Where are Hamilton watches made?
If you're a vintage watch enthusiast, chances are that you have at least one Hamilton watch in your collection. Hamilton watches are considered some of the finest watches ever made in America, and the brand's iconic railroad pocket watches and Art Deco wristwatches are especially prized among connoisseurs.
Hamilton Watches: Vintage Styles
The Hamilton Watch Company was founded in 1892 from the remnants of two existing companies, the bankrupted Keystone Standard Watch Company in Pennsylvania and the Aurora Watch Company in Illinois. Named after 18th century Pennsylvania landowner and lieutenant governor James Hamilton, the new company swiftly cornered the market by retailing its high-quality railroad watches throughout the country. After World War I, the company switched its focus to wristwatches, and became known for its highly-decorative Art Deco timepieces, many crafted in gold, platinum, diamonds, and precious gemstones.
Iconic Hamilton Designs
- Pocket Watches: Hamilton's first watch, manufactured in 1893, was a 17-jewel pocket watch called the 936. This style, marketed in two sizes, remained a best-seller for the next fifteen years. It was advertised nationwide as "the Watch of Railroad Accuracy." Early Hamilton pocket watches are often made of gold, but many are also gold-filled or made of sterling silver.
- Art Deco: In 1917, Hamilton introduced its first men's wristwatch, a 17-jewel timepiece. Thanks to its popularity, the company began to focus on men's and women's wristwatches. During the next several decades, Hamilton became famous for its intricate Art Deco styles, many of which were crafted in sterling silver, gold and platinum, although gold-filled watches were made as well. In addition, high-end models were often studded with diamonds, sapphires, and rubies. Hamilton cases tended to be elongated and rectangular-shaped, and many had classic Art Deco embellishments, such as scroll work around the edges. During this time, Hamilton also introduced men's and women's wristwatches with a distinctive curved crystal on the top. Today, these watches are highly prized by collectors, especially if they still retain their original crystals.
- World War II: During the Second World War, Hamilton shipped more than a million military watches to servicemen and women overseas. Collectors of these types especially look for Model 21 and 22 Marine Chronometers, which were made specifically for US Navy and Army personnel.
- Post World War II: In 1957, Hamilton created the world's very first electric-powered watch, the Hamilton Electric 500. This model was worn by Elvis Presley, whose endorsement helped catapult it to fame.
- Swiss-Made Hamiltons: During the late 1960s, Hamilton purchased Swiss watchmaker Buren, and for several years, a large number of Hamilton watches were produced with Swiss movements. In 1971, Hamilton was purchased by Omega. Then, in 1984, Hamilton became a subsidiary of Swatch, which still owns the company. Today, Hamilton watches are made by the Swatch company, and are manufactured with Swatch movements.
Dating a Hamilton Watch
During the 1990s, thanks to heavy marketing by Swatch, Hamilton watches made something of a comeback. Retro styles were especially popular, particularly those with Art-Deco-style curved crystals. While they look quite similar to the 1930s styles, these reissues have quartz movements, so it's especially easy to distinguish them from their vintage wind-up counterparts.
Hamilton watches are marked with numbers that help pinpoint when they were made. For example, Hamilton watches made in 1893 will have serial numbers ranging from 1 to 2, 000. Hamilton watches are also marked with grade numbers. For example, if your watch is marked with 979, it was made from 1934 to 1951. There are many sources that list Hamilton's grading and serial numbers along with the corresponding years that the models were made.