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, October 26, 2013

The Military Case Mystery

I recently received a question about the various military watch cases out there.  It was a great question and I didn't totally understand it myself until not too long ago.  I've learned a lot from other collectors - especially Tim Stapleton - to whom I credit much of the information below.

I've done other posts on the subject in the past - so check out these posts for more information.

WWII "Tea-Cup" Watch
WWII Military Watches
US Navy "Canteen" Diver's Watch
Korean War USMC Watch

Hamilton's production was dedicated to the war effort during WWII.  In fact, Hamilton also made watches for the Canadian and Russian military as well.  Over the course of the 1940's, various contracts and enhancements resulted in a variety of very similar-looking watches being produced.  For the US military, they generally were produced as follows...
  • Army ORD DEPT OD 2 piece "snap" case aka the "tea cup" (Star Watch Case) 110,336 with 987A movements produced for the Army

  • Army ORD DEPT screw case ("S" between the lugs Star Watch Case) included in the 110,336 with 987A movements produced for the Army

  • BUSHIPS Canteen Diver's Watch ("W" between the lugs Wadsworth Watch Case) with 987S movement.  This is a truly waterproof case and the glass crystal is held in place with lead.  The authentic strap is a flexible plastic.  The correct hands are stainless steel.

The next few watches have Keystone cases with an H between the lugs and the case back is engraved to denote what part number (model) it is.

  • Navy BUSHIPS ("H" between the lugs Keystone Watch Case) with 987A.  Dial has USN BUSHIPS printed in white and Hamilton in black just above it but it's hard to see.  The back is engraved "USN BUSHIPS"

  • Navy R88-W-800 27023 ("H" between the lugs Keystone Watch Case) - with 987A and similar to above but without the USN BUSHIPS on the dial and part number 27023 is engraved on the back.  You can see the Hamilton in black on this dial.

  • Navy R88-W-800 39108 ("H" between the lugs Keystone Watch Case) 22,410 987S movements produced for the Navy (black dial) with 987S movement
  • USMC R88-W-800 39108 ("H" between the lugs Keystone Watch Case) 15,888 movements produced for the USMC (white dial) with 987S movement

  • USMC FSSC 88-W-800 39102 ("W" between the lugs Wadsworth Watch Case) 2,926 18 jewel 2987 movements with white dials produced for the USMC
  • Navy FSSC 88-W-800 39103 ("S"between the lugs Star Watch Case) 12,000 2987 movements with black dials produced for the Navy

  • 1946 ORD case (Star Watch Case) with 987S movement.  This case was introduced to replace the chrome plated case and is "parkerized", or specially coated, to prevent corrosion.

  • USMC OF 1947 - 1954 (Star Watch Case) with 17 jewel 747 movement.  Same parkerized case but a smaller movement ring to accommodate the smaller 747 movement and a tap 10 crown instead of tap 8.

The 17 jewel 14/0 sized 980 movement was outfitted with a "hack" mechanism to allow the operator to stop and start it.  Collectors often modify the case to form lugs in order to apply a strap to it, but it's not technically a wrist watch.

Hamilton also provided watches for the Russian and Canadian Military
  • 3,000 987A for the Russian Military 
  • 2,000 987S for the RCAF (Enamel dial with non luminous hands similar to the Hamilton Secometer)
So as you can see, there's a myriad variations of military watches and figuring them all out can be quite confusing... and this is just the Hamilton models.  If you extend your collection to Waltham, Elgin, or Benrus, etc. you have even more to try to work out.

But hopefully the information above is helpful to resolving the mystery behind Hamilton military cases.

Friday, October 25, 2013

1955 Baxter

One of the cool things about the watches from the 1950's is the designs often had a lot of flair.  Of course, there were plenty of plain-Jane round watches in the line up but Hamilton introduced a ton of watches with uniquely shaped cases and even the round watches usually had great looking dials.

Take for example the 1955 Baxter.  It was produced through 1957

The Baxter is a good sized watch.  That's another cool thing about the watches from the 1950's - or at least the later 1950's - watches started to get a little bigger.

The Baxter came in a 10K yellow gold filled case with a stainless steel back.  The butler-finished sterling silver dial has solid 18K gold numerals and dots.

I've tried a number of times to land a Baxter project watch but they usually get a lot of interest and sell for more than I'm willing to pay.  But I did finally get one, and it was in nice condition too.  The crystal is going to need to be replaced but a thorough cleaning will make a big difference.

As I said above, the back is stainless steel.  This one is engraved and overall this watch case has very little signs of wear.

Inside the Baxter you will find a US-made 8/0 sized movement... either a 747 or a 730 - which replaced the 747.  Notice on this movement there is no serial number.  Hamilton stopped putting serial numbers on movements in 1955 so this probably an early Baxter.

