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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

1936 Norfolk - "Strong enough for a man..."

In 1936 Hamilton introduced a rather unique but short lived model - the Norfolk.

The model is unique in a couple of ways.  First, it 's one of a very few men's models to not offer a second hand.  In addition, it's the only men's model to use the 18/0 sized 989 movement more commonly found in ladies watches from the period.

It's a rectangular watch, sometimes referred to as a tanq (tank), and it's about the same size as many of the other rectangular models from the same time period.

It wasn't a very popular watch though and I've only seen it in the 1936 catalog.

There were two dial options available, solid gold applied numerals and a black combination marker and number dial.  It came only in a 10K yellow gold filled case.

Here are a couple of wrist shots of both models.

I like the Norfolk.  I think it's a sharp looking little watch, suitable for anyone's wrist, man or woman.

Monday, July 30, 2012

1948 Brandon - "CLD" as in "sealed"

In 1948 Hamilton introduced the first of several new watch models in the "CLD" line.  CLD phonetically spells out "sealed" and the CLD models featured a series of gaskets that brought environmental protection of a watch to a whole new level.

The first CLD model was the Brandon.  It was produced through 1951.

The earliest models had flexible lugs and only 1948 models offered this design.  In the following years, the lugs were shortened and fixed to the case.  So there are a couple of case varieties in the Brandon line to look out for.

All Brandon's used the 17 Jewel, 14/0 sized 980 movement.

In addition, dials came in either a butler-finished silver color with solid gold numerals or a black-finished dial, also with solid gold numerals... the latter is much more scarce.

The 1949 catalog has a nice description of what's behind the CLD brand... basically it's a series of gaskets... around the crystal, around the bezel / case opening and around the crown / case.  The watches were not marketed as "water proof", just sealed against moisture and dirt.

Typically most CLD models are a two piece case with the bezel and crystal mounting to the main case and the stem is a two piece design.  The movement and dial come out from the front, instead of from the rear as with most other period designs.

Of course, after 60 years the gaskets may either no longer exist or surely have deteriorated.  So, like all vintage watches, you should keep them away from wet environments.

Here's a few shots of Brandons I've enjoyed in my collection.  First, here's a black dialed Brandon with fixed lugs.

and here's a 1948 white-dialed version with the flexible lugs...

Here's a pair of fixed lug siblings...

And just for fun, here's a common mistake that every collector makes... and that's figuring out how to put the strap on.  "Does it go over the bar or under the bar?"  The funny thing is I should have known better since there are other flexible lug models, but the lugs on this watch were frozen at first so it seemed like this was the only way to put them on - but eventually they loosened up.

There are quite a few CLD models in the Hamilton lineup and trying to collect them all would present a challenging opportunity.  It would be a nice Hamilton collection though in the end, as various models came in both solid gold and filled gold as well as manual and automatic movements.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

1941 Lexington - styled in steel

As a testament to the tenuous pre-war environment in the United States, Hamilton's 1941 catalog specifically highlighted three watch models rugged enough for service men - as if foretelling America's future involvement in WWII.

One of the models, the Lexington, was "styled in steel" and Hamilton's first use of stainless steel in a watch.  I don't know the inspiration for the name but it's not hard to imagine it was the US Navy's second aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington, which was sunk in 1942.

The other two military models were the Endicott and the Sentinel.

The catalogs show that the Lexington was only available with a black dial with white numerals and hands.   You will occasionally find examples with a silver dial using black numerals and hands and although it's a sharp looking design, I don't think they are authentic and are likely custom redials.

Even though the Lexington appears to be a round watch, it's actually powered by the 17 jewel, size 14/0, 980 movement that was typically used in the rectangular models in Hamilton's lineup.

The Lexington is a sharp looking watch.  It was only available in one catalog year - 1941 - after which Hamilton's capacity was dedicated to war production.   It will typically command a premium when available for sale if it's in good shape.

Here's a wrist shot of mine.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

1955 Trent

The 1950's and '60's was an interesting period in Hamilton styling... I suppose you could say, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times".

