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, April 17, 2022

1933 Lee and a WWII General

 I've been going through a bit of a dry spell of finding Hamilton models I haven't already documented on the blog.  Even thought it's been a while since my last post, I've been super busy with a lot of projects but nothing that hasn't already been seen here before.

That said, I have had an interesting project waiting in the wings for well over a year!  It's a 1933 Lee, which I have documented already.  However, this one has an interesting story.

The Lee was introduced in 1933 and produced for two years.  It coincides with the Grant that was produced at the same time and I have to wonder if the two were named for the famed Civil War generals.

The Lee is an interesting model for several reasons.  First, it's one of several gold filled models that received the 6/0 size 19 jewel 979F movement that was primarily reserved for solid gold models.  Second, it featured an interesting hammered silver dial with applied gold figures.  You could also get a luminous dialed version.

In 1934 the case material for the Lee and the Grant was changed to 10K gold filled - a first for any Hamilton model and the movement was changed to the 17 jewel 987F.  The Grant was also offered in a sterling silver case - another first for Hamilton.  This was done to lower the price point of some models, it was the Great Depression after all, and the prices were reduced by about 15%

My Hamilton Lee project watch caught my eye back in 2020 - I've had it waiting in a pile of other watches for almost two years.

I bought it for several reasons... but first and foremost, the case has very little wear.  That's almost unheard of for this model!  Typically the tops of the lugs and corners of the case show extensive wear through.

Another reason I liked the watch was it has a very nice presentation to an Army Major from his fellow officers.  More on that in a bit.

The Lee is unique in the hammered silver dial.  This one shows a bit of grime around the perimeter, which is interesting since the rest of the case is so pristine.  I guess it's due to the moisture or air and less to wear and tear.

Inside the 14K gold filled case is a 979F movement - that's another reason that I purchased the watch.  These movements are the best that Hamilton made at the time and the center wheel is solid gold.

The steel mainspring inside the watch is "set" in a fairly tight coil.  This reduces the potential energy of the spring and the watch will run less than a day with a mainspring like this.  I'll install a fresh white alloy Dynavar mainspring to give it 35+ hours of power reserve.

If I release this dynavar spring it will splay out in a large S, coiling in the opposite direction.  I'll try to install it directly from the carrier, I just need to make sure I put it in so the coil goes the right direction.

The crystal that came on the watch is in good shape and double thick - that's what saved the case from wear.  However, the edges are also chamfered and that's not the correct look for the Lee.  So I will change it to a proper style that is also double thick.

Everything is clean, dried, and ready to be reassembled.  I was able to clean up the dial slightly so it's not so dark around the edges.

The reassembled movement is ticking away with a good motion.  The photo isn't capturing the full glistening of this cleaned movement - it really sparkles.

The timer likes what it hears.  The beat error is well within my specs of less than 3.0ms.  That's good because to try to adjust it would risk goofing up the hairspring.   Pre-1940 movements can be very finicky - it's best to let sleeping dogs lie when it comes to pre-Elinvar Extra hairsprings.

Here's an after-shot of the finished project on a nice genuine gator strap.  What a beauty!  Try to find a better one!

In this shot you can better see the presentation to John Eubank Copeland.  He was a Major in 1933 and a veteran of World War One.  Little did he know that in eight more years he'd be a veteran of another World War.

Major John E. Copeland would eventually become Brigadier General John E. Copeland.  He saw service during WWII in both the Pacific and the European theaters.  In mid-1945 he assumed command of the 65th Infantry Division until he retired in 1946.

John Copeland passed away at the age of 88 in 1978 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

1906 Grade 960 Pocket Watch

The Hamilton Watch Company was started in 1892 with the mission of providing industry-leading watches for the railroad industry and discerning business men.  

In the 19th century, railroads were the principle method of delivering people and goods across the United States.  In many cases trains moved in BOTH directions on the same track.  The only way to keep trains from running headlong into each other was to define a strict schedule of where to be when and to keep consistent, accurate time on every train.

By the turn of the 20th century, Hamilton Watch Company was the "Watch of Railroad Accuracy".  Unlike other brands, Hamilton only made watches of the highest quality.  With rare exception, the minimum number of jewels in their most basic grade was 17.  Watches were only available through legitimate jewelers.  The catalog prices of Hamilton watches was the price offered to the public.  They were not to be discounted and jewelers who did not live up to these expectations would not be allowed to carry Hamilton watches.

