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Thursday, February 13, 2014

1953 Hamilton Illinois Automatic B

Hamilton acquired the Illinois Watch Company in the 1920's and although Illinois watches continued to be made into the 1930's, the brand eventually went dormant.  Hamilton reintroduced the Illinois brand in 1953 and I've heard different reasons why.

One has something to do with trademark ownership… sort of a use it or lose it situation.  The other reason, which I think is potentially more plausible, is Hamilton realized that it would need to be able to provide watches at lower price points to be more competitive with other manufacturers or risk losing significant market share.  Reintroducing the Illinois brand allowed the introduction of less expensive Swiss-made movements without disrupting Hamilton's status as a premier brand.   After a few years though, I think Hamilton executives realized that the Illinois brand wasn't needed and that the Hamilton brand could effectively represent both US-made and Swiss-made watches through differing product tiers.

One thing is for certain, the Hamilton Illinois watches paved the way for a new generation of Hamilton watches.  The first calendar watches and automatic models were Hamilton Illinois models.

For example, in 1953 Hamilton introduced the Illinois Automatic Model B.  It was produced for two years.

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The Model B came in a stainless steel case with either a bracelet or strap.  The dial has embossed numerals and markers with luminous material applied to both the dial and the hands.

Under the dial is an ETA 1256 automatic movement.  ETA still makes Hamilton's movements today, 60 years later.  Back then, however, ETA was largely an ebauche manufacturer - meaning they made blank movements or partially completed movements that other companies could build upon and complete or customize.

I recently received a Model B in need of some TLC.   Although it was running, the hands had fallen off - a sure sign that attention is warranted.

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The stainless steel back screws off.

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Here's a bit of a surprise.  The rotor is unmarked.  There's nothing on the movement to indicate it's an Illinois movement other than TXD on the balance cock - which is an import code for Illinois.  I suspect there was a problem with the original rotor and it was easier to install a generic rotor in it's place.

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The back of the dial has the number 9515 on it - that's the same number that is on the back of the case back and I suspect that's the model number of this watch.

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The rotor is held on with three screws and once they are removed, the rotor assembly can be lifted off.  That leaves what essentially is a manual winding movement underneath.  The triangular shaped train bridge is a classic ETA detail.

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ETA movements are usually marked under the balance with the ETA logo and the model grade… in this case 1256

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Everything is cleaned and dried.  I also polished the crystal and case as well as relumed the hands and dial.

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A little tweaking to the regulator on the reassembled watch gets it to level out at 14 seconds fast per day with good amplitude.

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And here's the finished product on a new old stock Gemex leather strap - which would be correct for the period and style used originally on the watch.  The red second hand is rather interesting - I don't know if that's original but it adds a bit of flare to an otherwise mono-chromatic design.

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  1. Hi!
    I have a Hamilton Illinois that has the same number on the back, still in workin condition and with it's original box! wondering what year it dates back to and if it has any value. thanks :)

    1. If it's the same watch as in this post then the answer to your question regarding date is above. Value depends on condition. Look on eBay for sold listings to get an idea of value.

  2. I have a watch with a Hamilton dial and an Illinois marked movement. Could this be an original watch sold this way or was it out together sometime during its life span??

    1. Sounds like a B model of some sort. Depending on the dial and case it's likely one of the many 1956 models that used up excess Illinois movements.