Thanks for visiting my vintage Hamilton watch blog. I like to restore US-made Hamilton wrist watches back to their original glory and share my experiences with other enthusiasts. Use the "Search" space below if you know what model you're looking for. Feel free to leave polite comments or questions in the spaces provided. Also check out my "watches for sale" on my Etsy site - the link is on the right, just below.

Monday, August 1, 2022

1901 940 Railroad

The Hamilton Watch Company got its start in 1892.  Pocket watches was its mission and especially watches certified to be used on railroads.  Overtime they would become the makes of "The Watch of Railroad Accuracy".  There is a surprising array of different models and many of the early examples are quite rare, after all, it was a new company and building a volume of inventory would take time.

Fast forward to 1901... nine short years later.  William McKinley was President of the United States until he was assassinated, and at 42, Teddy Roosevelt took over to became the youngest President in US history.

My project today was made at the same time and is a 21 jewel 18 size Hamilton 940 Railroad Watch.  The 940 is a great movement but it was really the entry level for railroad use.  There were several other higher quality movements made at that time.

A number of attributes separated the various calibers... number of adjustments, materials of construction, quality of nickel plating, you name it.  Some of the higher end calibers are too beautiful to hide behind a solid case.

The 940 is no slouch though and any Hamilton collector worth his salt probably should have a 940 in their collection - they are great timekeepers and fairly easy to find.

My project watch is well worn.  The case was warranted for 25 years which is a very heavy gold fill.  1901 pre-dates the jewelry standards of solid gold, gold fill, gold plate, etc. and instead cases were warranted against wear through for a period of time.  A 10 year case has less gold than a 20 year case, and that has less than a 25 year case.  A solid gold case might even say "permanent", as it would never wear through to a brass base.

My project watch case is very worn through - so this watch has a LOT of miles on it.  It arrived missing it's crystal.  Fortunately the hands are still present.  The enamel dial is a form of porcelain and it's not unusual for the enamel to show some cracks, especially near the dial feet locations.  This one doesn't look too bad... it's way better than I'll look when I reach 121 years old.

The case back is mostly brass... I think I can make out some sort of engraving but it has been lost to time.  The back and bezel thread on but they don't close all the way - hopefully that's just dirt and not a result of cross threading.  We'll see after it's all cleaned.

The movement tucked within is in nice shape.  It's nicely damascened.  Notice there is no caliber movement on the back.  It would be a few more years before Hamilton would add the caliber numbers to the engravings.  Based on the serial number this is a 940 movement.

With the dial and hands out of the way, you can see the workings of the lever action.  This is a lever set movement, meaning you have to slide the lever out to engage the parts needed to set the time.  With the lever pushed in, as shown, the watch is in the winding mode.  This way the watch can't accidentally pop into time setting mode - that was a railroad requirement.

With the barrel and train bridges removed, you can see the four wheels and pallet fork in their respective positions.  It's good to take a photo like this to remember which wheels go back in first.

Everything gets cleaned and dried.  The watch already has a white alloy spring inside so no need to change it.  Now it's time to put it back together with fresh oil in all the pivots.

The reassembled movement is noticeably brighter and shinier now.  It's ticking away with good motion.  Time to see what the timer thinks of it.

Originally when I saw the two lines so close together I thought, "Yes!  This is looking good." but then I saw the beat error of 9.0ms and realized the lines are actually really so far apart they are approaching each other from the wrong side.

Reducing the beat error requires removing the balance and adjusting the hairspring collet to better center the balance with the pallet fork.  It can take several attempts.

Getting warmer... down to 4.2ms.  I'd like to get it to as close to zero as possible but I'm usually okay with getting below 3.0ms.

Okay - down to 1.6ms... time to call it quits.  Now I can adjust the beat rate closer than 14 seconds fast per day.

Alright - pretty much right on the money now.

A new glass crystal completes the restoration of this great timepiece.  There's not much to do about the case so all I did was clean it in the ultrasonic.  Now the case back and bezel screw on nicely so it was just dirt holding things apart.

It's a nice looking movement.  Too bad I have to keep the cover on it.


Sunday, July 31, 2022

1932 Oakmont

 I recently posted about the 1969 Liberty Coin - a pretty rare model.  If you liked that post, you'll like this one too - it's a 1932 Oakmont.  The Oakmont was made for only three years and at the height of the Great Depression it's no surprise that Hamilton only produced 431 models in yellow gold.  They also produced models in white gold and you'll find quite a few used as sales awards for Packard automobiles, as well.

The Oakmont is part of the model line of premier wrist watches named after famous resorts / golf courses.  The line includes the Piping Rock, Coronado, Meadowbrook, among others.

In 1932 you could get the Oakmont in either a luminous dial or the applied gold numeral dial configuration.  The luminous version cost $75 and the AGN version required an additional $5 upcharge.  That's over $1600 in today's dollars.

My Oakmont project watch arrived in "some assembly required" condition.  The crystal was off (and chipped) the bezel was off, the back was off, and the hands were missing in action.  I had no idea what I was going to be in for.