The watch industry in the United States was evolving.  Lower cost countries like post-war Japan, Germany and Switzerland created a lot of price pressure on US-based manufacturing.  Like other American companies, Hamilton responded by incorporating lower cost Swiss movements into many of their US designs.  Many watches from this era are round in styling and a little on the "boring" side.

At the same time, they also continued to make technological advancements in the US until their 1969 sale to what is now the Swatch Group.  For example, in the late 1950's Hamilton introduced the world's first electric watch.  Furthermore, many Hamilton watches from this era incorporated innovative case designs - commonly referred to as "assymmetrics".   There are highly collectible asymmetric models with both electric and mechanical movements.

In between the traditional and the highly innovative designs were a host of very stylish watch models, one of them being the 1955 Trent.  The Trent was introduced in 1955 and produced through 1969.  It looks great on both a bracelet or a strap.

Early models may have a size 12/0 17J 752 movement under the hood but most of the time you will find the highly regarded 12/0 22 jewel 770 movement.  Cases came in white gold fill and yellow gold fill, the latter being much more common.  Markers and hands match the case as either rhodium plated or natural 14K gold.  Dials came in silver butler or black finish.   The dial is also uniquely finished so there are four quadrants that reflect light in opposing patterns (see photos below).

This model is prone to wear through on the high points of the lugs near the corners of the crystals but good examples are easy to find.

Here is the yellow gold filled version, note the wear through on the case...

and here's the white gold filled version.

In 1960, Hamilton introduced several unique models in the "Romanesque" line.  These watches featured an interesting cloth-like textured dial with black markers and hands.  The Romanesque S looks virtually identical to the Trent (in a black and white photo )but it's much more rare.  It's easily confused for a Trent (and vice versa) so new collectors should look closely if they see a Romanesque S listed for sale.

The Trent is also available as a modern Hamilton.  It's a lot larger than the original but has many of the same design elements, especially the lugs.  Here's a new Trent alongside a vintage model.

Friday, July 27, 2012

1930 Gladstone

Hamilton's wrist watch line-up really expanded at the end of the 1920's with several new models that had pretty long production runs.  Some of these watches were fairly large for their time and even wear well by today's standards... okay, maybe not that big, but presentable anyway.

Take for example the 1930 Gladstone.  Some price lists show the Gladstone as early as 1927 but I think they first appeared in Hamilton's catalogs in 1930.  They were available through 1934.

The model came in green gold fill and white gold fill.  Green gold is an alloy with other metals added that give the gold a greenish tint.  It's sometimes very hard to tell green gold from yellow gold and  models came in all three colors.  Often the easiest way to tell them apart is side by side.

However, for the Gladstone it's not a problem - as they're typically only green and white.  Hamilton made over three times as many white gold filled examples, with a ratio of approximately 16,500 white to 4,600 green.  Catalogs show that natural (yellow) gold was available in the later years but I think they're pretty rare in yellow.

Dials came in luminous as well as black enamel.

The case is a three-piece case with an engraved center section, back cover and plain front bezel.

The model used a size 6/0, 17 jewel 987 movement and you'll often find a 987F under the hood.

Here's a couple of wrist shots of my two examples, first green and then white.

and check out this sweet engraving... "they don't make them like this anymore".

Now I just need to find one of those enamel-dialed versions...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

1937 Heyward

If you're going to explore the world of vintage watches you might find that everyone calls everything "Art Deco".  The vast majority of the time the term is misapplied but many of the watches from the 1930's truly display art deco principles.

One of the best examples, I think, is the Hamilton Heyward.  This watch was introduced in 1937 and ran for three years until 1939.

When I think art deco I think of the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Art Deco designs involve linear symmetry with ornamental attributes.  The Heyward has a very symmetrical case with interesting stepped details and the dial also carries similar design details.

Just under 9,800 Heywards were produced and they came only in 10K yellow gold filled.   Two dial patterns were available... applied gold numerals and a black enamel dial.  I think both dials look great, in their own ways.

