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 19, 2014

1956 Edgemere B

Typically "B" models denote a change in the movement grade within a specific model.  The nomenclature was used only in the 1950's and started when the 12/0 grades replaced the 14/0 grades that were used previously.

There was another wave of B models when Hamilton switched from using excess Swiss-made Hamilton Illinois movements and started to use different Swiss-made Hamilton movements.

There is one B-model though where there is no non-B version of the model.  It was called the Edgemere B and introduced in 1956.  There is no Edgemere.  The Edgemere B was produced for three years.

The Edgemere B came in a 10K yellow gold filled case.  It's one of several large, round models that featured Hamilton's high grade 22 jewel 770 movement.  I wonder if there were plans for a non-B model with an 8/0 730 movement and they just scrapped the idea when the 770 came along.

Tucked inside the case is a sterling silver dial with solid 18K gold markers.

I recently picked up an Edgemere B because the price was right and I liked the inscription on the back.  You can't really tell in the picture below, but the dial has some finger prints on it that I hoped I could clean off.   I noticed while taking the photo that it's also missing an hour marker at the 7 position.

One of the reasons I bought the watch was the presentation on the back.  It's very nicely done and 40 loyal years is a commendable achievement.

The case is a two-piece design with a front bezel and a case back.  The seam between the two sections is in the middle.  You can see that the prior owner put the bezel on wrong, as the recess for the stem is visible on the wrong side.

I was hoping I might find the missing hour marker inside and sure enough, I got lucky... there it is inside the case back.

The 770 movement does run but it's pretty dirty and definitely ready to be cleaned again.

The 770 is a nice movement and Hamilton designed the movement with watchmakers in mind because it goes together very smoothly.  The reassembled movement goes onto the timer and it's running great, right out of the shoot.

Well, my light tent makes the reassembled watch look a lot worse than it really is.  I was not successful in removing the spotting from someone's finger prints.  It doesn't look as bad in real life.  However, it would be a simple enough design to get redone correctly - so I will probably send it out to be refinished.

I guess while I am at it, I can have the wear through hole on the back of the stem tube repaired by my local jeweler.  With a refinished dial and a restored case, the watch would be returned to it's formal glory.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

1933 Lee

It's a gross understatement to say the Great Depression was a challenging time in American history.  People complain about how tough times are today but we collectively still enjoy benefits from the lessons learned by our ancestors in the 1930's.

If you watch shows or movies from the 1930's you will often see signs posted about the "NRA".  Today you might think that was the National Rifle Association but in reality it was the National Recovery Administration.   The NRA was a U.S. government agency established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to stimulate business recovery through fair-practice laws.  Part of the objective was to employ more people while also controlling costs.   If people couldn't afford to buy things, then manufacturers couldn't afford to hire employees.  If manufacturers didn't hire employees, then those folks couldn't afford to buy things, and more manufacturers wouldn't hire employees.  A vicious spiral could draw the entire country into poverty... and it pretty much did.

The economic principles behind the NRA and other Depression-era policies may seem obvious today but for the first 160 years of our nation's history the federal government's involvement in economics was limited.  The NRA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935 but the idea that keeping people working so they could spend money to keep the economy going still exists today.  How much of a role the federal government should have in that process is debatable.

It's also interesting to note also that in the early 1930's, the Civil War had taken place 70 years prior and there were still Civil War veterans in people's families, not too much unlike how World War II is still a part of our social identity today.

You're probably thinking, "yeah yeah, that's great but what's that have to do with Hamilton watches?".  

Well, Hamilton was not immune to the Great Depression and as a high end producer of fine watches, they were also subject to the policies of the NRA.  In fact, two new models were introduced in 1933 and later changed in 1934 to provide quality Hamilton watches at a price point lower than Hamilton's prior minimum price.  Those models were named the Grant and the Lee, after the opposing generals of the US Civil War.

The Lee was produced for two years.  In 1933 it was produced in 14K gold filled with a 979 movement.

Later in 1934 it was changed to a 10K gold filled case with a 987 and the price was reduced by over 10%.  The 1934 Lee was one of the first Hamilton models to use 10K gold fill.

It's not a common model and when you do see one it's most often in yellow gold fill.  There were about 4,000 yellow gold filled models and less that 300 white gold filled models were produced.

Two dials were available, a luminous dial or a very interesting hammered silver dial with "raised gold figures".  Hamilton would later change their nomenclature to "applied gold figures".

Under the dial you will typically find a Hamilton 979F in a 1933 model and 987F movement in the 1934.

I recently received a Lee project watch from a fellow collector friend of mine who needed some help.  As received, it was in typical shape for a Lee and that means it showed a lot of case wear and gold loss over the base material on the wide lugs.  This model is very hard to find without wear-through - in fact, if you find one without wear it could very well have been replated.  The crown on this watch is an obvious incorrect replacement.  It's not terrible but it looks a little clunky to my eye.

The back of the watch also shows a lot of gold loss to the edges and corners.  This could be repaired by a talented goldsmith with a laser-welder if the wear is too extensive.  The case back is marked 14K gold filled.

This watch has a 19 jewel 979-F movement.  The 979F movement was standard issue in solid gold models - and it's interesting that it was also installed in the 1933 Lees as well as several other gold filled models.

