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, January 15, 2017

1958 Automatic K-458

You win some and you lose some.

I'm a bottom feeder when it comes to vintage watches.  That means I like to pursue ugly ducklings in the hope they are diamonds in the rough.  Most of the time it works out but sometimes it doesn't.  I try to purchase project watches for about as much as the cost of a round of golf - that way if it doesn't work out I'll at least have a little more to show for it than when I finish a round of golf (nothing but a scorecard).  I can always use a spare movement to complete a watch.

I know I'm not alone in the pursuit of fixer uppers but my advice to new collectors is to pursue watches that are already restored - that way you know what you're getting.  I follow that advice myself sometimes but, like I said, I'm a sucker for a good deal.

The one thing I don't do is purse watches with bad cases.  In most situations it costs way too much to restore a case.

For example, I recently scored a new model for the blog, a 1958 Automatic K-458.  It was made for three years.  It was listed as not running and "as-is"... just my style.

Initially the K-458 was produced on a strap or a bracelet but by 1960 it was only available on a bracelet.

Inside you will find the 17 jewel Hamilton 661 movement.

My project watch arrived pretty much as described... not running.  It looked fairly good though and I thought it would clean up nicely.  However, some important details were left out.

As a model with a 5 as the second digit, you know the K-458 has a stainless steel back.  When I went to open it, the back just spun, and spun, and spun, without coming off.  When I turned it the other direction, it wouldn't tighten either.  If I had paid more for this watch I would consider returning it as being "other than described" as this is an important detail that the seller omitted.

Eventually I was able to get the back cover off and reveal the movement within.  The 661 is dirty but it's not rusted.  So at least I can use it as a spare, assuming I can get the movement running again.

Once the movement is out of the way, you can see that there are no threads left inside the bezel.  I'm not exactly sure if there's a fix for this situation or not.  I'll worry about that later.  First I'll clean the movement and the case and then reassess the situation.

While taking the movement apart, I found out why the movement wasn't running.  There was a screw rattling around inside and under the balance.  It's a screw meant to secure the movement to the movement ring.

Everything is cleaned and dried.  Hopefully I'll have a working movement the end of this project - at a minimum.

My latest purchase of PHD crystals included a bunch of packets without the dimensions on them, just the PHD numbers.  A 27-1/2 equates to 29.7mm and I'll use this to replace the beat up crystal that came on the watch.

The balance has shock protected jewels and the trick to reinstalling them is to make sure you put the cap jewels back on correctly.  The cap jewels are like tiny tiddlywinks - and they are exceptionally easy to lose.  The jewel is slightly domed and the domed side goes against the shock spring.  You the can tell which side is which by looking for the side with a little ring on it.  The smooth side goes against the shock spring.  In the shot below you might be able to see the little ring.

The movement is now running nicely, even without jewels in the balance cock yet.  Next I'll put the jewels in, oil them, and then put the movement on the watch timer.

All that's needed is a slight tweak to the regulator to speed it up.   Everything else looks great.

The movement and movement ring go back into the case.  Now I have to figure out what to do about the loose case back.

It occurred to me that if a crystal can secure the front of the watch, then why can't another crystal secure the back?  A slightly larger crystal at 30.4mm is just larger than the stainless steel back.

With the crystal installed in lieu of the back cover, I guess you could say that this watch now has a "display back"... which is actually pretty cool.

With crystals on top and bottom, you have to look at the lugs to tell which side is up.

From the front, the restored watch looks very good with a fresh alligator strap and new crystal.  The lume on the hands is old and it took me a while to figure out the rectangular section of the hour markers also has old lume.  It might look better with fresh white lume.  I thought about changing it but I'm not sure I could apply fresh luminous paint cleanly enough so that it would look as good as the old lume.

The display back is really interesting.  I love being able to see the movement but I don't know yet if this will be a good long term solution.

Did I make lemonade from this lemon or should I call it a day and use this movement in another worthy cause with a better case?

