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Greetings!

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.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

1968 Chronograph A

Chronographs are probably the most popular complications you can add to a watch.  A complication is any feature that is in addition to the basics of a watch that tells the time.  You could say the simplest complication is a sweep second hand since it's separate from the hour and minute hands, but that would be debatable since it's often attached to one of the primary train wheels.

Other complications are things like a date wheel, or a day of the week wheel, alarm function, and even an automatic framework is a complication.

Chronographs are stop watches.  So there is an added feature where you can start. stop and reset a separate timing mechanism.  A Chronometer, on the other hand, is a watch or clock that has been tested and  certified to perform to a very high level of precision and accuracy.

You could add all of these features to a watch and have an automatic chronograph with a day / date feature... and probably add a few more like a repeater and alarm.  Now that would be a complicated watch.

Hamilton's first Chronographs were the Chronograph A and the Chronograph B.  Both models were introduced in 1968.  The B model was made until 1971 but the A model appears to only have been made in 1968 & 69.


As you can see, the Chronograph A has a white dial with black sub registers.  Because of this, the dial is often called a panda dial.  The black dialed Chronograph B has the opposite configuration and is not a panda dial, although sometimes people call it that.


Wrist watches with chronographs date back well into the 1930s so Hamilton was a little late to the party, although Hamilton did make pocket watch chronographs for the military like the Model 23.

I think auto racing in the late 1960s, formula1, etc. made Chronographs a very popular fashion statement for men and that trend has stuck around for 50 years.

Buying vintage chronographs is full of perils.  They can be subject to lots of wear and tear and without proper maintenance you may find that they no longer work properly.  In addition, they can be extremely expensive to repair - assuming you can even find parts for them.

I recommend you only purchase a chronograph after you validate that all of the functions perform adequately... otherwise steer clear or prepare for the worst.

That said, I recently crossed my fingers and took a leap of faith on a Chronograph A that was listed as "recently serviced".  It was not inexpensive but it came with it's original bracelet and was listed as fully functioning.  The worst case is I would have t return it for being "other than described".

As received, I was pleasantly surprised.  The white dial has a hint of green patina around the left side but other than that it looks very good.  It's obviously been well-used but this is not a common model so I was very happy to find it.


To orient you if you are unfamiliar, the crown on the side winds and sets the watch.  The upper button starts and stops the chronograph and the lower button will reset the hands to zero.  The register on the left is the second hand for the watch and the register on the right is the elapsed minutes of the stop watch.  So this chronograph will count up to 30 minutes of elapsed time before repeating.


The back of the watch says Hamilton Swiss and Stainless Steel.  I don't see any other markings.


Inside is a 17 jewel Hamilton grade 643.  This movement is based on the Valjoux 7730, a manual winding chronograph ebauche that many watch brands used.  That means that parts should be easy to find but it also means that lots of watches have consumed the spare parts supply.  It can be tricky to find parts like hour and minute hands for this caliber.

This movement looks great and I can see fresh oil and lubrication so that's a good sign it was recently serviced.  Chronographs are two watches in one... or should I say two watches back to back.  The main watch parts are underneath the chronograph parts.  So what you see in the shot below are mostly the chronograph parts and the main watch movement is sandwiched between the dial the chronograph.


Putting it on the timer.... no complaints here.  It doesn't get any better than this.


This watch can go directly to it's pillow shot and then onto my wrist.  What a cool watch!  It would be the pride of the fleet in any collection.


I haven't gotten up the nerve yet to tackle a chronograph yet.  I figure if I take one apart and try to reassemble it I would probably end up with a few extra parts left over.  However, someday I will give it a try.

In fact, a year or two ago I picked up a project watch.  It has no hands, no crystal, and no back, but it does run.


Based on the shape of the bezel and the dial, I can tell that it's a 1970 Chronograph 360.


This watch has a similar movement called the Hamilton 647, which is based on the Valjoux 7733.  It's very similar to the 7730 so hopefully it will be a good movement to practice on.  It's missing a couple of screws but should teach me a thing or two nonetheless.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

1939 Foster

Watches "curved to fit the wrist" were in style in the late 1930's,  Sometimes the cases curved dramatically while other models had flexible lugs so the watch could be worn on the side of the wrist.s The latter are often called driver's watches.

Movements started to get smaller too and by the 1940's there were many men's models that were tiny, especially when compared to today's standards.  Ladies watches got smaller too - so small that it's often hard to tell the time, but all the diamonds that adorned them made up for that.

One of the innovative models that Hamilton introduced in 1939 was the Foster.  It was only produced for two years and although it's not unheard of, it is not an easy model to find.  It's cased in 14K gold and was priced at $80... that was the equivalent of $1,450 in today's dollars, when adjusted for inflation.  It was not an inexpensive watch.


If the Foster looks familiar, it might be because it looks a lot like the Linwood.  The Linwood was introduced the year prior, 1938, and came in a 14K gold filled case.  It's a much more common model and easier to find.  The case has a very similar design with ridges along the sides.  Both models feature "spherical" dials where the dial is curved from top to bottom as well as from side to side.  The easiest way to tell a Foster case from a Linwood is the lugs on the Foster flare outward a little while the Linwood sides are a consistent curve.


The Linwood is an interesting model in that it had either a 17 jewel movement or a 19 jewel movement, depending on the year.  The Foster is also interesting in that it has either a 19 jewel 982 movement or a 19 jewel 982M movement, depending on the year.

Originally the 17 jewel 980 movement was used in gold filled models and the 19 jewel 982 was used in solid gold models.  In 1940 the 19 jewel 982M medallion movement was introduced for solid gold (and platinum) models.  Then the 982 was used in 14K gold filled cases and the 980 went into 10K gold filled (or stainless) cases.  That's an interesting bit of trivia.

