Hamilton Ventura: the electric revolution – Part 2
A revolutionary movement, a conception unprecedented in the annals of horology and featuring in major movies. All the ingredients are there for the history of the first electric watch to have a second life breathed into it.
The Ventura is, before anything else, a revolutionary movement and an unprecedented technical innovation. For the first time in history, a watch was powered by both a mechanical movement and an electric battery.
The Ventura revolution in four movements
From 1959, the first electro-mechanical caliber – the H500 – was replaced by the H500A due to some malfunctions. The technology became totally reliable in 1961 with the H505 caliber.
H500 caliber: the first electrical movement. The prototype was slightly improved before being produced in series between 1957 and 1959. It was composed of a button cell supported by a thin metal rod that did not turn out to be solid enough. The battery powered the movement through two metal microscopic threads whose contact points proved to be fragile.
H500A caliber: This minor evolution of the H500 caliber appeared in 1959. The improvements only involved the battery fixation, which became more robust, and the addition of rubies to act as shock absorbers. The points of contact between the battery and the movement remained a weakness as they suffered no modifications.
H505 caliber: A major progression was made. It was introduced in 1961 and was provisionally named H502. The battery-movement contact points were modified, thus putting an end to the power supply issues of the H500 and the H500A calibers.
H507 calibers: The prototype of this version of the H505 caliber with date display was named H505C. Its production started in 1967, shortly before the Ventura’s production was stopped. Only 25 pieces were produced with this movement.
A daring design inspired from automobiles
A revolutionary technique calls for revolutionary design. Unique and futuristic, the design of the first-ever electrical watch is a masterpiece by Richard Arbib, designer at “General Motors” and consultant for Hamilton. He wanted to give a unique appearance to the revolutionary technical watch.
For the design of the piece he was inspired by the “space-age design” that he had already developed on numerous concept-cars with futuristic lines, typical of the 1950s. These in turn were inspired by the space conquest as well as science fiction movies, in vogue at the time. One of his most impressive prototypes is the “Astra-Gnome” from 1956, which represented his vision of what cars would look like in the year 2000. A clock, specially designed by Hamilton and with the shape of the globe, featured at the center of the dashboard: the “Celestial Time Zone Clock MX-1”. For the Ventura, Richard Arbib adopted the V-shape of the radiator grill of the “AMC Hudson” that he restyled in 1995 to create an asymmetrical case that would become the piece’s visual signature.
At first, the case was in 14K yellow gold, with either a silver or black dial and completed by an original dual-colored strap in black leather and a 24K gold applique. This version, however, was only produced during the first four months the Ventura was on the market and is currently the most sought-after piece. Later came other models in yellow gold or white gold (sparsely sold). Versions for export were made in 18K gold to meet the international standards for gold purity.
The 18K yellow gold version was put on the European market from 1958 while the 18K pink gold version (very rare) was commercialized only in the South American market from 1959.
The dial was available in white, black or silver. Some versions had diamond indexes (very rare). The center was adorned with a waved line – a symbol of the piece’s electric supply. It displayed hours, minutes and seconds.
The Ventura: a cinema icon
Hamilton had bonded solid relationships with the cinema industry since the beginning of the 1950s. Many models had already appeared in successful Hollywood movies. The Ventura watch attained its glory in 1961 when it featured in “Blue Hawaii” on Elvis Presley’s wrist. The movie’s success made the piece a true cinema icon and gave it the nickname “Elvis’ watch”. The piece, worn by “The King” in the movie was bought back in auction by Hamilton in 1999. It is now exhibited in the brand’s museum.
The futuristic and unique design of the Ventura is particularly cherished by cinema and TV producers. It appeared notably in the Hit 1960’s series “The Twilight Zone” on the wrist of the presenter of each episode. Its cinema career was revived in 1997 with Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Men in Black” (MIB) in which Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith both wore a Ventura. A quirky designed watch that suited the quirky movie perfectly.
The Ventura today
In 1988, 25 years after production stopped, Hamilton successfully relaunched the Ventura. The new piece was equipped with a “Swiss Made” quartz caliber instead of the electric mechanical movement. Then, over ten years later, in the early 2000s and thanks to the success of “Men in Black”, Hamilton presented a new collection of the iconic Ventura. Its unique design was again well embraced and the watch became once more the brand’s best-selling piece. Numerous versions have been produced since then: automatic and quartz, for gents and ladies, and even with an original chronograph function.
Several commemorative versions have also been created like the “Ventura 50e anniversary” limited edition in 2007, to celebrate the official introduction of the first electrical watch and the “Ventura Elvis Anniversary Edition” in 2010 for Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. Also, in 2015, the “Ventura Elvis 80” paid tribute again to the King who would have celebrated his 80th birthday on 8th January 2015.
Today, the pioneer and revolutionary spirit of the versions produced between 1957 and 1963 make them the most coveted. To have one of the genuine electrical Hamilton Ventura in your collection means possessing a major piece in the vast history of horology.