The dial has been professionally refinished.  You can tell because (a) it looks super nice compared to the condition of the case and (b) there's a little notch by the stem indicating it was redone.  It looks great though so there's no issues with a refinished dial when it's redone correctly.

This case is designed to accommodate a dust-proof crown.  This style of crown has a flange on it that will fill the hole in the case.  Without the flange, the stem has no support and the movement can actually rotate slightly in the case, causing the dial to look askew relative to the bezel opening.  That's one of the issues with the clunky crown - it's not a dustproof style.

The movement's mainspring is obviously set.  This will dramatically reduce the length of time a watch will run.

The 979 is a 6/0 movement and shares a lot of parts with the 987 but for some reason it has a slightly different mainspring.  Personally I don't think the differences between the 987 and 979 mainsprings are that dramatic - but I happen to have a 979 mainspring to install so I will use that, regardless.

Everything is cleaned and ready to be reassembled.  If you have a good eye you may notice there are two stems and crowns.  I have a better crown to install once I get the movement back together.

The reassembled movement goes onto the timer to see how it's running.

Good amplitude and a low beat error but the beat rate is a bit slow at 3.5 minutes slow per day.

One of the reasons for the slowness is the regulator is missing one of the pins for the fork that is supposed to hold the hairspring.  So, in effect, the regulator isn't regulating.

Well, as fate would have it, when I reinstalled the balance onto the balance cock, I accidentally broke a pivot on the balance staff.  ^&*%!   So that presented a new problem.  Long story shortened, I replaced the balance assembly with a balance with a bad hairspring and swapped hairsprings so the good hairspring went on to the good balance staff.

Now on the timer again, the balance is running better from a beat rate standpoint but the beat error is way too high at 9.9ms (or more) so I now have to reduce the beat error by adjusting the hairspring stud relative to the impulse jewel on the balance.

Okay - that's much better... everything is right where it needs to be.

The dial and hands go back on with a better suited crown for the model and it all goes back into the case.  My camera reveals all sins so now you can see the wear through to the lugs... I'm afraid that's the price you have to pay for being the owner of a Lee.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

1955 Automatic K-375

If you've studied Hamilton's 1950's and '60's watches closely, then you've probably picked up on the rationale behind the numbers used when Hamilton named Automatic models.  100-series watches were solid 18K gold.  200-series were solid 14K gold.  300-series and 400-series are solid 10K gold and gold filled, respectively.  500-series are stainless steel and 600-series are rolled gold.

Add to the nomenclature that if the second digit is a 5, then the back is likely stainless steel.  So a K-150 is an 18K solid gold watch with a stainless steel back.  A K-451 is 10k gold filled with a stainless back.

Makes sense... right?

Well - almost.  There's one model that is a bit of a mystery, that being the 1955 Automatic K-375.  It was produced for four years.

If you look closely, the K-375 catalog says it's 10K yellow gold overlay.  That's the mystery... what exactly is "gold overlay"?  You'll see more about that below.

The back is stainless steel.  That's not terribly unusual, After all, there are even 100-series 18K watches with stainless steel backs too, for example, the 1955 K-150.

Like most high-end Hamilton watches, the K-375 offers solid 18K gold numerals and markers on a silver dial.

Behind the dial is a Hamilton 661 automatic movement.

I recently picked up a K-375 project watch.  It arrived in decent condition, just a faint radium burn from the lume on the hands.  I suspect the watch was tucked in a drawer for quite a few years, stuck at about 5:45.

The back of this watch has two parts; a pie pan-shaped cover held in place with circular ring.

Here's the second part of the mystery... the inside of the case back is stamped "10K G.F. Bezel"  Why would Hamilton stamp the inside of the case back gold filled, put gold overlay in the catalog and name the watch a 375?  Why not make is a 400-series watch?  Weird, huh?

The best I can guess, and it's a total guess, is that gold overlay contains substantially more gold than gold filled.  Gold filled usually implies about 5% of the thickness of the material is a layer of gold, while the remainder is a base material (brass, or some other alloy).  When you see "1/20 gold fill", the 1/20 implies 5%.  If it was 1/10, the gold content would be 10%, etc.

I just overhauled a 661 in a K-250 yesterday, so I'll spare you the details again.  However, this one was a little more challenging as it took me several attempts at cleaning the balance assembly before I could get it to run cleanly, as shown below on my watch timer.  A clean-running watch is represented by two, fairly close, parallel running lines.  Ideally the two lines would be horizontal.  Trending upwards means the watch is running fast... in this case 27 seconds per day fast.  I find recently overhauled watches will settle down after a little while, so I leave them running slightly fast.

With the dial and hands reinstalled, I can put the reassembled movement back in the case.  The oscillating weight, aka rotor, can go back on now.  One additional insight into the mystery of the case material is that there is absolutely no sign of verdigris on the case.  Verdigis is the green "rust" that you see on gold filled cases where the base material comes into contact with moisture.  Solid gold cases never show verdigris since only gold is present.  This watch's case is a clean as a solid gold case.

Although the Speidel bracelet isn't original to the watch, I don't have any 18mm straps at the moment to install on it.  So the bracelet will have to do for now.  It looks pretty nice though - so maybe I'll keep it.  I think the watch cleaned up very nicely.  I removed the radium from the hands in my ultrasonic cleaner so there will be no more damage to the original dial.

The K-375 is a sharp looking watch, don't you think?