Hamilton is perhaps best known to modern collectors for their historically significant tool watches: robust field watches issued to the U.S. military from the Vietnam War to the 1980s, bulky precision chronographs, or divers in EPSA SuperCompressor cases. But during the Golden Age of American watchmaking, Hamilton was master of all trades, from railroad timers to dress watches fit for kings. Their catalogs from the 1930s and 1940s were filled with elegant and innovative watches that have all but faded to obscurity.
The Otis--or Otis "Reverso"--is one such watch. Seeking to capitalize on Alfred Chauvot's innovative reversible case design, Hamilton produced the Otis in 1938. The Hamilton Otis used Chauvot's case designs, either in solid gold or gold-filled, with black or white dials and bold Breguet style numerals.
Hamilton had this to say about the Otis in their catalogs from the era:
"Exclusively Hamilton, this smartly designed strap watch ingeniously fulfills its double duty in a practical foolproof manner. Slight pressure from the side, a flip of the finger - and the watch locks firmly into reversed position."
However, "exclusively Hamilton" was not entirely the truth. In fact, the design of the Otis infringed upon another watch manufactured by a Swiss company: Jaeger-LeCoultre, that is, who was also manufacturing their Reverso under Chauvot's patent. As you'd expect, Hamilton and JLC soon found themselves embroiled in a lawsuit.
Ultimately, after three years in court, JLC won out. Due to the terms of the lawsuit, Hamilton could only produce the Otis using movements made by Tavannes, Movado, or JLC themselves. Faced with the choice to either use another brand's movements or cease production altogether, Hamilton pulled the Otis from their catalogs in 1940.
Surviving examples are rare, which makes this one all the more desirable. It's a true survivor, with a strong case devoid of pitting or custom engraving, and a beautifully patinated original dial. The infamous case--14k gold filled in this example--is in excellent condition, with its reversing design functioning perfectly. Practical, foolproof, and stunning, it was the American answer to the Reverso, and deserves to be remembered and loved by another generation of watch collectors. Don't miss it!
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