What do you think?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

1954 Wallace

Hamilton's first use of a metal bracelet was in 1931 with the Palisade and also the Clinton, but the trend didn't last too long.  The Clinton was unique in that the bracelet was integral to the bezel.  The Palisade's bracelet was removable but the lugs that remained were fairly close together - about 12mm, in fact.

Fast forward 30 years and Hamilton was back on the bracelet band wagon.  One of the models to be offered only on a bracelet was the 1954 Wallace.  It was produced for two years.

What's especially interesting about the Wallace is the bracelet is perfectly matched to the bezel.  In fact, you can't really tell where one begins and the other ends.  The grooved pattern on the bezel doesn't match between the top and the bottom so it would be tempting to call the model an asymmetric - although it's not really considered one.

The Wallace was made in 1954 and 1955 and has a 12/0 movement.  It's breaks with the tradition of putting 17 jewel movements in 10K gold filled cases, as the Wallace was initially offered with a 19 jewel 753 movement.  If you find a Wallace with a 770 movement, it's probably a 1955 model.

You don't tend to come across the Wallace too often in the wild - but they are not unheard of.  The real trick. is to find one with it's original Kestenmade bracelet - as I don't think you'll find that bracelet unless it's attached to a Wallace.

I recently landed a Wallace project watch and although it's actually in very nice condition, the spacing between the lugs is only about 12.5 mm (or half an inch).  Such a narrow strap means it will probably be better suited to a woman by today's standards, once it's finished.  The crystal on my watch is a little beat up but other than that, and the need of a good cleaning, this watch is really nice.

The case back is in great shape - I suspect the bracelet on this watch broke and the watch spent most of it's life in a dresser drawer.

Looking at the watch from the side, you can see the lug design is short and meant to be inside a close-fitting bracelet.  Whatever strap I will use needs to be thin and have a thin spring bar too.

Although the dial is fairly small, it's actually quite thick chunk of sterling silver since it has to accommodate the sunken second hand register.  I can tell by the crispness of the printing and general look of the finish that this is an original dial and a little light cleaning will make it look great again.

The 753 movement looks just a like 770 with the exception of a few missing cap jewels.  The 770 is shock protected too - so that was a big improvement over the 752, 753 and 754 grades.

There's no guesswork involved in identifying this particular model... the name is right there in the case back.  If you don't see Hamilton Watch Co, etc inside the case back as shown below, there's a good chance the model is not authentic.  Jewelers often recased Hamilton movements, especially on ladies models.

I think it's safe to say that this white alloy mainspring is a long way from being "set".  These white allow mainsprings are considered "lifetime" mainsprings but that doesn't mean they can't break.  This one will be cleaned and reinstalled.

A new glass crystal will be a nice improvement over the old plastic one.

This model takes a "cylinder" as opposed to a flat crystal of the same shape.  A cylinder is sort of arched and thick so it will stands well proud of the bezel - as shown below.

Everything is completely disassembled, cleaned and dried before being reassembled with fresh lubricants.

The reassembled movement is nice and shiny.  The dull haze it had before is now gone and the watch is ticking away with vigorous motion.

No one can complain about this performance... if anything I may need to speed it up a smidgen as freshly overhauled movements tend to slow slightly as they settle back in.

I happened to have a nice period-correct vintage strap and I trimmed the ends just enough to get them to fit in between the lugs.  This is an unusual looking watch without it's bracelet but it's still quite attractive.

Here's what it would look like with an original bracelet.  I like the watch the sides of the bezel have curved arches that echo the curved links of the bracelet.  It's a very small watch though and could easily be worn by a woman, I bet.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

1951 Brent

I noticed the other day that the odometer on HamiltonChronicles.com crossed over 1 million page views.

1 million is a cool milestone and exemplifies why I chose the name for the site.  Every watch I restore is a step on a journey and milestones along the way reassure me that progress is being made.  With each watch I post, I move that much closer toward eventually posting them all.  I'm more than halfway there, believe it not.

