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Saturday, May 3, 2014

1928 Piping Rock - Overhaul

Just like swimming pools and bass boats, when it comes to watches, it's nice to have friends.

There are a number of special Hamilton models that I'm not likely to ever purchase for myself.  My pockets aren't that deep.   But thanks to the internet, I've met lots of fellow collectors, and sometimes they share their new acquisitions with me.  I get to show a new model on the blog and they get to see it get fixed up.

I did a post a long time ago on the Piping Rock - at the time I purchased a modern reissue of the 1928 Piping Rock that was awarded to the World Series winning New York Yankees.  But now I've had the opportunity to work on "the real deal".

There are a lot of things that make the Piping Rock special.  It was produced from 1928 through 1935.  It was reintroduced as a slightly different version in 1948 with a 747 movement.

The Piping Rock came in a three-piece case in solid gold, either yellow or white.  The lugs are flexible.  The dial has no special markers other than a seconds register and the minute track.  The roman numerals are on the solid gold bezel and offset with black enamel.

What also makes the Piping Rock special is it featured the 19 jewel, 6/0 sized 979 movement - the higher grade sibling to the 17 jewel 987 movement used in the gold filled models.

My Piping Rock project watch has a number of issues starting with the incorrect hour and minute hands and the metal bracelet.  The plastic crystal is beat up and needs to be replaced.

The back of the watch is engraved with a prior owner's name.  The watch is very dirty but should polish up nicely, I hope.

The bezel pops off the front to expose the dial.  Once the case screws and stem are removed from the back, the movement will come out the front.

The 979 movement looks almost identical to the 987 movement.  The main differences are the two extra cap jewels covering the escape wheel.  979's share most of the other parts with 987's.  979 movements also come as 979F movements, the F is for friction fit jewels.  The earlier 979 have jewels held in place with screws.

The serial number of this 979F dates the watch to 1929.

This Piping Rock has female spring bars.  Getting them off with a metal bracelet can be very tricky.  These have obviously become corroded.  Ordinarily I would cut a bracelet like this off, but not this time - I need to see if I can salvage these spring bars.

Female spring bars have holes to go over the male stubs that are part of the lugs.

Well, these spring bars are shot.  That means I'll have to use new ones - and that means I'll need to modify the new ones to accommodate the larger male stubs you find on vintage watches.  Most modern female spring bars are too small.

With the movement out of the case - the first thing to do is to release the mainspring tension.  The watch is running so there's obviously some tension still in the spring.  After the tension is released, the movement will get disassembled just like a 987.

This movement has a broken set lever spring.  I'll need to replace it in order for the watch to set and wind properly.

Here you can see the broken part.

There's already a white-alloy mainspring installed.  So I'll remove it, clean it, re-lube it and re-install it in the barrel.

While the parts are being cleaned, I'll turn my attention to cleaning the dial.  It's been refinished at some point but these types of engraved enamel dials refinish to look like new.  This one should hopefully clean up good enough to not require getting redone again.

I've got a new high dome glass crystal to install as well - a watch like this should not have a plastic crystal.  In my opinion, glass is the only way to go.

And now I'll rewind the mainspring so I can install it in the barrel.

Everything is cleaned and set out to dry.

The now cleaned and oiled movement is purring like a kitten.

A little tweaking to the regulator is all that's needed to bring the timing in line.  It started out a little slow, so I sped it up slightly.

Next, the movement goes back into the case.

A fresh set of "spear" hands, the appropriate style for a Piping Rock, completes the overhaul.  Now all it needs is a strap.

Here's a couple of new female spring bars.  I'll have to open the holes in the ends so they will fit over the stubs.

It took me almost an hour to open the spring bars enough to fit - but I finally got them on.  Here's the finished product on it's pillow shot - with a new crystal, new strap, new hands and polished case.  Looks a lot better than what I started with… no?

UPDATE:  December 2016

I don't tend to do repeats of models I have already done but I also don't get the chance to work on white Piping Rocks either.

