The historic Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, PA, USA, first started making watches in 1892; the last USA-made Hamilton watch was produced around 1969 although watches with “Hamilton” on the dial are still being made today by the current owners of this brand name, the Swiss Swatch Group.
It’s important to realize that this web site only covers the electric and electronic watches produced by Hamilton; the company continued to produce mechanical watches in parallel to their pioneering electric watches.
Research on Hamilton’s first electric watch started in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1946, partially in response to a rumour that Elgin were developing one; the Hamilton project was known as ‘Project X’ and some pre-launch literature is shown by following the link on the left hand side. However, it wasn’t until 1957 that the world’s first electric watch appeared — and it was a Hamilton! Production continued until 1969 when Hamilton finally acknowledged that technology had moved on and their electric watch became obsolete — the Bulova Accutron probably had a large part to play in this.
Between 1957 and 1969, only two calibres reached volume production: the 500 (or 500A) and the 505. The electrical contact system in a 500 was so delicate that watchmakers failed to embrace the new technology; in addition, in an effort to be first, it was prematurely rushed to market despite the R&D departments reservations. As a result, although the public liked the design of these new watches, the first few years were a sales disaster that Hamiton never really recovered from — many 500s were returned to the factory for adjustment. The 505 appeared in 1961 and addressed many of the issues with the 500 — it’s a much easier movement to work on.
But it is those futuristic case designs that most people associate with the Hamilton Electrics…and Richard Arbib was responsible for these! Only in recent years have people begun to appreciate the impact this little known man had on watch design.
In the mid to late 1960’s, Hamilton also targetted the lower end of the market with their Vantage range of watches; these included both mechanical and electric watches. The connection between Hamilton and Vantage was deliberately kept vague to the public, and the electric Vantages contain a Standard Time Corp 130E movement, rather than the Hamilton 505, but these movements are very similar with many interchangeable parts…and Hamilton also owned Standard Time Corp!
With their sales of electric watches slowing, probably due to stiff competition from the Bulova Accutron, Hamilton tried a joint venture with Ricoh. Use the link on the left to read about that!
Finally, the Hamilton Huguenin Electrics are a complete mystery. Have you ever seen one or even heard of one? Read my theory on them!