My Foster project watch is already in pretty good shape but could still use a little TLC.  The lug width is 9/16" or 14mm so getting a strap for it can be a challenge.  This watch has a long bracelet that's not original but seems to look okay.  I don't like the spring loaded ends of the bracelet though, they will eventually wear grooves into the inside of the lugs.


The back of this watch is unremarkable and doesn't show too much wear..


One way to tell a Linwood dial from a Foster dial is the marker at the 6 position.  The Linwood should have a star and the Foster has a gold dot.  Of course, that assumes the marker isn't missing or hasn't been replaced.  The Linwood also has a barrel-shaped outline surrounding the seconds register while the Foster has just a circle.

I can tell this dial has been refinished in the past. It looks fine but the notch on the side by the crown is an obvious tell that it was previously redone.


The movement is a 982 and the serial number dates to 1938.  That indicates this is an early Foster.  Hamilton watches were introduced in the Fall of the previous year, sort of like cars, so you could buy a 1939 model in October of 1938, for example.


Wow! There are a LOT of watchmaker's marks inside this case back.  I didn't count them but there's hardly enough room to add another one.  I find watches like this to be interesting... this watch has been well maintained but you never know what prior people have done to the movement along the way.


The glass crystal has a couple of cracks in the corner and the inside of the lip on the crown side appears to be bent inward.  I might be able to straighten that out later.


One of the dial feet screws is missing.


The mainspring inside the barrel is a white alloy design but the end of it looks a little unusual - like it's set up for a T end or a Swiss-style tang end.  I suspect it's not a Hamilton spring but more of a generic spring.  As long as it's the appropriate strength it should be fine and not need to be replaced.


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


The reassembled movement is ticking away with good motion.


Looking good... just a minor tweak to the regulator to speed the watch up a little will be needed.  The amplitude of 250 and the low beat error are perfect.  So the mainspring is good to go.


The finished watch looks great.  I need to replace the crystal though, I find the cracks in the corners to be a minor distraction.  It will look as good as it runs once it has a new crystal.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Happy Birthday, Devil Dogs!

Today is November 10th, the 243rd birthday of the United States Marine Corps.  As a 10 year veteran of our US naval service, I have tremendous respect for the Marine Corps and a number of life-long Marine friends.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen.  Thank God for the United States Marine Corps".


One of the soft spots I have in my watch restoration heart is for military models.  Hamilton made a gazillion WWII watches for the US Army, Canada and even the Russian army.  They also made considerably fewer watches specifically for the US Navy and Marine Corps.  

I've restored dozens of military watches and I've had the parts for another few laying around for a while.  One of the sets of parts would make a great "homage" watch.  An homage watch is something that looks authentic and is not meant to deceive but rather to honor.  I figured I could showcase my project while also pointing out some of the pitfalls of military watches.

When it comes to authentic WWII watches, there are a lots of authentic examples for sale out there and there are also lots of bogus ones.  For example, on any given day you can see a seller on eBay selling Hamilton USN BUSHIPS Canteen watches from WWII with movements made after 1955... go figure.  He doesn't seem to want to point out that his watch is bogus but he also doesn't tend to sell them for the $2000 an authentic Canteen will go for.

The best way to make sure you don't get fooled by a vintage military watch is to do your homework.  Understand what movement should be inside the case, know what the dial should look like, know what the case markings say, should say, or how they should be stamped.  If something doesn't look right, move on... there will ALWAYS be another. 


My project watch consists of authentic parts from the 1940's, some of which are military surplus.  The main visible part is a parkerized case.  This dull-finished case is marked ORD DETP USA and intended to have a serial number stamped onto the back.  I've bought these new old stock in the past and the packages have usually been marked with information from 1948.  This style of case was used after WWII, like for the Korean War, but it's set up for the 6/0 Hamilton 987A movement and not the later (and smaller) 8/0 sized 747 used in the Korean War USMC watch.

The dial I have has the USMC eagle, globe and anchor logo.  I've also had dials for the US Navy and the Army Air Corps.  They also came in DoD packaging and I suspect they were from the military exchange system or something like that.  

All I really needed to supply was a movement, hands and a stem.


My movement has a serial number that dates to 1942... the early days of WWII.  As you can see by it's dull finish, it's been a while since it was cleaned.


The blue steel mainspring inside has "set" and lost a lot of it's potential energy.  That's not unusual for watches from this era.


A new white alloy Dynavar mainspring will be huge improvement to the energy of this watch.


While cleaning the movement I realized the center wheel jewel in the main plate is broken.  The watch would probably run like this but the jewel should be replaced before I reassemble watch.


One option is to remove the jewel from another 987A and install it in my project watch.  I have a donor with fine jewels and the serial number is also from 1942, so why not just switch plates?  It's funny to think that these two main plates were probably at the Lancaster factory together 76 years ago and now they're here on my workbench.  Oh the stories they could probably tell!


Everything is cleaned and readied to be reassembled.


Here you can see what a fresh mainspring looks like.  Notice the coil splays out and even starts to coil in the opposite direction.  The watch will run about 40 hours on a full wind with this mainspring.


The reassembled movement is running on the timer with good motion... everything looks just as it should.


How better to complement a vintage WWII-era watch than with a vintage olive canvas strap?


My project watch turned out exactly as I thought it would... awesome!  I've made several of these and given them to buddies when they retired from the service or on other special occasions.  This is the last dial I have though.   I suspect it will make a fantastic Christmas present for someone this year.