The Heyward utilizes a size 6/0, 17 jewel 987 movement.  Based on the production years you might find either a 987E movement or the later 987A movement.

Here's a photo of the AGN version.  I just love the two-tone white / butler finish with the prominent gold figures standing proud of the dial surface.

And here's another wrist shot of the enamel-dialed version.  Note how both models used "lozenge" shaped hands, including the second hands - very cool.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to Install a Watch Crystal

It's amazing what an improvement a fresh watch crystal makes to liven up an old watch.

The watch crystal serves a very important purpose.  Beyond just providing a clear perspective of the dial, it also protects the dial and hands from the damage and can be an important design element by including facets, bevels or magnifying windows.

Crystals come in three basic materials... plastic, mineral glass, and synthetic sapphire.   Plastic crystals are inexpensive and easy to install. They're easily scratched but it's also easy to buff out surface scratches.  Mineral glass crystals are slightly more expensive and more difficult to install.  They are harder to scratch but once scratched they can't be buffed out.  Sapphire crystals are much more expensive and may require specialized equipment to install.  But they are very hard to scratch - which is why they are used on most high-end modern watches.

Crystals on vintage watches are easy do-it-yourself projects if you have an interest to tackle it.

Take for example this 1931 Hamilton Perry.  Not only does it need a new crystal, it also needs a new number 1 hour marker (we'll save that for another day).

Putting the old crystal next to the new crystal is a good way to demonstrate just how different a new crystal will look.

Looking through the old crystal offers an even better perspective.

So your first question is probably, "how do you get the old crystal out?".  Sometimes it's already loose and you can just push it out with your thumb.  But most of the time they are not loose.

Non-round crystals are typically glued into the bezel with either a "cement" or "UV-curable glue".

Round crystals are often friction fit (principally the acrylic / plastic kind) where the diameter of the crystal is ever so slightly larger than the bezel opening.  A special tool is used to remove and install those crystals.

For a non-round crystal like on this Perry, it's glued in and if it's not loose you can free it by either (a) boiling it in water for a minute  or (b) put it in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner for a couple of minutes.  Both ways will do the trick.

Once it's out, you can get down to business.  The next step it to make sure to remove any left over glue in the bezel opening by using a sharp tooth pick.  Avoid using anything metal to scrape out the glue - as one small slip will scratch the bezel and you don't want that.

If you're really lucky, the new crystal fits right into the bezel.  I don't seem to get that lucky though and 9 times out of 10 the new crystal is too big for bezel opening in which case you'll need to do a little shaping.  As you can see in the photo below, this crystal doesn't quite fit.

Now one thing to keep in mind is the crystal should fit smoothly in the opening.  Too loose is better than too tight.  Avoid the temptation to try to "press in" a crystal that almost fits... it's guaranteed to crack on you.  Take the extra 5 minutes to shape it a little more so it fits just right.

I find the best way to shape crystals is with 600 grit sandpaper - available at most hardware stores.  Plastic crystals are easiest to shape but glass crystals are shaped this way too - it just takes a lot longer.  All you need to do is put a few drops of water on the paper and work the crystal back and forth along the edges.

Take your time and work each edge until the crystal fits nicely into the bezel opening.

Now you're ready to glue the crystal in.  The type of glue really depends upon the type of crystal.  As a general rule, plastic crystals are installed with crystal cement and glass crystals are installed with UV glue.  I think both will work on either but they're best used if applied like above.

UV glue will cure in the sunlight, if your wondering where to find UV rays - although there are inexpensive lamps that ladies use to cure fingernail glue that you can use too.

Cement smells a lot like the glue I used as a kid to make model airplanes and cars... if you did the same you know what I'm talking about.

For this crystal I used cement...

You need a steady hand and definitely DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS WITH THE BEZEL ON THE WATCH. It's an absolute certainty that you'll get the glue on the dial and that's not a good idea.
A fine bead is all you need and you can spread it more with a toothpick if needed.

