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About Electric Watches

Tradition meets the Space Age.

1957 Hamilton Ventura

Despite the allure and charm of mechanical and automatic watches, they still need to constantly be wound or worn in order to maintain the correct time. To overcome this limitation, electric watches use a battery as a source of power instead of a mainspring.


The "space age" electric watch was invented by the Hamilton Watch Company in 1957. In an electric watch, the balance wheel is kept oscillating by an electromagnet which gives the wheel a tiny impulse during each cycle. Early electric watches used a set of contacts to turn the electromagnet on and off. Later "electronic" watches use a transitor and electromagnetic sensing to turn the electromagnet on and off without ever touching the balance wheel thereby eliminating the problem of the contacts wearing out. Electric or electronic watches typically run for a year or more before the batteries need to be replaced.


Even though they are electrically powered, electric watches still use a balance wheel to regulate the time rather than a quartz crystal and so they are no more accurate than mechanical or automatic watches.

Claims to Fame

Elvis and his Hamilton Ventura electric watch

The electric watches released by the Hamilton Watch Company in the 1950s were a breakthrough in both technology and styling. They had asymmetrical cases and space age names like "Meteor", "Altair", and "Vega". The most popular model, the "Ventura", was made famous by Elvis Presley in the 1961 movie "Blue Hawaii". Hamilton re-released the Elvis watch in 2010 - but with a quartz movement. :-( Will Smith wears this watch in the 1997 movie "Men in Black".


Electric watches were a transitional technology bridging the gap between mechanical watches and the quartz era. Their lasting appeal is due not to the technology used in the movement, but rather to the space age styling which recounts a fresh and hopeful period in time.