American watch brands are steeped in history and Hollywood, says Simon de Burton
When talk turns to watches the inclination is to think Swiss, but Americans have an impressive horological history too. After all, it was the Waterbury Clock Company, of Connecticut, that brought the luxury of personalised timekeeping to the masses during the 1880s. It introduced the first inexpensive pocket watch and, under the management of Robert H Ingersoll, created the Yankee, also known as the dollar watch, which sold 40 million units.
Waterbury became known as the Timex Corporation in 1944, and the Ingersoll dial name was famously used on the Mickey Mouse watches made under licence from Disney.
Then there’s Bulova, the innovative New York brand; Waltham, another mass producer; Tiffany, the American jeweller that moved into watches; and the newest American manufacturer of all, Shinola, which takes its name from a defunct shoe polish firm and has been producing watches in Detroit since 2011.
But possibly the most famous US watch brand of all is Hamilton. Founded in 1892, it became the main watch supplier to the country’s fast-expanding railroad network before going on to produce military and marine timepieces.
Now owned by the Swatch Group – and therefore officially Swiss – Hamilton is still regarded as American because of the Hollywood movies in which its products have appeared since its cinematic debut in 1932’s Shanghai Express. Other star turns include Pearl Harbor, The Pink Panther, Superman, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii in 1961 in which the King wore the radical, shield-shaped Ventura.
In 2014, Hamilton supplied a special version of its Khaki Field model for use in Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain. McConaughey plays a NASA pilot called out of retirement to find a new planet that humanity can escape to. He gives his Hamilton to his daughter, Murphy (Chastain), and communicates with her from the “fifth dimension” through the watch.
Now Hamilton has produced a limited-edition replica of the so-called Murph watch with a special box based on the “tesseract” from which the pilot sends his message, and the word “Eureka” printed in Morse code on the seconds hand. Just don’t rely on it to contact the coastguard if you hit trouble on the water.