The funny thing about memories is how malleable they can be. As time passes, details expand, disappear, shift, congeal, until the way we remember something — individually or collectively — may no longer be exactly the way it happened.
The Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic is an example of this for me personally. And, as I was researching to prepare to write this review, I found that it also an example of collective memory shifting.
If you had asked me three weeks ago how I came to add the Jazzmaster to my collection, I probably would have answered along the lines of “it was the Swiss watch that I always had targeted as the one I had to have, as far back as I can remember.” In going back and trying to retrace my steps via purchases and searches, however, my better guess now is that, as with the Orient Mako and the Vostok Amphibia (the first “real” automatics I ever bought), my desire for the Jazzmaster Viewmatic was heavily influenced by the time I spent on men’s style blogs and forums in the early 2010’s. It was frequently the “first Swiss watch” recommendation in men’s style land — and with good reason.
The same reason the Viewmatic was so often recommended was the reason I bought it and the reason why it will probably always be in my collection: it’s just difficult to find a better value watch (at least in its price range) offering the level of attention to detail that Hamilton Jazzmaster Auto does in the Viewmatic. Two specific examples of this level of detail are the incorporation of the “H” motif in both the links of the bracelet and in the guilloche in the center of the dial. Guilloche itself at this price point isn’t common, nor is such customized bracelet design. The applied indices and numerals, the smooth silver track the indices are set on, and even the double-bordered date window are also elements that add to the finely-finished feel of the watch.
I was able to pick up my Jazzmaster Viewmatic for a great deal on eBay (seller listed it only as a “Viewmatic” instead of including the more popular “Jazzmaster”). Its scratches and little dings show the use that the previous owner and myself have put on it, and if I were forced to reduce my current collection to a single watch, it would be close between this and my Tudor BB36. On bracelet the Viewmaster is very versatile; a perlon makes it a bit more casual, while a leather croc-print dresses it up a bit more. I’ve worn this watch with a suit for dressy occasions and with shorts to a summertime barbeque. It’s certainly not a tool watch, but for everything from smart casual to business suits it works nicely.
My dive back into my personal history with this watch raised my curiosity regarding the overall history of the watch. My sense of the watch had been that it had just “always” been around — if you had asked me for a specific decade, I probably would have guessed the Jazzmaster line was introduced in the 1970’s or 1980’s. But is that the case?
It’s fairly difficult to find information regarding the history of the Jazzmaster from Hamilton Jazzmaster Auto itself, at least online. I suspect this may be because one of the Swatch Group’s strengths is creating and telling the stories it wants behind its watches, and Hamilton in particular is good at creating “stories” of its watches that are vague but convey a sense of just “always having been there” (see their “American Classic” and “Timeless Classic” taglines) — an advantage for a brand that has gone from an American company leading the watch industry to an entry-to-mid-level brand of a Swiss conglomerate.
As best as I can determine, from forum mentions and old media mentions, the Jazzmaster line was actually introduced in the mid-2000’s. The earliest buyer reviews I found were from late 2005. But here’s where things get more interesting.
Look familiar? That’s the Linwood Viewmatic, which appears to be the immediate predecessor to the Jazzmaster Viewmatic. It appears that in the mid-2000’s, Hamilton made a few design tweaks to the Viewmatic and then possibly used it to launch the Jazzmaster line. (This TimeZone post on the difference between the “similar” Linwood and Jazzmaster models appears to confirm the rough timeline, at least: as of February 2007, “Linwood is an older model; Jazzmaster 2-3 years old,” and “I think that jazzmaster replaced the linwood.”)
When and where did the Linwood first appear? We can find references to use of the Linwood Viewmatic in movies as far back as 1998 (in Lethal Weapon 4). However, the Linwood story goes back even further.
