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.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

1962 Sea Rover II

When I first started collecting Hamiltons about 10 years ago I focused mainly on pocket watches.  That's because my interest in Hamiltons was started after I got my grandfather's Railroad Special repaired, along with some other distant ancestors' dress pocket watches.

After acquiring a dozen or so pocket watches I eventually lost some steam, as I don't tend to use pocket watches very often, if at all.   However, I quickly realized that Hamilton also made wrist watches and then I was off to the races again.

One of the first models I happened upon was a 1962 Sea Rover II.  Before too long I realized it had a Swiss-made movement and I was under the impression that Swiss models weren't as desirable as US-made Hamiltons.  That was a classic rookie mistake and I sold the Sea Rover II.

If you want to avoid Hamiltons with Swiss-made movements you'll need to focus on models made before1954 and that exclude any models with automatic movements or movements with calendar complications.  Some folks actually do that - they prefer the earlier models.  But to avoid models with Swiss movements because you think they are "lesser quality" than US-made Hamiltons is really a misguided opinion.

Hamilton simply introduced models with Swiss-made movements in order to compete at lower price points with other makers in the watch market.  Like most things, you evolve or you perish.

That said, I've been on the lookout for another Sea Rover II because I didn't have a decent photo of my original example for the blog.  It's not a rare model but the Sea Rover II was a one-year-wonder and only produced in 1962.

The Sea Rover II came in a one-piece stainless steel case.  It was a "Fine" watch and priced to compete at around the $40 price point.  Of course, in 1962 that was the equivalent of about $325 today - so it was still not an inexpensive watch... but it was a Hamilton after all.

My project watch is far from new but it works, and the dial and hands still look great.  The crown is an obvious replacement and it's a bit too large, in my opinion.

The one-piece case looks unremarkable on the back.  I don't see any of the usual marks from someone trying to open it from behind.  This watch opens through the crystal.

And speaking of opening through the crystal.  I recently picked up a new tool.  It's a crystal removing pump that injects air into the watch and pops the crystal off like the cork from a bottle of champagne.

The tool includes a little lever to slip under the crown and pry the two-piece stem apart.  You need to be careful though not to pry it unevenly or you'll risk breaking the stem off in the crown.

The handle has a metal tube that slides out and when you push the handle back in it blows air through the tube, through the white insert, and into the watch.

Like a bottle of "bubbly", you want to hold onto the crystal - otherwise it will fly off and hit you in the face.

Of course, you can use "the claw" to get the crystal off too - the real benefit of the tool is the little lever to get the crown off first.  However, with watches with a reflector ring, this tool is the perfect choice, as reflector rings don't compress with "the claw".

The Hamilton 688 movement is dirty and ready for a trip through the ultrasonic.  The stem is a bit rusty so I'll have to replace it if I want it to securely hold the male-hub of the stem after it's reassembled.

In this shot you can see the strength of the female side of the stem is a bit compromised by rust.

Everything is cleaned, dried and ready for reassembly.

The balance is reinstalled and swinging with good motion.

According to the timer the watch is running a bit slow but the other specs look good.

No wonder... look how close the regulator index is to the hairspring stud.  The longer you make the hairspring (by moving the regulator toward the hairspring stud) the slower it will run.  If I move the regulator index clockwise the beat rate will be increased.

There... let's see what it "sounds" like now.

Not too shabby... now I can move the hairspring stud to lower the beat error as close to zero as I can get it.  Starting at 1.2ms, I won't have to move it too far.

It doesn't take much of a tweak since the beat error isn't too bad to begin with.  However, it's so easy to do on this movement I would feel guilty if I didn't try.

0.1ms is about as close to zero as I can get so I'll call it quits there.  You can see on the right side of the screen the two lines getting closer and farther apart as I moved the index this way or that.

In this shot you can see the difference between a new stem and the rusty one.   A replacement is definitely an improvement.

As for the crown... the one that was on the watch is a little over 5mm in diameter.  That doesn't sound "big" but it's obviously too large for this watch.

I happen to have a nice Hamilton crown that is better suited to the recess in the case.

My replacement crown is just under 4mm.  That's about as small as I would use although some models use crowns as small as 3.5mm.

A new crystal is definitely in order and 29.3mm will do the trick.