In general, men's pocket watches were size 16 or size 18, although smaller size 12 watches were produced for non-railroad applications.

One of the highest grade early size 16 watches was the 21 jewel 960.  Priced at $50 in 1906, that was about $1,500 in today's dollars - definitely not a watch for the "average Joe".  You could get a very similar caliber 961 which was designed for a side-winding hunter case with the pendant at the 3 position.

My 960 project watch is a bit of a sleeper.  From the look of it, you would never expect it to be such a high end watch.  Back in the day, you typically picked out the watch movement and then the case to install it in.  So you could put an entry-level movement in a solid gold case or a high end movement in a simple nickel silver case.  For my project watch, the movement was installed in a 25 year gold filled case.  Based on the amount of wear thru, this case got a tremendous amount of use but the warranty expired 91 years ago.

The case back is engraved with a monogram but it's hard to tell what it is.  I won't polish this case since the existing gold is very thin.  I'll just give it a good cleaning.

The industry standards for "gold fill" did not exist in 1906.  Cases were either solid gold and warranted "forever" or gold layers sandwiched around a base material like brass.  The thickness of the gold dictated the warranty so a 10 year case has less gold than a 20 year case.  A 25 year case had a lot more gold than the typical 1/20 ratio of "gold filled" but it was still not solid gold.

Based on the inside of the case back of my project watch, this 960 has been through many watchmakers' hands over the last 118 years.

The crown on the pendant of the watch has lost its gold cap.  The silver metal showing is actually the base material of the crown and shows the texture of the gold that was originally on the crown.  In this photo you can really see the extent of the gold loss on the case.

Once the back cover is removed you can see the 21 jewel movement inside - and what a beautiful movement it is.  The only distraction is the two holes on the balance cock that reveal the regulator spring / gooseneck is missing.  Based on the catalogs, this movement shares a spring with other period calibers but  only the 960, 961, 964 or 965. Unfortunately I don't have a donor movement to replace it.  However, the safety of railroads is no longer at stake and the movement will be just fine without it.

The 960 is a lever set movement so you have to remove the front bezel and slide the lever at the 1 out a little to set the time.  That's probably part of the reason for the extensive case wear - you need to unscrew the bezel to access the lever... do that enough times over 25 years and you will probably wear off some of the gold.  You might also chip the dial a little, like this enamel watch dial shows.

Early Hamilton pocket watches had four dial feet.  Eventually movements were changed to three dial feet locations so swapping dials from one movement to another requires having the correct number of feet.  These dial foot screws are much smaller than other calibers I've seen.  That's one of the challenges of really early Hamilton calibers, not all parts are interchangeable if you're missing something.

With the dial out of the way you can see how the lever will slide the clutch from the winding position (as shown) to the time setting position.  It's a very simple mechanism but it was a requirement for railroad-approved watches - as a lever set movement cannot accidentally pop into the time setting position without your knowledge.

With the mainspring fully released, the first part off is the ratchet wheel.  Now the movement is de-energized and can be carefully disassembled.

In this photo you can see one of the distinctive parts of the 960 movement - the train wheels are solid gold, except for the escape wheel.  The escape wheel is steel and since it's what get's banged into by the pallet forks, steel is actually a premier material over other choices of the time.  The ruby jewels are also set in solid gold.

The mainspring inside the barrel is a white alloy spring and does not need to be replaced (just cleaned).

Everything is thoroughly cleaned and dried so that now it can be reassembled with fresh lubrication.  This movement is noticeably brighter and shinier than before - a testament to why cleaning is important.

Everything is reassembled with the exception of the balance.  At this point I can wind the mainspring up a bit so that once the balance is back in place it will start ticking and show me everything is aligned correctly.

It's always a satisfying relief to see the balance start to swing back and forth with a vigorous motion.  Now to see that the timer thinks of it.

When you hear the tick tick tick of a watch you're actually hearing several ticks in rapid succession.  The impulse jewel on the balance swings into the pallet fork and moves it out of the way.  The pallet for bangs into the banking pin that governs the travel of the fork and that releases the escape wheel.  The escape wheel bangs into the other side of the pallet fork and is stopped by the other pallet jewel.  That's all one "tick".  Then the balance swings back the other direction, hits the pallet fork and moves everything once again.  All of that is captured by the watch timer and compared to what is expected.

You can see in the photo below that this 960 is tick ticking a little fast but has great motion otherwise.  The beat error of 0.0ms means the balance swings equally from one side to the other.