I was contacted about a Piping Rock that was still in the same family and they wanted to get it restored.

As received it was beat up pretty severely.  Even if you could afford the Piping Rock back in the day, you might not have had more than one watch to wear so it got a lot of use.  The strap is obviously old but I don't know if its original, especially since the buckle is yellow.

The back of the watch is engraved with initials and it's also considerably dented as if someone hammered the case back on like a hub cap.  I'll see if I can remove some of the dents but I doubt that all of the damage can be undone.

Apparently something happened to the original hands a watchmaker put on whatever would fit.  The hour and minute hands don't even match.  The dial is showing it's age but without the nasty plastic crystal blocking it I think the dial looks very authentic and "distressed".

The Piping Rock has a three piece case the movement comes out the front once you get the bezel off. The movement inside is a 979 so this is a 1920's Piping Rock and pre-979-F.

This movement has a broken balance staff... maybe from when the hammer came down on the case back?  That, or it was dropped.  These oldest of the 6/0 movements can be real buggers and between the hairsprings and the balance pivots it's hard to get them to run as well as the later movements like the 987A.

As you'd expect, the mainspring inside is set and will need to be replaced.

Well... this movement darn near bested me.  I replaced the balance staff but the resulting wheel was a little out of round and wobbly so i had to cut bait.   It took every watchmaking skill I had and every spare balance I could muster but I eventually got the movement to run fairly well.  It's one thing to get it to run and it's another thing entirely to get it to actually keep decent time.

It took about 6 hours of tweaking, cursing, and fiddling but I eventually got the performance below.  The beat error is a little high but considering the trouble it took to get to this point, this will have to do.  I'm not a miracle worker and I've got my limitations.  This is all hairspring related and it's a very complicated 3-dimensional coil that if you don't get just right will ruin the performance.  Every time I remove the balance from the balance cock it's an opportunity for disaster and I've got almost a dozen balance carcasses to prove it.

A new glass crystal goes a long way toward improving the looks of the finished product and the proper spear hands is a nice addition too.  I don't care much for the strap and I wouldn't trust it with the value of the watch it's suppose to support... but it's not my watch to change so it will do for now.

I was able to lessen the dents on the back but you can still see them.  They're a little more visible because the back has been polished.

Here's a shot of the 979 purring away inside the case.  For a while there I wasn't too confident I'd reach this point but I think it should be okay now... as long as no one drops it or hammers the case back onto the watch again.


Here's the white Piping Rock with a fresh vintage alligator strap... I love the contrast between the original dial and the new old stock strap.  Looks awesome!


  1. Great pics and details !
    Question, I have a 979 movement made in 20's, is there a way to tell if it was Spur or Piping rock ? I just have the movement, nothing else.

    1. The Spur came out in 1930 so it's more likely to have had a 979F but regardless it could work in either

  2. Hello there, I have a Hamilton Piping Rock that is gold electroplated, says limited edition no. 0126, not sure if if worth anything

    1. You can look on eBay to see what they sell for. It’s not that much, maybe $150-$200.

    2. Hi dan how many of the 747 models did they make?

  3. Dear Sir , I have been very interested to find your site re restorations. Could you please help me, i have just purchased a Hamilton wrist watch. Can't find any info anywhere. I will in due course arrange for this beautiful time peice to be restored to its former glory and I am looking forward to enjoying it. Is it possible for yourself to give me any information on my wach as I am going crazy trying to find out about it, to no avail.
    Thank you in anticipation.
    Yours Sincerely
    Vincent Posner.

    1. Hi Vincent, you can email via my Etsy shop. https://www.etsy.com/shop/HamiltonChronicles?

  4. I have a 14K yellow gold Piping Rock case. The bezel, works and crystal are missing. Do you have any idea if these parts could be found?

    1. Your only obvious option would be to find another example with a damaged case.

  5. Hi it's Ashley, how many 747 models did the make Renes book doesn't state it?