Although the bracelet that came with the watch isn't original, I thought it went well with the watch so I cleaned and polished it along with the case.  The finished project looks and runs great now.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

1966 M 85-4

I think it's interesting that Hamilton had a separate line of quality watches outside of their primary trade line.  In fact, if you include the Awards Division, they had two separate lines of quality watches.  However the Awards Division makes more sense, since the concept was to provide awardees with watches they would not find in their local jewelry store.  The other separate line are M-series and F-series models that convention wisdom believes were intended or a nation-wide retail chain.  The quality wasn't any different and the retail pricing wasn't any different either.   So it really is a bit of a mystery but maybe the line was just a really big customer (or customers).

M-models weren't shown in the catalogs so ID'ing them can be a challenge.  They were made from 1961 through 1967.  There is a book by Roy Ehrhardt, Jr that supposedly shows some of them but I'm not sure what it's called.  He was a prolific collector/researcher of a variety of subjects including violins and pocket knives.  There are a number of publications out there but I don't know which one specifically has some of the M-series models included.  If you happen to know what it is, please leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Fortunately one of my collector friends has some of the pages that identify the M models and I know my next project is a 1966 M 85-4.  That means it was the 4th model to be introduced with a retail price of $85.

The M 85-4 looks like a Thinline model of some sort with a florentine-engraved bezel and matching bracelet.  It has a 10K RGP bezel and a stainless steel back.  Priced at $85, the price was higher than similar models in the regular Hamilton lineup - for example the 1965 Darwin has a retail price of $69.50.

My project watch looks great but it's not running.

I don't think there are any obvious differences between M-models and the regular commercial line of models.  This watch has a signed crown, just like it's contemporary peers found in the local jewelry stores at the time.

This bracelet is made by Admiral.  Other brands like Kreisler, JB Champion and Duchess made Hamilton's bracelets too.  Other than some of the earlier circa 1950's models like the 1949 Dewitt, Speidel generally didn't make bracelets for Hamilton's models.

The 17 jewel 681 is based on an A Schild 1200 movement.

One way to tell that the M 85-4 is from 1966 is by the model number inside the case back.  It ends in 66, indicating 1966.  The other number is a unique serial number for the case back.  Presumably there is a M 85-4 with a 2901 or 2903 serial number, etc.

You can tell by the numbers on the back of the dial and the little notch on the edge (top left side) that this dial has been refinished.  They did an excellent job on the radial finish, also called a "sole finish".

While taking the movement apart, I had a hard time getting the center wheel out.  There's a tiny amount of corrosion in the center and it was stuck.

Everything is cleaned and ready to be put back together.

The movement is noticeably brighter and shinier now that it's been cleaned.  It's also ticking away with good motion.  Off to the timer to see how it's doing.

It's running a little fast but that's easy to fix.  The beat error is under 1.0ms so that's good.  The amplitude is under 200 degrees though, which is too low for a fully wound watch.  The amplitude is how far the balance swings from side to side when it moves.  I like to see it over 250 degrees but I'll accept over 225 in situations where I don't replace the mainspring.

A lot of things can cause low amplitude, including just being dirty and gummed up inside.   When I reassemble a movement after cleaning, I check to see how freely the wheel train spins before I put the pallet fork or barrel in place.  It should spin freely.  So when I see low amplitude after assembling a movement I suspect it's related to the barrel... either the mainspring, the arbor, or the barrel cover.  The mainspring could be set or lost some of it's potential energy.  The arbor needs to spin in the barrel as the watch runs.  The barrel actually spins as it turns the center wheel and the arbor is kept in the same position by the ratchet wheel.  Any friction between the barrel and arbor will result in low amplitude.  Also, if the barrel cover isn't completely flush with the barrel it can rub and result in lower amplitude.

With that in mind, I pulled the barrel from the movement and reinstalled the barrel cover and the amplitude came up nicely.  Now I can tweak the regulator index and slow the beat rate down a smidgen.

With the movement running nicely, it all goes back together and looks pretty much as good as it did when I started.  However, now the watch is running and well as it looks.  I doubt the watch looked much better than this when it left the showroom floor in 1966.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

1953 Elgin Black Knight

Say what?  What's an Elgin model doing on a Hamilton blog?

Elgin collectors and Hamilton collectors joke with each other like the "Hatfields and McCoys" feud.  However, deep down inside there is a mutual respect and appreciation for each brand.

Vintage Elgins are fine watches and I thought it would be interesting to show some of the basic similarities and differences.  Plus, I think the model I've chosen is very cool - so cool that it could almost be a Hamilton.

The Elgin National Watch Company was started in 1864 - almost 30 years before Hamilton, and it ceased production in 1968, one year before Hamilton stopped production in the US.   Elgin National Watch Company was headquartered in Elgin, Illinois.