A slight tweak to the regulator slows the watch down and a couple of more tweaks get it to settle in to 14 seconds fast per day.  I'll leave it there for now and check it again after a while.

The reassembled movement goes back into the case and is ready to go back into a vest pocket somewhere.  This is such a beautiful movement that it would be tempting to recase in one of those salesmen cases with crystals on the front and back - as admiring the movement is hard to do with a solid case back.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

1958 Lansing

In the early days of Hamilton wrist watches the first models were named after their shapes.  For example you had the Cushion, Oval or the Rectangular.  Sometimes they got creative and added other features like if it was engraved or if the bezel opening was a different shape - like a Cushion Round.

Fairly quickly they ran out of shapes so other themes emerged like famous resorts of the time... Piping Rock, Coronado, etc. and there was also a unique line dedicated to noteworthy explorers (Bird, et al).

By the early 1930s most mens' models received mens' names - often more unique names versus common names.  For example there's a Webster but no Peter.  I suspect models were named after people important to the Hamilton factory or Lancaster area but I've never seen a specific list of who inspired which model.

In the 1950's there were lots of new models introduced, perhaps too many for marketeers to come up with names so they adopted numbers for certain lines.  The first automatics were called Automatics and the series was K-something.  What was the K for?   I'll tell you...  I don't know.  If I had to make a guess I would say it stood for Kurth, as Kurth Freres was the Swiss-maker of the initial K-series of automatic movements for Hamilton.  However Eterna made some early models too so that theory may have some flaws.

Anyway, sometimes the model name makes you wonder what the genesis was.  An example is the 1958 Lansing.  Was it named after the city in Illinois or was there an employee at the factory named Lansing?  Was it the twin brother of who ever inspired the Courtney - as the two models are very similar.  

Regardless, the Lansing was produced for only two years and you don't tend to see them very often.  If you do see one, it may actually be something else, as there are other very similar looking models like the 1958 Courtney.

The Lansing was cased in solid 14K yellow gold.  It's an interesting model in that it features a dial with both embossed (stamped) markers as well as 14K applied gold numerals.  That's pretty unusual but the 1950s introduced a lot of never-before-seen features.

The 1958 catalog shows the model has a 22 jewel movement.  That can only mean one thing - the 12/0 sized 770 movement.

My Lansing project watch came courtesy of the nephew of the original owner.  Family watches make wonderful heirlooms.  It was a little tarnished from a few decades in a drawer but still worked when wound.  That's always a good sign that all it needs is a good cleaning.

The back of the 14K case is engraved with a presentation for 20 years of faithful service.

I didn't see any previous watchmaker's marks inside the case back so I may be the first person to actually work on this watch since it left the factory.  Notice the soft haze on some of the parts.  This will make for a significant before and after comparison.  There is no rust inside so I think this is just the result of many years sitting in the same place.

If the catalog ad didn't specify the dial had embossed and applied markers, the back of the dial definitely does.  This dial is original and the brightly scraped areas are where the back of the rivets of the numerals were ground down after the numbers were applied.  The areas where there are no marks are the areas where the figures are embossed.

The printing on the dial is a bit faded and although the dial is a bit patina'd I don't want to risk losing the printing by cleaning the dial.  I'll give a very gentle rinse but nothing to risk damage - as, based on my experience, getting embossed dials refinished rarely has good results.  

All of the parts are stripped and cleaned in my ultrasonic cleaner before being reassembled.  I like the 770 movement - it goes back together so smoothly it almost reassembles itself.

Notice how much brighter the freshly cleaned movement is.  It's ticking away with good motion - time to see what the watch timer thinks.

Not too shabby.  The amplitude is vigorous and the beat error is within my personal specs.  It could be lowered by trial and error but each attempt risks disaster if something happens to the hairspring when the balance is repeatedly removed and reinstalled.  The Swiss-made models in the 1960s with moveable hairspring studs were a huge advancement in terms of making adjustments.  However, the US made movements can be a challenge to get the beat error near zero.  The impact of the beat error isn't huge.  A watch with zero beat error will run a little longer on a full wind but the negative impact of a beat error under 3.0ms is pretty minimal.

A gentle polish of the case and crystal, along with a fresh genuine lizard strap, complete the restoration of this 60+ year old Lansing.  The patina on the dial is appropriate and makes it look like the vintage watch that it is.  I'm sure the owner will be very happy with the results.