Vintage Hamilton and Illinois Watches

Founded in 1870, the Illinois Watch Company was primarily known for its pocket watches favored by American railroad workers. The Hamilton Watch Company arrived on the scene almost a quarter century later, but by 1900, more than half of all U.S. railroad conductors, engineers, and workers made sure their trains ran on time with the help of a Hamilton. In 1928, Illinois was purchased by Hamilton.

Illinois got into the wristwatch business like most other makers of pocket watches—by producing a wristwatch for women. That was in 1905. An Illinois wristwatch for men would not appear until 1921.

During the 1920s, most men’s Illinois wristwatches were sold to jewelers, who would put their own cases on them. Of the Illinois watches that were cased at the factory, models included the Square, Canby, Cushion, Champion, Special, and Atlantic.

The late 1920s were Illinois’s prime period. Instead of plain and generic names, these new models were called the Picadilly, Marquis, Ritz, New Yorker, Beau Royale, and the top-of-the-line 14-karat gold Consul, which some collectors consider the finest American wristwatch ever made. These were designed in high Art Deco, with silver pinstripe dials, tiny second hands, and cases of two-tone gold.

After the sale to Hamilton, Illinois watches from the 1930s embraced the Streamline Moderne design. Their names leaned to the preppy (Chesterfield, Wentworth, Andover, Rockliffe) and were almost identical to Hamilton watches of this era, which were named after famous explorers (Stanley, Livingstone, Byrd). These antique Hamiltons are quite collectible today precisely because their movements were made by Illinois.

Of course Hamilton has its own history of wristwatch making. It got into the field because of World War I, when it produced wristwatches for servicemen entering the military. In the 1920s it launched a line of modest, Art Deco masterpieces, with names that evoked the Americas—Piping Rock, Langley, Coronado, Spur. Many of these watches feature white-gold cases with enamel inlays.

In the 1936, Hamilton offered the twin-dial Seckron and in 1938, it introduced its own version of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, which Hamilton called the Otis. Other collectible antique Hamiltons from the 1930s include the Mount Vernon, Andres, and Oakmont...

The 1940s were largely devoted to making wristwatches for the U.S. military—one rectangular, twin-dial steel watch from this period was even known as the Bomb Timer. Then, in the 1950s, Hamilton proceeded to make a slew of conservatively styled watches named, seemingly, after archetypal American dads—Ryan, Craig, Grover, Brent, Carlton, and Alan, to name but a few.

For Hamilton, the 1950s were only in part about tradition. In 1957, it introduced the world’s first electric watches. Designed by Richard Arbib, whose previous credits had included the fins of both World War II bombs and 1950s automobiles, these new late 1950s-1960s watches had space-age, asymmetrical shapes, with equally space-age names like Ventura, Spectra, Altair, Polaris, and Gemini.

By 1971, Hamilton had embraced the electric revolution so completely that its Pulsar would have no moving parts at all, but that would be the last gasp for the once-proud American watch maker, which was sold that year to the company that is today known as the Swatch Group.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

American Watch Company Web

American Watch Company Web

Tom McIntyre’s reference site on antique watches, especially those made by the American Watch Company (later know… [read review or visit site]