Once you insert the crystal the glue will probably squeeze out.  You can clean it up with a soft cloth and rubbing alcohol.

If you make a mess of it don't despair.  Just take it all apart, clean it in soapy water, dry it and start over.  You'll get the hang of it eventually.

Once it's all dried you can put the bezel back on the watch.

Now you can compare the before and after.

Changing crystals is an easy and rewarding project.  It's definitely something you should be willing to try now that you know how to do it!

Now to find a number 1....

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

1938 Endicott

My very first Hamilton wrist watch was the Endicott.  I just loved it's classic style with the rounded case and the rounded sub second register at 6:00.  I didn't know any other Hamilton models at the time but I was inspired, believe it or not, by the wrist watch Donald Duck wore in a Disney cartoon!

The Endicott was introduced in 1938 and ran through 1948.  It was a very popular model and is easily found in the most common dial patterns - mainly the 2nd generation Applied Gold Numeral dial.

The earliest Endicott shown in this 1938 catalog ad came with the AGN dial with rectangular hour markers as well as a black enamel dial.

Here are my examples... this first version is arguably the rarest dial pattern.  Notice the rectangular shape of the markers at the 5 minute positions.  It's much more common to see the triangular markers on the second version of the AGN dial.

Later the "black zone dial" and luminous dialed options were introduced.  The luminous version uses the same dial pattern as the WWII military models that used the 987A movement.

Finally, in the 1940's the AGN dial was redesigned and the hour markers converted to triangles.  The 18K gold numerals are also on a slightly larger diameter (further from the center) than the earlier AGN design.

One interesting thing to note is the close similarity to the Secometer from the same period and shown in the above 1947 catalog ad.  Both models use 6/0 sized 987-based movements.  The Endicott used the 987A and the Secometer used the 987S with a central sweep second.

The 987S is slightly deeper to accommodate the additional wheel needed to drive the second hand.  As a result, the 987A will fit into a 987S Secometer case, but a 987S will not fit into an Endicott case.

For whatever reason, it is not uncommon to find an Endicott-dialed movement in a Secometer case.  In fact, it happens so frequently that one is left to wonder if at the end of WWII Hamilton sold these specially-cased variants while production was restored from military to civilian purposes?

Here's an example that I once purchased - notice the difference in the shape of the lugs.

I've accidentally bought "Endicometers" on more than one occasion.

The Endicott is not a very large watch by today's standards.  It's about 1-1/8" wide with a dial about the size of a Quarter.  That said, it's a very classic design that no Hamilton collection would be complete without at least one example.

Monday, July 23, 2012

1938 Contour - "curved to fit the wrist"

In the late 1930's Hamilton introduced a number of interesting designs marketed to fit comfortably on the wrist.  Sometimes referred to as "curvex", several models had dramatically curved and elongated cases.  Others incorporated flexible lugs in a style also referred to as "drivers watches".  These watches could be worn on the side of the wrist so you could read the watch while gripping the steering wheel and answer that age-old question, "when are we going to get there?".

No watch embodied these two principles more than the 1938 Contour.

The Contour was produced for only two years - 1938 and 1939.  It was not a very popular watch.

It uses the 17 jewel 980 movement but orients it with the stem upward at the 12, rather than the traditional right side by the 3.  In addition, there is no second hand bit so the watch simply has the hour and minute hands.

My example came with no crystal and a serious case of "dial rash" but it cleaned up nicely.  The previous owner had fastened an expansion bracelet to the cross bars (rather than using spring pins for the strap as shown above).  Fortunately, the case was no worse the wear - literally and figuratively.

Here's my example as received.

I find the Contour a little hard to wind with the crown on top.  You definitely need to remove the watch from your wrist to wind it but that's a good practice anyway - as there's less stress on the stem that way.

All cleaned up and with less worn crown and a new glass crystal installed, the Contour is a very comfortable watch and will surely get some well deserved wrist time.