747 movements are great movements to overhaul.  Really, all the US-made movements from this time period were really well designed and well made.  After a through cleaning you can see this movement is purring away keeping excellent time.

Well, in it's finished state, the watch cleaned up very nicely.  Here it is with a nice new glass crystal and a fresh 18mm teju lizard strap.

Unfortunately the dial finish was a little compromised by moisture getting inside the case.  When I tried to clean the dial up the finish lifted right off and the printing faded on me.  You can't tell in this photo, but the dial is very splotchy depending on how the light hits it.   I think I will get it refinished so it will look as nice as the case.

UPDATE:  Well, I got the dial refinished and it definitely looks much better now.  What do you think?

It's probably a little hard to tell in the photos but the Hamilton logo is darker and the finish on the dial is a consistent gloss.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

1957 Rotomatic II - Overhaul

I had an interesting experience recently.  I purchased a Hamilton watch and had a really hard time identifying it.  I thought I might have found an uncatalogued model or some other oddity.  But after a little extra effort I was able to place it.

You see, automatics generally come in certain families.  There are the Automatics, Accumatics and Thin-o-Matics.  But what I didn't realize is there are also Rotomatics.  My new acquisition is a Rotomatic II.  The Rotomatic line was introduced in 1957 and produced through 1959.

The Rotomatic II came in a 10K yellow gold filled case with a stainless steel back.  The silver dial has solid 14K gold markers and a pearled track.  The yellow gilt dauphine style hands had radium lume on the back so they glowed onto the dial and backlit the hands as a silhouette.

Inside is a 23 jewel Swiss made 665 movement.  You don't see this movement very often - or at least I don't see it very often.  In fact, this was my first time seeing one so I took some extra photos to show you how it comes apart.

As received, my Rotomatic II was in okay shape.  The dial is an obvious refinish since the printing is the wrong font and Hamilton rarely put the number of jewels on the dial (although there are some exceptions).  The aftermarket bracelet had to go.  This style bracelet with spring loaded end pieces can actually wear grooves into the lugs.  It only came on a strap anyway - so I'll make that change later.

The back of the case is clearly marked Hamilton - so I knew this was an authentic model.  These waterproof cases have a gasket inside and sometimes opening the screw-off back can be a real challenge when the gasket gets hard.

Here's a shot of the movement inside.  It looks very similar to other 17 jewel automatics like the 661.  I think the 665 is just a more jeweled version of the 661 and based on the same Certina Kirth Freres calibre 28.45.

The stem is pulled out by loosening the set lever screw, just like on most other movements.  Then the entire movement slips out the back of the case.  The movement is held inside the case via a movement ring that surrounds the perimeter.  You can see the remnants of a gasket in the ring.

Here's a nice shot of the dial.  You can tell this is a refinished dial because of the fonts used in the lettering.  This isn't a surprise since the radium on the back of the hands can burn the dial and I bet that's what had happened in the past.

If you look closely you can also see the pearlized dots are empty holes.  Pearlized dials are tricky to refinish and they often turn out like this.  The little holes normally have gold in them to add the pearl-effect and in the past I have taken a tiny paint brush and put paint in each hole.  It's a tedious process but the results are usually worth it.

Sure enough, looking at the back of the dial there are a couple of sets of codes scratched in so maybe it's been redone more than once.

On the reverse, the first thing to come off is the rotor.  These KF-based movements are really easy - you just slide the little toggle switch to the left and the rotor will come off when you rotate it to the right spot.

With the rotor removed, you can see the carrier below it.  This set of gears transmits the motion of the rotor to the ratchet wheel and winds the watch when the watch is worn.  Three screws hold the carrier in place and when they're removed the entire assembly will come off.

Now here it's a little interesting... notice the train bridge below the carrier has "seventeen 17 jewels" inscribed.  I gather the 665's extra jewels are in the carrier and rotor.  Note also that the train bridge has "Hamilton Watch Co." stamped into it - it's not common to have Hamilton shown twice on the movement (the rotor and the bridge).

From here the disassembly is just like any mechanical movement.  First the mainspring is fully let out, then the barrel bridge and the train bridge can be removed.  That leaves the mainspring barrel and the fourth wheel and third wheel visible.  You can also see the silver-colored escape wheel tucked next to the balance.  The balance can also be removed at this point.

With those parts removed you can see there's a small bridge that is supporting the center wheel.  Two screws hold it in place and then those parts can be removed as well.  All that would be left is the pallet fork (on the right).  It has to come out in order to get the center wheel out.

Well, at this point everything goes into the cleaner and then two separate rinses.   Re-assembly is just the opposite of the disassembly.  All of the jewels and pivots, etc. are lubricated and the watch is regulated on the timer.