The 979F was Hamilton's premier movement of the time.  It had 19 jewels, two more than the 987F used in other men's models.  The F stands for Friction, as the jewel setting (chatons) are pressed in place and held by friction instead of screws like the previously made 987 / 979 movements.  Other than that, they are identical calibers.  The 979 also featured a solid gold center wheel.

This movement looks okay.  However, the placement of the regulator at well-past fast is a little disconcerting.  Notice the male pins on the lugs - this model will require female spring bars to mount a strap.

Everything gets disassembled and throughly cleaned.  I'll put it back together carefully with fresh lubricants and then try to diagnose any issues I find... assuming there are any.

Well... it's ticking away with a good motion,  This looks promising.  I set the regulator to the midpoint to see where things land.

Hmmm... running about 4+ minutes slow.  That explains the position of the regulator.

There are two screws on the end of the balance arms that are for timing adjustments.  They are like the arms of a spinning figure skater... draw them in to spin faster and let them out to slow down.  You have adjust both the same amount though to maintain the poise of the balance.

Adjusting the balance is stressful and tedious work.  One false move and you will ruin the hairspring or break a balance pivot.  Each adjustment requires reassembly and placing the movement back on the timer to see how things look.

After four tries, countless drips of sweat on my forehead and all the salty language I learned in the Navy, I've got the balance looking good.  I made multiple tweaks on the timer and stopped when it was running just smidgeon fast with a great beat error.

Now to address the crystal.  I have a cushion shaped glass crystal but it's too large.  I can try to sand it down to shape but it will take a while.

My glass crystal didn't work out... I chipped it.  So plan B is to use a plastic crystal.

For the final step I had to open the strongbox, in the back of the safe, inside the vault, guarded by my two doberman's Zeus and Apollo, to get my stash of female spring bars.  Try finding some of these someday - you want to talk rare?

I put black spear hands on the finished watch.  That was pretty common back in the day but when I got the catalog snips for this post I realized that gold hands would be appropriate.  So I'll have to dig through my stash and find some.  Otherwise this watch looks fantastic and I'm sure its owner will be delighted with it.

There... I dug another set of hands out of my stash.  Now this watch is perfect.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

1969 Liberty Coin

Hamilton ceased production in the US in 1969 and moved production to their factory in Switzerland that they acquired years earlier.  

I imagine that as the end neared there was an inventory of US-made movements like the 770, 736 and 731 calibers and Hamilton product managers had to decide what to do with them.

Several models were created and one of the best known is the Liberty Coin.  It was not catalogued and there are no precise production figures but common estimates are under 500, which makes the Liberty Coin one of the rarest models produced.  It was offered in 14K solid gold as well as 10K rolled gold plate (RGP), the latter being more common.

One of the interesting aspects of the Liberty Coin is the minor variations you'll find.  Some examples have black baton hands while others have black dauphine hands.  The crowns used also seem to vary.  Interestingly, the model does not have a second hand - just the hour and minute hand.   That's very unusual and did they do that because the 4th wheels had bent pivots (so they just removed them)?  Also of interest, the Liberty Coin is one of the only authentic models to promote the number of jewels on the dial.  The only other models that did that are the other models I believe were produced at the same time, like this diamond-dialed version that you'll find in both yellow and white RGP cases.

I posted on the Liberty Coin 10 years ago and I recently had the opportunity to work on another so I thought I'd show it again.

As received, it is very similar to my earlier example however this one has dauphine hands and an unusually thin crown.

The Liberty Coin has a very crude case, in my opinion.  It's clearly marked Hamilton on the back but not very precisely.  This is an RGP example and I won't polish it as I suspect the plating is very thin.

This watch features a black strap just like on my example... it's some sort of reptile, croc or alligator I suspect.

I don't think I've ever seen a crown with such a long stem tube before.  This is a very unusual crown and I don't know if it's the original crown of if it was replaced sometime over the last 50 years.  Based on the wear, I'd wager it's original.

The 22 jewel 770 movement was introduced in 1955 and if you look closely at this version the balance is a glucydur design without any timing screws.  It's very interesting that the 770 didn't get a new caliber number like the 730 and 735 did when they received glucydur balances and where thereafter known as the 731 and 736 movements.  

The inside of the case back is also crudely finished.  If I didn't know any better I would say this wasn't an authentic model.  After 1940 99.9% of Hamilton cased will be stamped inside with "Hamilton Watch Co. Lancaster PA", along with a serial number.  This case simply says 10K RGP.

Everything gets cleaned and dried before being reassembled.  I like the 770 movement, it goes together very smoothly.

The reassembled movement is ticking away with a good motion so it's off to the timer to listen to the ticking.

It's running a smidgen slow but that is easily corrected with a slight tweak of the regulator.

The owner of this example wanted a new crown installed and specifically a stone crown like on my example from 2012.  Stone crowns include a gem and you'll find them in a variety of colors like red, green or this one - blue.

The finished project looks as good as it runs and the new crown looks much more appropriate than what was on it, don't you think?