In Deep – The Hamilton Ventura
We often see watches that seem ‘from another world or time’, especially from the independent watch brands, where innovation and fantasy collide to produce some seriously left-field looking timepieces. This isn’t a new phenomenon however. Back in the 1950s there was a watch that was inspired by space age conceptual designs, which came from the mind of a rock-star designer of the era (his girlfriend was a famous model) that became a cult classic then and continues to be so now. Today we go ‘In Deep’ with the Hamilton Ventura.
Hamilton was founded in 1892 in Pennsylvania. It remained on the same site for exactly 111 years and became one of the biggest success stories of American manufacturing; a brand that still exists today. In their own words, they are combination of “Swiss precision and American spirit” – they certainly have a heritage that is as long, if not longer, as some of the Swiss powerhouse watch manufacturers. Now based in Biel in Switzerland, having been bought by the Swatch Group, its roots are firmly in the USA. Initially focused on producing watches for the railways, the brand was actually credited with making the rail system a lot safer. The Hamilton watches enabled the trains to be better synchronized due to increased accuracy of timekeeping, thus leading to fewer rail accidents.
Hamilton has always maintained close links to the aviation industry, claiming to help keep the early-20th century US coast-to-coast mail service “on time”, thanks to its official use of Hamilton timepieces. In fact, Hamilton is currently the timekeeper for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. Always innovating and striving to explore new territories, its most famous break through came in the form of the first electric watch in 1957…
The Ventura was unveiled in January of 1957. Asymetrical watches have always struggled to find their way into the collective acceptance of watch lovers. The Ventura, however, has become one of the most enduring and icon watch designs of the modern era. The Ventura was the world’s first electric watch, powered by a battery, which was the product of over ten years’ worth of research and development by Hamilton. The movement wasn’t totally ready for the amount of units produced and the watch had some significant teething issues that required the watches to be returned to Hamilton for service quite regularly.
Space age times and lines – The Hamilton Ventura
Upon launch, the watch was available only in 14k yellow gold for the sum of 200 USD. For an extra 100 USD you could have six diamonds on your dial as hour markers on the ‘even hours’. Hamilton released the watch in a white gold case at a later date, as well as a rose gold version for the South American market. The Ventura was adopted as a cult watch by American consumers and it began to filter onto screens, both big and small.
The Ventura had a relatively short run for such an icon watch. Hamilton ceased production in 1963, only six short years! The watch was, however, revived in 1988 and it still remains in the line up today. The watch, like many iconic timepieces, has a nickname due to it being worn by a celebrity…and there is none bigger than Elvis Presley. Known as the ‘Elvis Watch’, primarily due to the man himself wearing a Ventura in the movie Blue Hawaii, the watch became a favourite of Elvis and he was known to buy them as gifts for friends and family. In the 1990s, the big screen again hosted the Ventura when it was strapped to the wrist of Will Smith in the smash-hit blockbuster Men in Black. In fact, according to Hamilton, the Ventura has been featured in over 450 major films and television series; many with a focus on space or science fiction – a genre that perfectly suited the space-age aesthetic of the watch. This is solely down to the vision of one man, the original designer of the Ventura…
The Elvis Watch – The King of Ventura
Getting Jiggy With It – Will Smith Rocks his Ventura in MIB
MIB – Ventura
Richard Arbib began his design career as a automobile designer. Arbib graduated from the Pratt Institute in 1939. Renowned for its Art and Design departments, Pratt prepare Arbib for a lifetime of important designs. His first role was designing the bodies of commercial vehicles including ambulances, hearses and limos for the Henney Motor Co. One big client for Henney was US luxury car brand Packard, for whom Henney exclusively built bodies. Arbib first came to prominence for his design of the Packard ‘Pan American’ show car for the 1952 International Motor Sports Show in New York. The car won first prize in the Outstanding Design category, and a legend was born.
Arbib and Page – Richard Arbib and pin-up model girlfriend Bettie Page
Arbib went on to design cars and boats for a number of high profile clients, including the American Motors Corporation’s (AMC) Hudson models, recently brought back to prominence due to the character Doc Hudson’s “Hudson Hornet” in the Disney movies ‘Cars’. Arbib’s ‘V-Line’ styling is one of the most iconic 1950s car styling designs and was carried through into his concept drawings of futuristic car designs for which he also won awards.
Arbib’s Advanced Aesthetics
Of course, Arbib was also a watch designer. His car designs were apparent in his wristwatch design too, most notably the use of the ‘V’Line’ which can be seen in his work. The most famous of Richard’s Arbib’s watch designs is the Ventura. However, he also designed other watches for Hamilton, including the Everest and Pacer, and worked on watch designs for brands including Gucci and Benrus.
Vintage Hamilton Catalogue – featuring the designs of Richard Arbib
Asymmetry and Bling
Our favourite of all the Ventura’s is this white gold example with silver dial adorned with the optional six diamond hour markers. Still as timeless today, over 60 years later, as it would have been in the 1950s it is a watch that is both a style statement and an important step in the development of watch technology and horological innovation. And more than anything, its just so damn cool!
Bulang Bling – we love this version in 14k white gold and diamond ‘even hours’ markers
V-Line – The Arbib signature style
Battery Power – the first and most celebrated