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    

Excellent Vintage 1978 Hamilton Gg-w-113 Military Mechanical Watch - Cal. 649Vintage Hamilton Khaki Automatic Wrist Watch, Black Dial, Ref H705850Vintage Hamilton Super Compressor Mens Automatic Steel Divers Watch Parts RepairHamilton Khaki Automatic 25 Jewels Men's Watch (great Condition) Serviced1981 Hamilton 17 Jewel 649 Men's Military Wrist Watch Runs Hack Set Gg-w-113 VgMen's Vintage Working Hamilton Chronograph Wrist Watch Automatic NiceClean Vintage 1960's Men's Hamilton Swiss 10k Roll Gold Plated Watch RunsVintage Military Hamilton WatchVintage Hamilton Military Mechanical Watch 33mm1960s Vintage Hamilton Masterpiece Men's Wristwatch, 22 Jewels, Caliber 770Hamilton Khaki Automatic 25 Jewels Men's Watch (great Condition) ServicedVintage Hamilton Cape Horn 600 Dive Watch Automatic SwissGent's Illinois Watch Co. "major" Model 17 Jewel White Gold Filled WristwatchJob Lot,omega Seamaster,caravelle Auto,divers,hamilton,bulova Nurses. Parts OnlyHamilton Jazzmaster Automatic Men's Watch1960s 10k Gold Filled Hamilton Automatic Gentleman's Calendar Wristwatch-tickingUltra-rare (25yr Award) 1962 Hamilton (masterpiece) 10k Gf Vintage Mens Watch1970 Hamilton Super-compressor 1000ft 300m Dual Crown Red Scale Underwater WatchVintage 14k Gold Hamilton Thin-o-matic Date Art Deco Dial Mechnical Wrist Watch1960 Vintage Hamilton "ansley" Mens Wristwatch, 22 Jewels, Grade 770 - ExcellentLadies 14k Solid White Gold & Diamond Hamilton Art Deco 17j Wrist WatchVintage Pulsar Led Watch Module Old Original 1970s Working Fits Hamilton Omega Vintage Hamilton Gold Automatic Men's Watch Condition & Runs! 10k Gold Filled.Hamilton Khaki AutomaticHamilton Electric Converta Iii Vintage 500a 1960's Men's Watch Near MintHamilton Mens Khaki X Wind Watch H77616533,card,booklet,box. No Reserve!Hamilton Watch Co 992 Model 16 Size 21 Jewels Usa Pocket Watch Movement - 1904Vinatge Hamilton Sea Guard Mens 17j Wind Up Wrist Watch Runs NiceMen's Vintage Hamilton,s/s,automatic,17j,689a Mvnt.....runningJob Lot,omega Deville,caravelle 666 Ft,jump Hr,auto Moon Dial,hamilton.for PartsHamilton Watch Co Men's 910 Model 12 Size 17 Jewels Usa Pocket Watch MovementHamilton Ventura Mens Watch Automatic BlackHamilton Jazzmaster Auto Chrono Men's Watch H32616553Hamilton Military WatchVinatge Hamilton Helbros Bulova Elgin Waltham Benrus Watch Lot Parts Or RepairVintage Men's Hamilton Watch Mens Mint 1955 Hamilton 18j Usa Vintage Storm King Iv 748 Caliber 10k Ygf WatchHamilton Khaki Field AutomaticHuge Lot Of 66 Vintage Watches, All Mechanical - Benrus, Bulova, Hamilton, Etc. Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic Men's Swiss Watch. Lots Of Extra Bands! H6855133Vintage Mens Hamilton Automatic Fontainebleau Wristwatch Watch Parts RepairHamilton Vintage 14k Solid White Gold 10 Diamond Accent Watch Ladies WristwatchHamilton Khaki Pilot Automatic | 38mm | H64425535 | Black Dial + Brown BandHamilton Men's Khaki Navy Pioneer Swiss Watch. Extra Straps! H78465553Vintage Mens Hamilton Led Digital Wrist Watch 10k Gf WorkingVintage Men's Hamilton 17 Jewel Self Winding Automatic Wristwatch 646 MovementHamilton Khaki Field Black Dial Automatic Men Military Watch 25 Jewels Serviced.Hamilton Thinomatic 10k Gold Filled Sweep Second Hand Running Wrist WatchIllinois Bunn Special Graceful Art-deco Watch Aged 1917 Branded Movement 21jIllinois Watch Co Springfield Men's 16 Size 17 Jewels Usa Pocket Watch MovementHamilton Pulsar P2 Date Ii 3230 Stainless Steel Led Watch W/ Magnet As Is/repairVintage Stainless Steel Hamilton Electric Cal 500 Wrist Watch Converta Iv RrAwesome 1949 Hamilton 19 Jewels Kirby 14k Yellow Gold Filled Rectangle- Runs!!Vintage Ladies 14k Gold Lady Hamilton 3/4 Cttw Diamond Manual Wind Wrist WatchVintage 3/0s Illinois 17j Wrist Watch No Band Runs Parts Repair T-289Hamilton Wrist WatchHamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Automatic Black Dial H78415733Vintage Hamilton Gold Manual Men's Watch Condition & Runs Bezel 10k Gold Filled.Vintage Hamilton Piping Rock Mens 14k Gold Wristwatch 747m 17 Jewels Gf Band14k Gold Hamilton Diamond Dial Cal 982 Manual Wind Hooded Lugs Wrist Watch