Like a lot of folks, I got to enjoy some time off over the holidays which meant I could catch up on some of the project watches that I've had sitting on my bench for a while. Check out my Etsy site if you think one or two might be of interest.
My passion for Hamiltons started with a couple of family heirloom pocket watches. There's something to be said for the loud ticking of a pocket watch - reminds me of the end of "Sixty Minutes" after Andy Rooney would finish his bit.
Anyway - pocket watches are much larger than wrist watches and require a different set up in my "work flow" so I tend to get to them when there's a lull in the backlog.
One of my recent projects was a 1909 17 jewel 926. This grade of movement was produced from the turn of the last century into about 1913 or thereabouts. In an open-face configuration the 926 is used and when it's in a hunter-case (clamshell) a 927 would be used. The 927 would have the pendant at the 3 position instead of the 12.
The 926 is an 18 size watch - the largest pocket watch that Hamilton typically made. It's a step up from the 924 (and 925) in that the 926 was adjusted for temperature.
Now depending upon who you ask, the 926 is technically not a "railroad watch" - although you will often hear it described as such.
Back in the day, civilization was dependent upon watches and clocks to organize society and keep everything working smoothly. It was not unusual for trains that went in opposite directions to share the same track - and the only thing that allowed them to move at full speed was the high confidence that another train wasn't already on the same track heading toward them. That confidence came from everyone synchronizing their watches and their watches being accurate.
Different railroads established varying standards and the standards evolved as greater accuracy was obtained. In a nutshell, a "railroad approved watch" needed to meet any / all of the following...
- Only open-faced models with the stem at 12 o'clock
- minimum of 17 functional jewels in the movement but later raised to 21
- 16 or 18-size only
- maximum variation of 30 seconds per week (approximately 4 seconds daily)
- movement capable of adjustment to at least five positions - the positions a watch might normally have when in use… dial up, dial down, crown up, crown to either side, etc.
- adjusted for temperature and isochronism (accommodating the decreasing strength of the mainspring as it lets out)
- indication of time with bold legible Arabic numerals, outer minute division, second dial, heavy hands,
- lever-set, so there would be no risk of the watch time being accidentally changed.
- Breguet balance hairspring
- A micro-regulator adjustment for timekeeping
- double roller and a steel escape wheel
Anyway - in the early days of Hamilton watches, it was not unusual for the customer to pick out the movement they wanted and then choose a case for the jeweler to install it in. Hamilton offered a limited line of Hamilton-branded cases too - but you'll find a broad variety of cases out there.
My project watch came in a silverode case - which is a nice way of saying "nothing special" other than an inexpensive alloy of nickel, copper, and manganese. Different case makers called the alloy different things… silveroid, silverine, etc. but really there is nothing silver about it other than the color.
I have large hands and you can see that this watch almost fills my palm. The case is about 60mm in diameter so this is a substantial watch. You can see why the slightly smaller 16 size railroad watches became more popular with railroad men. They're large but not quite this significant.
The 926 is elegantly damascened and highlighted with gold accents. The balance wheel is about the size of my thumbnail and I find it fascinating to watch as it keeps beat at 5 times per second.
In order to get this watch to keep time I had to move the regulator all the way towards "fast". I think most people like to see the regulator toward the center of the scale. In order to move it to the center (and still keep time) I would have to either change the weights on the balance wheel or shorten the length of the hairspring. Both are complex operations so I think the old rule of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" firmly applies.
The inside of the case back is clearly marked "Silverode".
The interesting thing about these old 18 size watch cases is they are often engraved on the back with interesting scenes like trains, large antlered deer, and in this case a village setting of some sort.
I think the best use of these watches today is for display under a glass dome. The dials are as large as, if not larger than, a carriage clock. They will run for about two days on a full wind though - so you have to visit them regularly to keep them ticking away.