In partnership with Hamilton

From Elvis to “Men In Black,” the Story of the Hamilton Ventura

Some watches are important for their technical innovation. Over the years, different movement technologies have made their way onto our wrists with varying degrees of commercial and timekeeping success, but they all tell a story that’s critical to understanding watches from a historical perspective. Other watches are important and remembered for the way they put a stamp on our collective memories of popular culture. For enthusiasts and casual watch fans alike, the timepieces worn by our favorite movie stars and musicians often left an indelible impression. It’s exceedingly rare for a watch to come along that is as hugely important on its technical merits as it is a cherished piece of Americana, but the Hamilton Ventura fits the bill. With its novel electric movement, and ties to the King of Rock and Roll, it holds a special place in watch history, and continues to excite watch fans today.

The Ventura was introduced by Hamilton at a New York press conference in January of 1957. The distinctive boomerang shape was the brainchild of designer Richard Arbib, who had made a name for himself as a designer of cars earlier in the decade and (no joke) artillery for the US military during World War II. “He admitted in later years the Ventura was based on a bomb design,” says noted Hamilton historian and Unwind In Time proprietor, Jarett Harkness.

A vintage Hamilton Ventura in a white gold case (image courtesy of Unwind In Time).

The 1950s were a time of great optimism in America. The war was over, and Americans were focused on the future. Many household items and personal objects were designed with this type of forward thinking in mind, and, according to Harkness, the Ventura and other Arbib-designed watches seemed to deliberately capture this mood and aesthetic. The iconic shape of the Ventura is unlike anything else before or since, and the historic movement and case design would have been enough to save a place for the watch in horological history.

The year of 1961 saw the release of Blue Hawaii, a breezy musical starring Elvis Presley, who at the time was among the most famous men in the world. Throughout the film, he can be seen wearing a white gold Hamilton Ventura, tying the watch forever to a major box office hit.

Elvis Presley on the set of Blue Hawaii.

“I’m not sure how Elvis Presley’s White Gold Ventura got onto Blue Hawaii, but I imagine it was just because Elvis was fascinated with the watch, and owned one, and it looked good for the movie,” says Harkness. In fact, Presley owned many Venturas through the years, and was known to give them as gifts.

Elvis wasn’t the only star of his day to wear the Ventura publicly. “Rod Serling of the Twilight Zone owned a Ventura and could be seen wearing it on episodes of the TV series as well,” Harkness tells us. It seems particularly fitting that Serling, a true television pioneer and one of the great innovators of his time, would choose a watch that beat so strongly against the current.

Tessa Thompson as Agent M in this year’s Men in Black: International.

The Ventura’s prevalence in our cultural landscape continues today in the Men in Black films. Going back to 1997, the Ventura has been featured in all four MiB installments, and is the official timepiece of Men in Black agents all over the world. Worn by Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and, most recently, Tessa Thompson’s Agent M in Men in Black: International, it’s as much a part of the wardrobe as the iconic black suit and wraparound sunglasses.

The Ventura remains a core part of Hamilton’s catalog today.

Today’s Ventura is a fitting homage to the original. No longer purely electric in nature, it’s powered by a high quality quartz movement, the battery powered timekeeping technology that eventually sprang from Hamilton’s experiments with electric watches. The iconic boomerang shape remains, and even though the design is 60 years old, it still makes one think of the future. While there have been a variety of Ventura variants over the years, including references in precious metals, and including various complications, the key model, and the one chosen by Agent M in Men in Black: International, remains the stainless steel version with a black dial and a black leather strap. You can check that model out here.

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