Hamilton Ventura Watch
History and description of the Hamilton Ventura, the world's first electric watch
Though not even Elvis could save the original by wearing it in his 1961 movie, Blue Hawaii, the Hamilton Ventura watch is making a come-back in a technologically updated reproduction model. Thanks to the blockbuster movie Men In Black, which featured the watches (they sport a futuristic look even to today’s audiences), Hamilton is once again at the top of the American watch market.
Designed by Richard Arbib in the 1950’s, the Hamilton Ventura 500 was intended to look like a bomb, only with a 90 degree rotation. It is, perhaps, prophetic that the Ventura (and its electric brethren) contributed heavily to the downfall of Hamilton over the next two decades. Although it reached immediate success as the first electric watch ever to reach the consumer market, its recurring problems with accuracy and with worn-out electrical contact pads had the watch returning to stores at an unprecedented rate as well. Nevertheless, the extraordinary appearing Ventura was the fastest selling gold watch Hamilton had made. At the same time as releasing the Ventura, Hamilton also released a traditional looking electric model, the Van Horn, which was badly outsold by its futuristic companion. Because of this, Hamilton issued several outstanding watches in the 1960’s also designed by Arbib and similar designers, like the Hamilton Pacer, Victor and Spectra.
The device itself was relatively simple, as electronic watches had not yet truly distinguished themselves from their mechanical counterparts. Their movement was still traditionally mechanical, but the mainspring had been replaced by a battery for the power source. In spite of this simplicity, the Ventura required extensive fine-tuning and Hamilton did not provide service manuals to their dealers (watches were expected to be returned to the factory for service). Combined with their all-too-frequent troubles, these factors tarnished the reputation Hamilton had in the watch market. Hamilton would go from being one of America’s leading watchmakers to near-bankruptcy in just over a decade.
By the time that the King wore one, the Ventura (now the 505 model) had been updated with with a better system to protect the contact pads. Both methods had been considered by Hamilton when they designed the original Ventura in 1957, but were discarded due to cost and internal design questions. It was feared that a radical design change in watch function would deter some potential buyers. Unfortunately for Hamilton, before they brought out their revised watch, the Bulova Accutron was introduced to the market in 1960. The Accutron benefited from the experience of the Ventura and was able to take the dominating position in electronic watches thanks to its oscillator and transistors.
In large part due to the failure of the Ventura, Hamilton experienced significant financial losses and was forced into a buyout by the Swiss-based company SSH in 1974.
Since that time, watch movement has come to be dominated by quartz movement. Such timepieces determine the sweep of their second hands according to the pulsating of a small piece of quartz as it reacts to an electric charge from the battery. Quartz has improved accuracy and decreased the number of problems in pocket and wrist watches.
Thanks to the accuracy of quartz watches, the original problems of the Ventura are long past and the new replicas mark a resurgence by Hamilton in the lives of business men and women, academicians and watch aficionados. Because Hamilton released a ladies’ model with its new line, the Ventura has doubled its potential market. It has garnered particular support among young professionals of both genders. The Ventura, as featured in Men In Black represents excellence in modern watch production and can be expected to avoid the problems of its forebears, but to continue striking amazement in anyone who sees it.