And here is the finished product on a fresh strap and with a new crystal installed.  It turned out really well.  I'm not crazy about the fonts used on the refinish but it's not bad enough that I'd get it redone.  The dial has a slight radium burn from the hour hand being stopped in one place for a long time but the radium is now removed so there will be no further damage.  This watch is ready for wrist time.

And here's a wrist shot from it's shake down cruise today.  You can see in my photo that the crown picked up a piece of lint from my jacket - but other than that the watch had a flawless day.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

1936 Dorsey

Sometimes identifying Hamilton models can be tricky.  Normally when you go by the case material, case shape, and the dial design you can narrow the list of options pretty quickly.  Knowing the movement inside will point you in the right direction too.  But I like to use a list compiled by my fellow collectors on line... The Hamilton Resource Center

Even with all that info it's still easy to make a mistake.  Take, for example, the 1936 Dorsey.  Up until I started to do this post I thought I had my hands on a 1937 Cameron.  The name Cameron is shared by someone very special to me and it's a watch I've been looking to get for quite a while.   But no... it turns out it's a Dorsey.  Oh well, the hunt continues.

The Dorsey was introduced in 1936 and made for three years.  It comes in a solid 14K yellow gold case with a choice of an applied gold numeral dial or a two-tone black enamel dial as shown in the catalog ad.

Under the dial you should find a 19 jewel 982 movement.  The Dorsey should also have solid diamond-style hands.

As I stated above, I recently purchased a Dorsey thinking it was a Cameron.  I started to think I might have made a mistake when I began to clean the watch.  I have a new crystal awaiting the arrival of a Cameron but the crystal I have is too narrow for the case.   There's actually another solid gold Cameron from the 1950's.  It's very similar so I thought maybe I just had the wrong crystal.

If you look closely at the advertisements you can see the Dorsey has a slight curve to the sides of the bezel opening while the Cameron is straight.  That was my first major clue.  Otherwise they are really quite similar.

Anyway, here's a shot of my project watch as it arrived, without the old strap that was on it.  It was in nice shape and just needed a trip to the basement spa.

The dial is pretty good but based on the flat-finish I suspect that it's an old refinish.  It doesn't look bad at all - it just doesn't look 70+ years old.

The 982 movement is running - as you can tell by the blurred balance wheel.  The serial number dates this watch to 1938 - the final year of the Dorsey.

Sure enough, close inspection of the back of the dial reveals some scratched in numbers - a sure sign the dial was refinished at some point.  As long as the pattern used is correct, getting a dial redone is not a big deal.  A nice looking redial is better than a crappy-looking original in most cases (unless the dial is super-rare).

After a thorough cleaning the watch is reassembled and put on a fresh strap.  This Dorsey is now ready for some wrist time.  I'll probably sell it though - so I can free up the funds to find my long awaited Cameron.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

1954 Morton

The mid-1950's was an exciting time for Hamilton - all sorts of funky designs were created and new movements where being introduced throughout the decade.  It seemed like if you didn't like the Hamilton line-up all you had to do was wait a year and dozens of new watches would be revealed.  The 1950's saw the introduction of 12/0 sized 752, 753, 754 and later the 770 manual wind movements.  It also saw the introduction of myriad automatic movements from various Swiss manufacturers.  The Illinois brand was reintroduced (briefly).  Swiss manual wind movements were added to the entry level model line up.  And finally, the Electric movement was introduced to the world.

One of the watches launched in the 1950's was the 1954 Morton.  It would be produced for four years.

Originally the Morton was introduced with the 19 jewel, 12/0 sized 753 movement.  When the 22 jewell 770 replaced the 753 in 1955, the Morton was outfitted with the 770.  It's interesting that despite the movement change, the Morton didn't become a Morton B.  But I guess since the case and dial technically are unchanged, the Morton wasn't really altered that much.

The case is 10K gold filled with a gold filled back.  The sterling silver butler-finished dial has solid 18K gold numerals and markers.

Although other watches were offered on metal bracelets, the Morton appears to have only come on a strap.

I recently received a Morton project watch.  It's a nice example - although well used.

The case back is rather pitted as well as scratched up.  I'm not sure what causes pitting on case backs.  I see it occasionally but not too often.  I know there are people who have a sensitivity to gold and I wonder if certain people's chemistry can affect gold.  Or maybe there's an issue with the base metal beneath the filled gold layer.  The scratches are definitely man-made.

Here's a shot of the 753 movement.  It's remarkably clean although even a clean-looking watch will leave a surprisingly murky cloud in the cleaning solution after a bath in the ultrasonic.  The serial number (82380F) dates the watch to 1954 so this is clearly a first-year Morton.  In about 1955 Hamilton stopped putting serial numbers on movements... so you won't see a 770 with a serial number.