Unlike Hamilton, when Elgin called it quits in 1968 it really was quits.  The brand name "Elgin" traded hands many times before eventually being acquired by a company who made watches in China.  

You can pick almost any genre of watches to compare the two watch companies and arrive at a vigorous debate of which was better (of course the answer is almost always Hamilton).

The one area that Hamilton would not perform well is entry level watches because Hamilton didn't compete in that market.  Elgin made loads of models with jewel counts as low as 7 jewels.  Other than the very early years, Hamilton's most basic models featured at least 17 jewels.  Furthermore, Elgin introduced models with rolled gold cases with stainless steel backs much earlier than Hamilton did.  So the range of prices in Elgin's line up was broader than Hamilton's and there are WAY more vintage Elgin watches out there than there are Hamiltons.

As a result, there are many intriguing Elgin models and even more not-so-interesting ones.  My interest in Elgin was originally piqued by their presence in WWI trench watches.  Elgin and Waltham made loads of attractive trench models.   In fact, if you're interested in this era of watches, check out Stan Czubernat's website -  LRF Antique Watches.  Stan has also authored a couple of books on the subject that you can purchase from his site.

Elgin made very interesting Art-Deco era watches, they made WWII military watches, and they even made futuristic models in the 1950's, just like Hamilton.  One thing Elgin has over Hamilton is Elgin made some (but not all) of their self-winding movements in the US while Hamilton imported all of their automatic movements.

The watch I chose for this post is a 1953 Black Knight.  It features many Hamilton-like attributes and it even came with a matching ladies model called the Ladies Elgin Midnight, just like Hamilton's his and hers models at the time.  Beyond having a really cool name, the Black Knight has a sibling with a golden dial called the Eldorado, which is also a cool name.  So if you see a Black Knight with a golden dial, it's really an Eldorado.

If you see a Black Knight with a golden dial, it's really an Eldorado.

The Black Knight comes in a 14K gold filled case with uniquely-shaped lugs.  The dial is textured and is almost golfball-like in appearence with funky applied numerals and triangular markers.  My project watch has a little wear to the high points of the bezel but it looks to be in decent shape overall.

The back of the Black Knight is gold filled too.  So it was a mid-to-higher end model in the line up and competed directly with Hamilton models at the time.

With the bezel out of the way you can see the unique texture of the dial.  It's actually the opposite of a golf ball as the dimples go outward rather than into the dial.

I would assume the number 4814 is the model number for the Black Knight and could have been used back in the day to order any parts needed to maintain it.

Behind the dial is an 8/0 sized 21 jewel 680 movement.  It's very similar to Hamilton's 8/0 sized 747 movement but features 4 additional cap jewels.  What it lacks is the detailed damascening that Hamilton added to it's US-made movements.  So the 680 isn't as pretty to look at as a 747 but the 680 features more jewels.  Neither movements are shock jeweled at the balance.

The finishing on the dial-side of the movement is less glamorous as well.  However all movements look alike when it comes to this perspective.

The mainspring in the watch is a white alloy design.  I will take it out, clean it and reinstall it after the parts are cleaned.

One of the interesting features of the Black Knight is it has a conical crystal and comes to a point in the center.  My project watch lacks this feature.

The proper crystal for this model is relatively hard to come by.  From the front it looks like an ordinary round glass crystal.

From the side, however, the crystal has a much different appearance.

Just like my Hamilton projects, this Elgin movement is taken fully apart and thoroughly cleaned.

The watch is running but the amplitude is a bit low.  Typically I suspect the mainspring or barrel is the issue when I see this as the watch is lacking power - assuming the movement is clean.  A dirty watch will have low amplitude too.

When I went to investigate the mainspring, it turned out it was broken!  So I will have to replace it in order to complete the watch.  That, in a nutshell, is why I focus primarily on Hamiltons - it's much easier to build a stockpile of parts for one brand than to do the same for several brands.  I'll need to investigate what mainspring would be appropriate for this grade and try to find one.

With that in mind I can still complete the assembly of the watch.  Paired with a fresh 18mm lizard strap and a proper conical crystal, this example of the Black Knight turned out great.  The crown disintegrated during the cleaning and had to be replaced too.  The only one I had on hand was a little smaller that what was on beforehand but I think it still looks good.

It's hard to photograph black-dialed watches.  So here's another shot from a slight angle.

In this shot you can see what the conical crystal does for the model's design.  It's an important attribute that is lost if you install a flat crystal.