Taking yet another step on the journey, I recently landed a watch that I've pursued without success on many occasions.  It's a 1951 Brent.  The model was made for two years and in 1952 it became the "Brent B" since it got the newly introduced 19 jewel 753 movement.  The 1951 version used the 19 jewel 982 grade.

The Brent looks a lot like several other models from the period.  It has a classic Hamilton design and echoes models like the Cedric, Barry, Medford and quite a few others.  One of the things that make the Brent unique is it has a gabled, or faceted, crystal with a line that separates the top half from the bottom half.  It's an interesting look but it's also a bit distracting because it creates a prism-like effect as the light is bent when it passes through the varying angles.

The case is 14K gold filled, so the Brent has the 19 jewel movement... either 982 or 753, depending on the year.  The 10K gold filled models typically received the 17 jewel grades, the 980 or 752, respectively.

The sterling silver butler-finished dial has solid 18K yellow gold numerals and diamond-shaped markers.

For some reason the Brent always sells at a premium so it has taken me a while to land one.  They're not rare but they're not very common either.   However, just like a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and again, I was able to score a Brent in need of a little TLC.

The crystal on my project watch is beat up and the crispness of the facet isn't pronounced.  You can see the line where the light bends on the photo above, crossing from the 8 to the 4.  In the photo below you can see how the crystal gables from top to bottom.

Without the crystal and bezel in the way, the dial appears to be original and in better-than-fair condition.  Its not perfect but it's definitely not in need of restoring.

The 982 is a high quality movement and highly damascened.   The 980's at this time were also engraved but the 982 and 982M especially so.  It's a lot of extra work considering the watch owner would probably never see it - but that's one of the many reasons why Hamilton was the premier American brand.

There's no problem identifying this model - it's stamped right into the case back.  If this had a 12/0 sized 753 movement it would say Brent-B.

I have found that 90% of the 14/0 movements I work on have set mainsprings.  This example is no exception, so I'll replace it with a fresh Dynavar white alloy spring.  With a fresh mainspring the watch will likely run 40 hours or more on a full wind.

If you're lucky, you can often just pop the new spring out of the holder and directly into the barrel.  I don't tend to be that lucky though so I just remove them and use my mainspring winder - I have much better success that way and can make sure the T on the end of the spring goes into the hole of the barrel.

I bought a new crystal for the watch and it's gabled... but it's gabled across the top to bottom and not side to side.  So even though it fits, it's not quite correct.  I'll install it anyway, since it's better than what the watch arrived with.

Everything is cleaned and dried... well, almost everything.  I couldn't find the escape wheel cap jewel for the train bridge.  It vanished somewhere during the "clean, rinse and rinse" process.

Losing a part now and then goes with the territory when it comes to vintage watches.  I know it's not just me, as it's not unusual to work on a movement that has one screw different than the others, or missing altogether, indicating that a past watchmaker lost a part along the way.

I'm a graduate of the watchmaking school of "hard knocks".  The tuition to the school is about 200 broken movements of varying grades.  Each broken movement is a lesson but I have an impressive stockpile of parts for when something like a cap jewel goes missing.

As luck would have it, I found the cap jewel.  It miraculously appeared with all the other parts - despite my searching for it.  As you can see below - it's very small and the screw that holds secures it is even smaller, a true marvel to behold and always makes me wonder, "how did they make such things"?  I'll bet one pound of material could make every 982 train bridge cap jewel screw ever made.

The movement is reassembled and purring like a kitten.  You can see the gold cap jewel in the train bridge below.  The cap jewel on both ends of the escape wheel is what makes a 19 jewel 982 different than a 17 jewel 980.

Nothing to complain about with this movement... no adjustments required.

A fresh lizard strap completes the restoration and the new crystal looks like it was meant to be there.  I may still try to find the correct style but I prefer this look over the prism-effect of the original design.

Just for fun, here's another shot from a different angle.  It's hard to see the effect of the gabled crystal but if you look really closely you can see the 2 in the 12 is really thick, there appears to be two second hands and there are two L's in Hamilton.

The good thing about crystals like this is they stand so proud of the bezel that the case is well-protected from wear.