If you look really closely you can see the watch is missing the head on the "hairspring stud" - just to the right of the balance jewel where the blue arrow is pointing.  The hairspring stud secures the hairspring to the balance cock - and fixes the position of the hairspring so the balance can rotate back and forth.  You need to be able to unscrew the screw to remove the balance from the balance cock - but this one is permanently stuck in place since there's no head to engage with a screw driver.  But, that will only be a problem when it becomes a problem and right now it's fine.

You can see below the case back is engraved with the model name.  This was done a lot in the 1950's.  Unlike other manufactures who used case numbers to identify models (to order parts) - Hamilton used model names.  The serial numbers inside the case backs rarely provide meaningful information.

Everything was cleaned up, lubricated and timed.  The dial has an interesting tan-toned patina developing on it. Although the dial is original, I find that cleaning a dial like this usually makes it look worse before making it look better.  It's certainly not bad enough to justify getting the dial redone - so the risk of ruining an otherwise nice dial is too great.  Sometimes it's best to just let sleeping dogs lie.

The Morton takes a 19mm strap and the biggest I have is 18mm.  A proper fitting strap will look much better.

Friday, October 11, 2013

1933 Putnam

I think some of my favorite models are the mid-1930's models.  The watches were larger and they featured all sorts of cool art deco-inspired aesthetics like tiered details, parallel lines, curves... you name it.

To me, one of the best examples of this classic 1930's look is the 1933 Putnam.  It was produced through 1935.

The Putnam is a very popular model and it's extremely hard to find in really nice shape.  It came in a gold filled case, either in yellow or white, and it almost always shows some wear through to the many corners of the bezel or along the sides of the flat rear cover.  The sides are stepped with slightly curving ledges that also feature rounded details from the side.  I always think of the Empire State Building when I think of Art Deco details like this.

Two dials were available, an applied gold numeral dial (called a raised gold figure dial at the time) or a luminous dial.  The RGN dial is complemented with gild hands in the "spade" style.

Tucked inside will most likely be a 17 jewel 6/0 sized 987F movement.  A 1935 example might have the 987E - with the E standing for Elinvar... the elastically invariable hairspring that Hamilton introduced around that time.

I've wanted a Putnam for "many moons" as my distant Cherokee-ancestors might have said.  They always sell well above my usual bid range unless they have so much case wear that they would cost a fortune to restore.

However, as fate would have it I was able to purchase a great example of a very generous fellow collector at a price we both could live with.

As you can see in the shots below, this RGF-dialed example is in excellent condition.  The dial is a refinish but it looks great.  The case is superb.  All it really needed was a spa treatment in the ultrasonic and a fresh mainspring.

My collection now has a new personal favorite!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

1957 Paxton

In the early 1950's Hamilton re-introduced the Illinois brand that they owned from purchasing the Illinois Watch Company in the 1920's.  The new Hamilton Illinois branded watches featured Swiss-made movements of various ilk.  The reintroduction only lasted a few years - at which point Hamilton just used Swiss-movements simply branded as Hamilton.  However, they still had a lot of leftover Illinois-branded movements and they used them in a variety of models with "-B" designations.

One example is the Paxton.  In 1956 it was the Paxton B.   I posted on the B model in March... You can see it here. The non-B Paxton was introduced the following year and made for two years.

1956 Paxton B advertisement

1957 Paxton ad

Now, not all "-B" designated watches involve Illinois watches.  The designation was used whenever there was a formal movement change when the model continued to be produced.  But in the 1956 /57 timeframe my personal observation thus far is that most of the B models had Illinois branded movements and the non-B models had Hamilton branded movements - and the movement makers might be different.  For example the Illinois model might be an ETA movement while the Hamilton-branded movement an A Schild.

Anyway - the two models are identical from the outside and come in a 10K rolled gold plated case with a stainless steel back.

I just picked up a Paxton project watch.  As received it was very dirty and the crystal needed to be buffed - which I did prior to taking the shot below.

Inside you will find an A Schild 1200 movement, known in Hamilton parlance as a 17 jewel 673 movement.  This one was very dirty but would run - which was a good sign that all it needed was a cleaning.  You can say what you want about the Swiss movements Hamilton used... they're not the same quality as the US-made movements - but they are still very robust movements in my opinion.  And they are very easy to work on (excluding the Buren micro-rotors - I'm not a fan of those).

This watch had a broken "set lever spring", also know as a "set bridge".  It serves as a detent and holds the stem out or in when setting the time or winding.  As you can see, the one on the right is the broken one - I happened to have a spare.

And here's the finished product, all cleaned up and on a nice croc-grain leather strap.  The white finished dial has an interesting patina forming around the circumference and the numbers.  I might have been able to clean it off but I kind of liked it's authenticity and didn't want to risk losing the crisp printing in the process.  A dial is only original once, you know.