Unwind in Time is the recognized world-leader in the sales and service of historic Hamilton Electric watches and other watches from the cutting edge of Mid-Century design. Jarett Harkness, the founder of UWIT, had always been fascinated by the physics and mechanics of objects in motion — as a young adult he could be found tinkering with bicycles, cars and motorcycles. But it wasn’t until he stumbled upon a Mid-Century Hamilton Electric Pacer that his focus turned to a much smaller machine — Hamilton Watch Company’s groundbreaking first battery-operated watch movement.
By the 1950s, Hamilton was already well-established as an iconic American watch company with a long and storied history. Their stable of legendary, classic watches from the 1920s/30s deco era — Piping Rock, Coronado and Spur among them — was unrivaled. But their crowning and triumphant engineering achievement would be their development of a line of electric watches in the 1950s.
Prior to the 1950s, wristwatches relied on a hand wound mainspring to power movements. But a rush of post-war technological advances lead to a breakthrough in battery design and size, and for the first time, a battery could be small enough to fit inside a watch case. Hamilton was the first to release to the public a watch that harnessed that little cell to power a movement, and in 1957 they launched the world’s first battery-powered watch. Although the electric movement’s operation was still largely mechanical — the battery replaced the mainspring for power, but the movement still maintained a balance wheel — it was the significant first step toward what would become the modern quartz revolution, and established Hamilton as a true pioneer in the evolution of watches.
Innovative Case Designs
Post-war America in the 1950s was a hotbed of new technologies and innovations. This was the atomic age and the era of the first space satellites — there was an exuberance for power and speed, for race cars, rockets, and futuristic fantasy. Hamilton’s leadership understood that the cases housing their new revolutionary movement should be as modern and riveting as the times, and so they wisely brought in noted independent designer Richard Arbib to design the housings for their very first series of Electric watches.
Arbib was the quintessential 1950s “man about town”, complete with a Mad Man style and famous pin-up girlfriend, 1950s pin-up queen Bettie Page. Arbib had worked as an armaments specialist for Republic Aviation, and his design inspirations drew from his experience with military aviation and his fascination with the emerging space race. At the time Hamilton hired Arbib, he was best known for his radical, futuristic automotive concepts — he is one of the designers credited with bringing “rocket” or “tail fin” styling to the cars of the 1950s and 60s. His “Astra-Gnome”, a wild, streamlined, futuristic concept of what cars in the year 2000 would look like, is a legend still among automotive enthusiasts.
The choice of Arbib would prove to be a critical factor in the success of the Hamilton Electric and his contribution to the enduring popularity of the watches cannot be overstated. His smashing inaugural design for the first electric, the Ventura, was the culmination of his influences and seems to have it all: fins, streamlining and an impression of rocketry and flight. Although the striking asymmetric case was shocking for its day, the Ventura proved a triumph. It was an attention-grabber that signaled that the wearer, including Elvis Presley and Rod Serling, was a proud “early adopter” of the new futuristic watch technology. It’s telling that the Ventura was so modern and futuristic in 1957, that it is still a relevant design today, and remains a perennial bestseller for Hamilton, albeit in quartz form.
Arbib’s Hamilton Electric designs hardly ended with the Ventura. Below is a gallery of watches attributed to him.
Arbib went on to design several additional space age-influenced electric watches for Hamilton. Even after his contract with Hamilton ended, his design influence there was still felt into the 1960s, and extended to some of Hamilton’s mechanical watches as well, most notably with the Flight 1, with its futuristic boomerang motif, and the K-475, arguably the most radical and non-conventional design.
The Next Wave: Accutron
With the battery size breakthrough of the 1950s, advances in electromechanical watch movements were coming at a rapid pace, and in 1960 Bulova introduced their first Accutron ( the name is an amalgam of “Accuracy through Electronics”). This 214 movement was even more of a departure from traditional movements than the Hamilton Electric — it used the vibrations of a tuning fork for regulation, eliminating the need for a balance wheel. Bulova guaranteed the accuracy of the Accutron to be within one minute per month, which a was quite a leap from any watch that had come before it.
As with Hamilton, Bulova was influenced by the aesthetics and innovations of the space age and developed futuristic case designs for their new line of watches.
Their legendary Spaceview went one radical step further — with no dial covering the movement, the wearer could see the actual workings of the new technology that was on their wrist.
Bulova upgraded to a slimmer 218 movement in 1965, and Accutrons remained in production until 1977. In addition to the Spaceview, models remaining popular for collectors today include the Astronaut, and Deep Sea 666, among others.
Other Early Electromechanicals
Other Unwind In Time Favorites
Unwind In Time: A Focus On Unconventional Style
Want to add a legend to your collection? Unwind In Time has the world’s most extensive selection of electromechanical watches for sale. In addition, they also feature premium examples of conventional mechanical watches with unconventional style. Unwind In Time sources only prime examples of scarce and coveted watches and restores them to near-original condition, often using an exclusive supply of NOS factory parts. All the watches and restorations are backed by a 6-month warranty. Head on over to unwindintime.com and explore!
Unwind In Time Service
Have a Hamilton or other electric/electromechanical watch that needs care and attention? Unwind In Time’s Jarett Harkness is the world leader in the service of Hamilton Electrics and an expert on other electromechanical movements as well. He apprenticed with official Hamilton Historian Rene Rondeau, who himself apprenticed with one of the developers of the original Hamilton Electric, so there is a direct line of knowledge and skill that goes back to the very beginning. Unwind In Time even has an exclusive cache of NOS watch parts for Hamilton Electric, Bulova Accutron, and other electromechanical watches, uniquely enabling Jarett to restore a watch to as close to factory-original as possible. Every watch and service is backed by a 6-month, no hassle guarantee.
Hamilton photos courtesy Ty Rulli