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Hamilton Jazzmaster Automatic Chronograph H326560 For ManHamilton Military "khaki" Field Automatic - Big Size 42 Mm Out Crown Swiss WatchVintage Hamilton 1979 Military M-w-46374b Men's Watch, Radiation SymbolHamilton Khaki Field Automatic - 42mm Military Watch, Lumi Hands And MarkersSuper Cool Cold War Era Vintage Hamilton Men's Military H3 WristwatchHamilton Khaki Field Blue Automatic Military Men's Watch (great Condition)Vintage Hamilton Electric Mens Watch( Pacer) 505 Movement Men's Vintage Mechanical Wrist Watch Lot For Repair Or Parts Hamilton Wyler 660Mens Historic Wwii - Era 1948 Hamilton Watch Co. - Usa Vintage Watch Calibre 921Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic 25 Jewels Swiss Mens WatchVintage 1981 Hamilton Military Watch Working And In Excellent ConditionVintage Hamilton Automatic Micro-rotor Cal. 668 17 Jewels Swiss Ens Watch 1955 Vintage Hamilton Usa "murray" 747 17j Large Dress Watch Men 10k GfHamilton Military "khaki" Field Automatic - Big Size 42 Mm Out Crown Swiss WatchMens 1970 Hamilton 14k Solid Gold 17j Masterpiece Original Watch, Boxes & PapersHamilton Jazzmaster Traveler Gmt Automatic H325850 S.s For ManVintage Hamilton Khaki 17 Jewel Manual Wind Military Men's Watch 649 HackingVintage 1979 Hamilton H3 Mil-w-46374b Military Style Manual Wing Wrist WatchRare Vintage Ww2 G.i Issue Hamilton Military Men's WristwatchVintage Hamilton Usa Military Wwii Watch Cal. 987a - Very CleanMen's Excellent 1941 Mint Dial Hamilton Endicott 10k Yellow Gf Sub Seconds WatchHamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Mens Watch H646110Vintage 1952 Hamilton 10k Gold Men's Brockton 19 Jewel Cal, 754 Watch RunsMens Mid Century Hamilton Adrian 753 10k Gf 19j Mechanical Wristwatch,runsVintage Windup Automatic Watch Parts Lot, Benrus Helbros Hamilton Elgin Wyler$16,800 Exquisite Platinum 1930 Lady Hamilton 4.50ct Mq/rd Diamond Mop Face $99Hamilton Khaki King Scuba Black Dial Gmt Automatic Mens Watch H64515133Hamilton Khaki Field Day/date Auto H70505833Hamilton Mens Gold Ventura Watch Vintage Mens Hamilton Yorktown 980 Tonneau Wrist Watch - Mint Dial - 14k Gold FHamilton H32565555 Jazzmaster Open Heart Brown Strap For ManVery Rare Men's Hamilton Electric Cal 505 Railroad Special No ReserveLot 13 Vintage Gold Fd Antique Art Deco Hamilton Diamond Longines Gruen Watch S Ladies Platinum/palladum 1920s Diamond Hamilton Wrist Watch 19.7 Gr 1.50ctsHamilton Vintage Automatic S.steel C. 1970 *excellent Condition!* Vintage 1960's 14k Solid Gold Hamilton Automatic Watch Cal 666 Fdny EngravingWw2 Hamilton Military Watch Usn Buships With Nos Military CaseIllinois Vintage Wgf Seconds @ Nine 19j Gents Vintage Wrist Watch No ReserveNos~vtg Hamilton Thinline 14k Solid Gold Mens Wristwatch~repairman's Estate~1968Lot Of 3 Mens Vintage Watches For Repairs/parts Hamilton 646, 688 & WalthamHamilton Automatic Day Date Gold Plate Mens Watch Orange Black Vtg 826.002-4 GfTsovet Svt-cn38 Cn110111-40 Leather Band Watch Nixon Hamilton VestalHamilton Khaki Field H705450Neat 1935 Hamilton 17j Drake Stepped Art Deco Rectangle 10k Ygf Runs- Ufix!!Hamilton Date Goldplated Automatic Mens WatchHandsome 1940 Hamilton Men's Wrist Watch With Big Swing Lugs, Peaked CrystalHamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Automatic Men's Watch H325150Authentic Hamilton H326160 Mens Jazzmaster Automatic Chronograph Black WatchLadies Art Deco Platinum & 14 Kt Hamilton Watch Mens Vtg Hamilton Gold Rgp Filled Jb Expansion Band .02 Cents No RsvVintage Hamilton Brandon 980 Mens Wrist Watch - Mint Dial - 10k Gold FVintage Hamilton 10k Yellow Gold Automatic Thin-o-matic Watch Circa 1960's Vintage Illinois Mans Wristwatch Swing Open Star Case 15 JewelsVintage Hamilton Automatic Model 666 17j Mens Watch Circa 1960sHamilton Men’s Khaki Field Wristwatch- H684210 Swiss Made- Sapphire CrystalVintage 14k Yellow Gold Hamilton Wristwatch Caliber 637 17 JewelsHamilton King Khaki H644550Vintage Hamilton 17 Jewel 694 A, Automatic Mens Wrist Watch. Works!!!Hamilton Chronomatic Chronograph Hamilton Khaki Gmt Automatic Watch

Recent News: Hamilton and Illinois Wristwatches

Source: Google News

Music inspired watches, July 4th

To celebrate what would have been Presley's 80th birthday, Hamilton has released the Ventura Elvis in cool rock'n'roll black brightened with flashes of orange – a comeback special of which the King would surely have approved. £1,140, Hamilton Watch...Read more

Whoa! Watch this eight month pregnant lady dancing with daughter!
Daily Bhaskar (press release) (blog), July 1st

International Desk: While eight months pregnant, this mom had an epic living room dance with her daughter and the video is getting viral. In just four days, the video is seen by more than 2 crores 25 lakh people. In the video, Nikki Talor, from...Read more

What Joseph Schooling & I have in common
AsiaOne, June 29th

At 40, I didn't get a promotion but received a Hamilton watch instead from the SAF and was told to go away. I was finally done with NS. Although I'm relieved to no longer have to pass my IPPT, I sometimes miss those days because they represent a bygone...Read more

Biking part of Elgin's long history
Chicago Tribune, June 26th

The Elgin Cycle Co. was related to the Illinois Watch Case Co. on Dundee Avenue. The C.H. Woodruff Co. later evolved into the Woodruff & Edwards iron foundry, in what is now Foundry Park on North State Street. The Elgin Sewing Machine & Bicycle Co...Read more

Rangers' revamped lineup backs Gallardo in win over Dodgers
Fort Worth Star Telegram, June 15th

Yovani Gallardo allowed only four singles in seven scoreless innings Monday night against the Dodgers. | LM Otero AP. The Dodgers' Jimmy Rollins is caught stealing second base by Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. | LM Otero AP. By Jeff Wilson...Read more

FDR's D-Day prayer is one for the ages
LancasterOnline, June 5th

Lancaster countians awoke at 5 a.m. to whistles from the Hamilton Watch Co. and Armstrong Cork Co. announcing the invasion. In keeping with prearranged plans, many residents went to their churches. At Franklin & Marshall College, naval trainees...Read more

Illini, Terps show Big Ten rise no fluke
Lincoln Journal Star, June 4th

Watch Illinois. Watch Maryland. The Illini and Terrapins play excellent baseball. You see players with speed. Players with power. Players with a knack for the game. You see position players make difficult defensive plays look easy. You see excellent...Read more

Hamilton Watch Plays Pivotal Role In Oscar Contender 'Interstellar'
Forbes, November 27th

I am the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Beyond that, I contribute my horological expertise to a variety of magazines, websites and publications all over the world. With more than two decades' experience covering the watch industry...Read more