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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.


  1. This is fabulous-what great information for a military watch collector
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Hi
    Do you sell restored authentic usn ww2

    1. Occasionally but the USN versions are few and far between. I focus more on models I haven't seen yet so I can keep the blog going.

  3. I've come across a 2987 movement but I have some questions on the case combo. The casing is stamped with the usual "FSSC 88-W-800" and a part MFR PART NO of 39102. However the watch has the black navy dial, not the white USMC dial. From what I can find online there isn't any photos or documentation that there was a black dialed navy version but with the 39102 part number.

    The case is stamped "W" between the lugs as well.

    Is this combo possible? I was under the impression the casebacks between the 39102 and 39102 weren't interchangeable?

    1. I've heard that the 39102 cases were for the Marines and 39103 were for the Navy. That said, I have seen enough 39102 cases with black dials that what I've heard could be wrong. Of course, over time the dials may have been changed. I would say your watch is 100% legit as long as there's a 2987 inside, regardless of dial color.

    2. Thanks, I did more research and I think you are right. The combo did seem to exist and like you said, it also could have been a re-dial potentially.

      Thanks for the response.

    3. In Whitney's book on Page 547 he references the Black Dial as a 39102 case for Navy and a White dial with also a 39102 case for Marine Corps

    4. But he doesn’t mention the 39103 at all… so was it a type-o?

  4. This is sort of on the subject do all of these military Hamilton's have a hack function.

    1. The versions with sweep second hands hack. The versions with the 987A do not hack