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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WWII Military Watches

From 1942 to 1946, Hamilton's production was dedicated to the war effort.  Watches and time keeping devices of all sorts were produced for the US Government and our allies.

I posted earlier this month an example of a Model 22 Marine Chronometer... a 36 size watch that served aboard ships as the official time keeper.

Hamilton also made "bomb timers" that used the 14/0 980 movement in a special case with a hack function.  These timers were installed in planes and were used by bombardiers to synchronize bombing runs and effectively hammer their targets.  Some collectors have converted these cases to accommodate a strap although they're technically not wrist watches.

Military personnel also were issued time pieces when they went "into harms way".

Initially cases were made by three manufacturers - Wadsworth, Star and Keystone.  Some cases had screw on backs and some had a pop-on back (called a tea cup case).  Early cases were chrome plated and were prone to extensive wear.  They were eventually replaced by a parkerized case with thicker lugs.  These cases were used during the Korean war too - but with the 8/0 size 747 movement.

Parkerization is a special coating often used in guns as an alternative to bluing.

Early cases were engraved on the back with "Ord Dept USA" and a serial number starting with OD - representing a non-waterproof case with 15-17 jewels.  The Navy cases were marked differently on the back.  A letter was stamped between the lugs representing the case maker... H, W, or  S.  H and W are Wadsworth cases and S was for Star Watch Case company.  As far as I know, Navy watches used Wadsworth cases, while the other services used both manufactures.

Here are some examples that I've acquired.  I don't have a complete collection though, so this isn't an exhaustive list.

First off are some wrist watches.  Generally speaking, black dialed wrist watches were used by the Navy.  The back of the case will be engraved "USN BUSHIPS".  The dial will also have Hamilton embossed in black on the dial - albeit hard to see.

A watch like this one with the sub second hand at 6 will feature a 17 jewel 987A movement.  The case will have a screw-on back cover, with a movement ring and dust cover inside, along with a gasket.

A sweep second hand watch was also available.  Depending on the watch it will have a 17 jewel 987S movement inside, or it could have an 18 jewel 2987 in specific naval aviator watches.  In this shot the white-tipped second hand is directly over the 7 so it's hard to see it.  This watch is in a parkerized case, introduced at the end of the war (or slightly after) to replace the chrome plated cases that suffered a lot of wear.

This sweep second hand version is in it's correct WWII Wadsworth case.

The Army and Marines used white dials and watches would use 987A movements with the sub second hand.

Here's a couple of examples that I have assembled using NOS cases with refinished dials.  I think they really turned out nice.

I've also seen (and purchased) military branch-specific dials.  I don't think they were issued for general use but may have been options for personnel in military exchanges and PX's.

Here's an example of US Navy and Marine Corps watches I've assembled and given to buddies I've known in the service.

Of course, military watches aren't limited to wrist watches.  Pocket watches were also produced using the 21 jewel 992B movement as well as the 22 jewel 4992B with a sweep second.

Here's an example of the 22 jewel 4992B that my wife's grandfather used during the war while serving in the Pacific as a Naval Flight Officer (Navigator).  This watch has a special hour wheel behind the dial so the hour hand moves half as fast and normal - making the dial an 24 hour dial... currently the time is 20:12, or 8:12PM.

Of course, the Army got pocket watches too.  This one below is interesting as it's a Railway Special but marked US Army on the movement (on the left side at about 8:00).  I guess military trains needed to run on time too!

If you compare the 992B movement and the 4992B movement you'll see they are very similar.  The latter has an extra wheel on the back and a pinion to drive the central sweep second hand.  There's a jeweled bridge to hold the second hand shaft and that's the 22nd jewel that makes the 4992B different.  Otherwise they are largely the same.

If you've got a really good eye for details you'll note the 4992B is missing the mainspring wheel screw... not to worry, it fell out for some reason when I took the picture but I have it.


  1. This was a helpful article. I just received my father's Hamilton 4992B from WWII. The serial number on the case is AF42-16195. Can I assume that is from 1942? I'm not sure I want to remove the back cover to check the actual watch serial number. I'd rather have someone who knows what they are doing look at it.

  2. The back cover should easily unscrew to reveal the movement. The movement serial number will tell you more about the date. Just don't drop it or go poking around inside... but looking at it is totally fine. Look up the serial number here... http://pocketwatchdatabase.com/

  3. Thanks Dan. The serial number is 4C30251 and is estimated to be from 1941, so it all makes sense. I appreciate your help with this!

  4. HandyDan,
    I flat commend you and people like you for keeping the history alive and passing it on! My grandfather who did not serve in the armed forces worked 42 years with the Long Island Railroad on the freight line. I inherited his Hamilton 4992b pocket watch although I think it might be a post war watch I'm ever so proud to have it and look forward to someday passing it along to one of my three sons! Thank for what you do!

  5. I have a 4992B. Inside back case the number 000570 appears. What is its significance? It's a 22 jewel

    1. The case serial number doesn't really have much relevance, at least as far as I'm aware.

  6. Does anybody know why some 4992b have GOV't marked on the movement and some do not. I have a 42 with GOV't and a 43 with out it.

  7. Hey Dan,
    I'm a Marine and was wndering how I could get my hands on one of these restored watches with the Marines emblem (like the one pictured in the thread), or could you possibly point me in the right direction for doing a restore myself?

    1. That dial is an aftermarket dial so you probably won't find one unless you keep your eye on eBay. Once you have the dial, the rest of the parts are fairly easy to find on eBay too.

  8. Hi. On the army and marines white dial 987a Is there any kind of radioactivity like radium ?

    1. All of the WWII watches with luminous paint used radium. As long as you don't eat the watch there is no concern. I typically get those dials and hands refinished ... they look a lot better and they use modern luminous material that isn't radioactive.

  9. file:///storage/emulated/0/Download/e96c4486995f178191e6ebfc61cc0dfc082f5250.jpg This Is the watch for me it looks redone but the company assurés it was à réal one. Do you thing its still radiaoctice. Thanks

    1. https://www.leboncoin.fr/montres_bijoux/1347145764.htm?ca=2_s

    2. Incorrect hands at a minimum... still have radium paint? Probably on the dial

  10. Thanks so much for the detailed infos