March 12 | WatchNews
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Hamilton Celebrates 100 Years of Timing the Skies—with a Little Help from Their Friends

- By Keith Lehman (PA) 3/12/18

More than 100 guests attended Hamilton and Hodinkee's 100 Years of Timing the Skies Celebration
More than 100 guests attended Hamilton and Hodinkee's 100 Years of Timing the Skies Celebration. Photo by Keith Lehman.

On March 1, 2018, at the NoMo SoHo Kitchen in New York City, Hamilton Watch Co. and HODINKEE commemorated the first American airmail service from Washington, D.C. to New York. The National Watch & Clock Museum, the official historian of Hamilton, also attended the event and contributed to the evening’s mise-en-scène with Hamilton timepieces and artifacts from the Museum’s collection in Columbia, PA.

In 1918 the Hamilton Watch Co. was a fledgling, American-owned company, already respected for their railroad-grade watches. Because they were chosen to be the official timekeepers of the historic flight, Hamilton Secretary Frank C. Beckwit was present at the opening ceremony. Also present were President Woodrow Wilson, Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.1 All U.S. Air Mail pilots were outfitted with Hamilton watches. The pilot of the initial flight, George L. Boyle, was personally given his at the ceremony by Beckwit.

Presentation of wristwatch by Hamilton Secretary Frank C. Beckwit
Presentation of wristwatch by Hamilton Secretary Frank C. Beckwit. Courtesy of the National Watch & Clock Museum.

Only invitees who registered through HODINKEE could attend the celebration; the time and location of the event were not revealed publicly. The usual accoutrements of an evening celebration at a Soho hotel were present. What made this event truly unique were the more than dozen models from Hamilton’s Khaki Aviation Collection, a watchmaker and his bench with various Hamilton movements, and three aviation-themed showcases with pieces from the National Watch & Clock Museum, including the Hamilton pocket watch Admiral Byrd used on his first expedition to Antarctica.

Hamilton pocket watch which was used during Admiral Byrd's first expedition to Antarctica in 1928.
Hamilton pocket watch which was used during Admiral Byrd's first expedition to Antarctica in 1928. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Display case of Hamilton pocket watches used by Admiral Byrd during his expeditions
Display case of Hamilton pocket watches used by Admiral Byrd during his expeditions. Photo by Keith Lehman.

One of the best moments of the night happened just before the event began, when Museum Director Noel Poirier presented to Hamilton CEO Sylvain Dolla an actual Hamilton 985 wristwatch movement (from the Museum's collection) that a U.S. airmail serviceman would have received in 1918.

National Watch & Clock Museum Director Noel Poirier showing Hamilton CEO Sylvain Dolla an actual Hamilton 985 wristwatch movement that a U.S. airmail serviceman would have received in 1918.
National Watch & Clock Museum Director Noel Poirier showing Hamilton CEO Sylvain Dolla an actual Hamilton 985 wristwatch movement that a U.S. airmail serviceman would have received in 1918.
Hamilton 985 wristwatch movement that a U.S. airmail serviceman would have worn in flight.
Hamilton 985 wristwatch movement that a U.S. airmail serviceman would have worn in flight.
View of the Hamilton 985 movement
View of the Hamilton 985 movement. Photo by Keith Lehman.

As a proud Lancaster County native, this was an unforgettable night for me. The importance of the Hamilton Watch Co.’s contribution to American culture is undeniable. Their world-renowned railroad and aviation timepieces, innovative and fashionable wristwatches (many of which graced the silver screen), and war-winning contributions during World War II established Hamilton as a truly history-defining brand. The closing of the factory in the city of Lancaster, PA, in 1969 and the 1974 sale of the company to SSIH (which became Swatch Group in 1998) became part of the new dialog of the retreating American industry. I know many men and women who worked at Hamilton, and even today its loss is still palpable in Lancaster. But during a conversation with Sylvain Dolla about the impressive growth and world recognition the brand enjoys, he said, “We are proud of Hamilton.” Without hesitation I said, “We are, too!” It was then that I realized that my hometown Hamilton is in competent and global hands.

Hamilton and hotel staff frantically setting up for the event in the Nomo Soho Kitchen
Hamilton and hotel staff frantically setting up for the event in the Nomo Soho Kitchen. Photo by Keith Lehman.
A box full of Hamilton/Red Bull air plane models. Hamilton is the official timekeeper of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship
A box full of Hamilton/Red Bull air plane models. Hamilton is the official timekeeper of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Circa 1943 Hamilton Watch Co. navigation watch in carrying case from the collection of the National Watch & Clock Museum
Circa 1943 Hamilton Watch Co. navigation watch in carrying case from the collection of the National Watch & Clock Museum. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Circa 1940 Hamilton Watch Co. aircraft clock from the collection of the National Watch & Clock Museum
Circa 1940 Hamilton Watch Co. aircraft clock from the collection of the National Watch & Clock Museum. Photo by Noel Poirier.
Hamilton Watch Co. engine hour meter from the collection of the National Watch & Clock Museum
Hamilton Watch Co. engine hour meter from the collection of the National Watch & Clock Museum. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Hamilton Watch Co. engine hour meter from the collection of the National Watch & Clock Museum.
Hamilton Watch Co. engine hour meter from the collection of the National Watch & Clock Museum. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Circa 1973 Hamilton Watch Co. W10 British Army Watch from the collection of the Hamilton Museum, Switzerland
Circa 1973 Hamilton Watch Co. W10 British Army Watch from the collection of the Hamilton Museum, Switzerland. Photo by Keith Lehman.
W10 British Army Watch
W10 British Army Watch. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Celebration attendees enjoying an animated discussion with Hamilton watchmaker Jonas Stierli over his workbench
Celebration attendees enjoying an animated discussion with Hamilton watchmaker Jonas Stierli over his workbench. Photo by Keith Lehman.
The actual Khaki Aviation Pilot watch Matthew McConaughey wore in the move Interstellar
The actual Khaki Aviation Pilot watch Matthew McConaughey wore in the move Interstellar. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Hamilton chronographs from the Khaki Aviation collection
Hamilton chronographs from the Khaki Aviation collection. Photo by Keith Lehman.
More Hamilton watches from the Aviation collection
More Hamilton watches from the Aviation collection. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Hamilton watches from the Aviation collection
Hamilton watches from the Aviation collection. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Hamilton CEO Sylvain Dolla with HODINKEE editor Jack Forster speaking to celebration attendees
Hamilton CEO Sylvain Dolla with HODINKEE editor Jack Forster speaking to celebration attendees. Photo by Keith Lehman.
Cheers! Tom Wilcox, Executive Director of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors Inc., chatting with two attendees at the event
Cheers! Tom Wilcox, Executive Director of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors Inc., chatting with two attendees at the event. Photo by Keith Lehman.
National Watch & Clock Museum Director Noel Poirier conversing with Hamilton watchmaker Jonas Stierli at Stierli’s workbench
National Watch & Clock Museum Director Noel Poirier conversing with Hamilton watchmaker Jonas Stierli at Stierli’s workbench. Photo by Keith Lehman.

Notes

1. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. "Airmails of the United States." Accessed March 8, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airmails_of_the_United_States

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