regain the market interest of its past, the brand was ultimately sold to SSIH in 1974, now known as the Swatch Group.   

Is Hamilton considered a good watch brand? 

Today, Hamilton offers a range of entry-level watches like the Hamilton Khaki Field, Intra-Matic, and Pan Europ Auto. Their catalog is filled with a range of styles and mechanical movements, some of which are available for as little as a few hundred dollars. That’s why Hamilton is often considered a starting point for watch collecting: They deliver high-quality watches at a decent price. As the brand has reissued designs from its past, the collector community has shown renewed interest in vintage Hamiltons. These are often gold-filled watches with handsome numerals, and offer an affordable option for folks looking for a storied watch without breaking the bank.  


About the Author

Thomas Hendricks

I didn’t grow up a watch guy, but a few years after graduating from university, I landed a job at the online publication Watchonista as a writer and marketer. “Welcome to the watch world,” my colleagues told me half-jokingly, “no one ever leaves!” Now at Chrono24, I work as a private client advisor, helping people find the perfect watch for major life moments.

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