I'm not aware of any deliberate attempts to fake the Ventura. Hamilton made a number of Ventura reissues so you will want to avoid those. They do tend to be less expensive so if you want one of those, you have to be careful which reissue you select. Some are better constructed than others.
The originals will have a 14k gold case. Look for the S&W logo on the case and the full "Hamilton Watch Co. Lancaster PA" on the inside case back. It should come with the Electric 500 or 505 movement. They require specialized service so it is best if you find one that is running. Even when you buy a running example, if you don't have a service history it is still best to have it properly serviced. There is still at least one expert out there who can repair the old Electric movements.
There are extremely rare 18k models, diamond models and 14k rose gold models but I doubt you will stumble upon one of those.
I've seen some suspect modern venturas and any number of Frankenstein vintages (with modified dials, pacer/ventura hybrids, etc.) but a little research and you shouldn't have too much trouble avoiding either.
I am curious, though? Why a vintage? The electrics can be more than a little problematic, and I've been much happier with a modern/quartz ventura than with that particular headache.
Interesting question. I like the though of a watch having a history. I love thinking about what a vintage (whatever, watch, car, etc.) might have seen and been a part of. It also seems more authentic to me. Your point about a modern production one being more reliable is well taken though, and something for me to think about. I'm also a gun guy, and really would be much happier shooting an authentic modern repro of just about any firearm originally made before about 1880. Steel back then was alarmingly hit or miss in quality, and I do so value my hands....
I can very much appreciate that -- and I own a few vintage Hamilton pieces (including a later "electronic" model, which is distinct from the electrics, and a lot less hassle).
For my Ventura, though, I decided to view the quartz (the only non-digital quartz in my collection) as the natural evolution of the electrics, with the history that comes from the design and Hamilton name (regardless of the transformation of the company over the years). Not worrying about keeping an electric running was a big consideration. Additionally, there really aren't any deals to be found on vintage Venturas -- as the quintessential electric design they are just far too popular. At a couple hundred an electric is a nice piece to have (go find an Everest!), at the same price as the new quartz much less so.
In my opinion, and I hope you don't mind the suggestion, the Ventura just isn't the right place to go vintage. On the other hand, a vintage Hamilton MIL-W-46374 (US Field Watch) or W10 (a British military Hamilton) for day to day wear and a modern, quartz Ventura for dressier occasions is a perfect combination.
Rene Rondeau literally wrote the book on Hamilton Electrics. Inside is everything you'll need to know about their history, care, and maintenance. It includes full color pictures of every single model as well as production data when available. It will help you to know if a Ventura has had its dial swapped for a Pacer or had its applied markers swapped for those from another model.
If you're truly looking to go down the Hamilton Electric rabbit hole, in my opinion it's worth the $40 to get the book before you spend $1000+ on what turns out to be a frankenwatch.
Be warned that service costs are about $300 every five years for these and there are precious few people in the world who have the parts and experience to work on these.
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