According to Tom Adelstein’s great site Vintage-Hamilton-Wristwatches (which was very helpful in researching this topic), the Linwood name was one that Hamilton used for models going back to 1938. However, in the mid-1990’s, Swatch Group’s Hamilton used a newly-designed Linwood to re-launch itself as a global, Swiss-designed brand. Please go take a look at Adelstein’s full post and the photos of that Linwood that he has. While the design has differences, many of the cues from today’s Jazzmaster Viewmatic are already present: the way the lugs join the case, the guilloche center of the dial, the silver index track, and the “Hamilton” nameplate are all there.
[Another interesting tidbit I learned from Adelstein’s site: prior to the mid-1990’s brand re-launch, Hamilton was issuing a number of “Registered Edition” models, which involved using the original manufacturing casts of old Hamilton models to make new watches. Hamilton was way out in front of the current “heritage” model craze, it seems.]
One thing I was still curious about, in my search for the headwaters of the modern Jazzmaster Viewmatic: were any of the design cues taken from Hamilton’s back catalog in any substantial way? To be sure, the Jazzmaster Viewmatic is unmistakably a modern watch design (thanks to its size and the shape of its crown guards, among other factors) and various aspects of the design (dauphine hands, guilloche, teardrop/dart/dagger indices, 12-6-9 numerals, seconds track) have been used in plenty of watches by various brands, but I was curious whether there were any specific vintage Hamilton models that carried several of these cues together in a recognizable way.
So I headed on over to another great vintage Hamilton site, “HandyDan” Keefe’s HamiltonChronicles.com, and spent a while browsing around the hundreds of examples of vintage Hamilton watches there to try to identify any models that foreshadowed the Viewmatic. It appears the strongest resemblance belongs to watches in the “Automatic K” line of the mid-1950’s through early 1960’s. The closest is probably this 1954 Automatic K-400 cld (the advertisement illustration looks like it could be for an early Viewmatic), followed by a 1955 K-501. The 1960 Thinline 5000 shows some similarities, and this 1955 K-375 seems to share one of the most interesting little details of the Jazzmaster Viewmatic: the uneven “12” where the “1” is positioned slightly higher than the “2.”
Short of confirmation from Hamilton Jazzmaster Auto designers from the mid-1990’s, we’ll probably never know for sure whether they specifically looked to Hamilton’s back-catalogue in updating Hamilton’s design language for the brand’s re-launch with the Viewmatic, but it’s clear that the elements used could be found in Hamilton’s DNA back into the 1950’s.
One last story from my research that speaks to Hamilton’s/Swatch Group’s ability to create the stories behind their watches — even to the extent of rewriting history. In the course of researching, I came across this 2008 forum post that referred to the Linwood Viewmatic and said “This staple of the Hamilton vintage line-up was reputedly worn by President John F. Kennedy.” Given what I’d already discovered about the origin and dating of the Viewmatic, this sounded strange. So I started searching for information about this claim. I found another forum post that repeated the claim (along with a 2006 quote from the head of product management at Hamilton at the time), with some skepticism expressed given the dating of the Viewmatic. I also found the following reference in a French travel guide to California by Le Routard:
Now we have two impressive, if somewhat doubtful, claims. The first, that a majority of American actors have worn Hamilton watches. (While Hamilton’s Hollywood marketing efforts are impressive, a majority of actors is, uh, a lot.) The second is again the Kennedy Linwood Viewmatic claim. Where did this claim that Kennedy wore a watch in 1963 that wouldn’t be designed for three decades originate?
Well, I think I found the likely source. Apparently, a 1999 French film called Kennedy et Moi involved a main character who becomes obsessed with the possibility that his psychiatrist’s wristwatch – a (you guessed it) Linwood Viewmatic – was worn by Kennedy the day of his assassination. Like a game of telephone, Hamilton’s product placement in this film has now led to the assertion that the Viewmatic was worn by Kennedy.
(For the record, there are a number of articles on JFK’s actual watches to be read. The consensus seems to be that he was wearing a Cartier the day of his assassination, although there is disagreement in the articles I found as to whether it was a tank or a round Cartier.)