In Depth

Celebrating 60 years of the Hamilton Ventura

In 1957 it wowed the world as the very first battery-powered electric watch. Now, it's back with a brand-new line-up

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When American brand Hamilton launched the watch, it was the peak of the sci-fi era: comic-book hero Dan Dare was 'the pilot of the future', every child wanted a Japanese toy robot and every grown-up wanted to commute by flying saucer.

To evoke thoughts of the 21st century, Hamilton called its new model the Ventura and, to reinforce the feeling of futurism, it enlisted industrial designer Richard Arbib to pen a radical, asymmetrical case that made the watch look as much like a wrist-worn communication device as a timepiece.

The Ventura's advanced, electrically powered movement was considered so luxurious that the watch was available only in gold during the six years of its original production run and cost $200 (or $300 on a matching gold bracelet) – the equivalent of around $2,000 (£1,599) today.

By the time the Ventura was discontinued in 1963, almost 12,000 had been sold and the watch had become established as an horological icon – helped in part by the fact that Elvis Presley had sported one two years earlier while playing the lead role of Chadwick Gates in the hit movie Blue Hawaii (the second of more than 150 cinematic appearances since made by Hamilton watches).

Hamilton was acquired by the forerunner of the Swatch Group in 1974 and, in 1988, it re-launched the Ventura as a gold-plated watch containing a then-popular quartz movement. The case material was changed to steel in 1999 and there was another re-launch in 2007 to mark the model's half-century.

A decade later and the Ventura has been given a further makeover to coincide with its own 60th anniversary. The new line-up comprises the Elvis80 automatic in a black PVD finish at £1,190; a polished-steel skeletonised version (£1,495) and an entry-level quartz model (£890). There's also a 'non Elvis' extra-large automatic (£1,060) and even a quartz-powered chronograph (£695).

The two models that are most faithful to the original, however, are a small, steel automatic with an open worked dial (£760) and, perhaps best of all, a yellow-gold PVD coated model that not only looks most like the 1957 piece but, at £750, is also the second least expensive in the new range. Not bad for a watch that will take you so effortlessly back to the future – although that's one film that a Hamilton didn't appear in.

SIMON DE BURTON writes about horology for Esquire and How to Spend it; hamiltonwatch.com

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