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.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

1961 Stormking VII - well, sort of...

You might be tempted to think that Hamilton operated two different watch companies... one that sold through jewelry stores and another that sold through large employers.  The former marketed it's watches as a full retail division, with advertisements in major publications, newspaper circulars, etc.  The latter was strictly wholesale.

Of course, that wasn't entirely the case but it's not far from the truth either.  Hamilton did operate an "awards division" that sold watches to companies to use as awards for service anniversaries or other forms of recognition.  The awards division often produced specialized versions of other commercially available models... for example, a solid gold Pacer, instead of the traditional gold filled version.  Many employers didn't want their award recipients' to find their award watch in their local jewelry store.  So Hamilton might use a different dial pattern for a given case, or use the specifications from a discontinued model.

I recently picked up such a watch, and it turned out to be an interesting story to share.  The model is a 1961 Stormking VII.  It was produced for only two years.

The Stormking VII seems to be a popular model and it always sells for a good amount.  It came in a 10K yellow gold filled case.  Tucked inside is an 18 jewel movement, and if you're familiar at all with Hamilton's grades that would tell you it's most likely a 735 movement - as most movements are either 17 jewel grades or the 22 jewel 770 movement.

I've tried to snag quite a few Stormking VII's, as I'm partial to the model line for some reason.  I guess I'm not alone in the quest though - as, up until now, I never succeeded in landing one.

The one I finally purchased arrived in very nice condition.  It could stand to be cleaned up but there were no obvious distractions.

This is where the story gets a little interesting.  The case back is inscribed with a presentation from 1971.  It's a little hard to read in my photo, but it's a classic engraving style that suggests it's an awards division watch.  1971 is a decade after the Stormking VII was introduced.

Behind the dial is a Swiss-made Hamilton 688 - a 17 jewel grade.  That would technically make this a Stormking VII-B, if there was such a thing.  I have to say I was a little surprised to see it but I was also wondering how a US-made movement like the 735 would have made it into a 1971 watch... since US production ended in 1969.  Now I know.

Like the original Stormking VII, this watch has a 10K gold filled case.  However, I would surmise that this case back is slightly thinner, as the 8/0 sized 735 would require a deeper case back.

Everything is disassembled, cleaned and ready to go back together with fresh lubrication.

The running watch goes onto the timer to see how well it's performing.

It's not running too bad really.  If this were a 735 I would call it a day but this ETA-based 688 allows me to very easily adjust the beat error.  Although a beat error of 0.8ms isn't too bad, I could easily adjust it to be better, so why not give it a try?

The beat error is a measure for how much the balance swings from one side to the other.  If it was zero, the balance would be perfectly centered.  Thanks to the adjustable hair spring stud, I was able to dial in the balance to 0.1ms.  Notice how the two parallel lines on the screen came together.

Well, everything from here on out is a breeze now that the hard work is done.  I just have to reinstall the dial and hands, put it all back into the case and install a new strap to close the project out.  This Stormking VII may not truly be a Stormking VII, but from the outside it sure looks like a close relative nonetheless.

Friday, October 24, 2014

1958 Randolph

If there's one complaint that's common among vintage watch collectors, it is that vintage watches tend to be on the small size.  This is especially true relative to the size of today's watches.  In fact, it seems like many ladies watches today are larger than most vintage Hamiltons.  The 1940's watches were especially small, it seems.

However, watches started to get bigger in the mid 1950's and, like Goldilocks and the three bears, I think watches from this period are "just right".  The 1953 Rodney seems to be a great example - as it was made for 11 years.

Right up there in size is the 1958 Randolph.  It measures about 34mm across, excluding the crown.  It was produced for only three years.

The Randolph presents itself as especially large, thanks to the narrow bezel and large crystal opening.

The model came in solid 14K yellow gold with a butler finished sterling silver dial and solid 14K markers.

Tucked behind the dial is an 8/0 size, shock jewel 735 movement.  The 735 is Hamilton's top-of-the-line sweep second movement, although you might argue that distinction belongs to it's 1960's replacement, the 736.  They're pretty much the same, other than the balance wheel.

I recently scored a Randolph that arrived in excellent condition.  I can tell it's been well cared for, or at least recently restored, as the dial had already been refinished.

The bezel is so narrow, you might be tempted to think the watch opens through the crystal, but it's actually a two-piece case.  The case back is also 14K and this model's case back is unengraved.

With the bezel and crystal out of the way, you can see the dial is in fine shape.  However the Hamilton printing isn't quite correct for the model and I'm not sure of the pearlized track should be silver or gold.  I'm thinking gold, but it looks nice nonetheless.

The 735 is a shock-jeweled upgrade over the 748, that it replaced in 1955.  It's an 18 jewel movement with rather long axles (arbors) on the train wheels.  This is a very tricky movement to reassemble and, although I don't have any trouble nowadays, I'm always a little hesitant when I take one of these apart.  I have a lot of memories of broken pivots and beads of sweat on my forehead from trying to put 748 and 735's back together.

You can see there are some numbers scratched into the back of the dial - a sure sign it has been redone.

If you take apart enough of these movements you develop a keen memory of every part and where they all go.  But the first few times you take one apart, this sort of perspective presents a rather daunting challenge.  Everything is now cleaned and ready to be reassembled with fresh Moebius oil.

Well, there's no complaining about the performance of this watch, good beat rate, beat amplitude and a low beat error.

The dial and hands go on last and then the reassembled movement goes back into the freshly polished case.  A new alligator strap is the perfect addition to complete this Randolph's restoration.  I'll have to think about the silver pearlized track.  I've added gold enamel to dials like this in the past but filling each hole with a tiny dollop of gold is a very tedious task.  It looks pretty good as-is, I think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

1965 Martin

I recently did a post on the 1933 Lee and, while doing so, I learned how it was redesigned in 1934 to be Hamilton's lowest priced model to date, at a mere $45.  That was still a lot of money back then though and the equivalent of about $800 in today's dollars.

By 1965, or 30 years later, Hamilton offered watches at an even lower price point.  For example the 1965 Martin retailed at just under $40, the equivalent of $300 today - or just $17 in 1934 dollars.  The watch industry was under intense competitive pressure from global production of low cost, high quality time pieces.

The Martin was produced for only a single year.  It was the second model to be named Martin though, the earlier one having been produced a generation earlier, starting in 1941.

To compete at such a low the price point, the Martin came in a 10K RGP case with a stainless steel back.  The manual-winding movement is a Swiss-made Hamilton 686 grade, made by ETA.

I recently picked up a project Martin in a favorite local shop of mine.  It was in very rough shape with a serious case of "old man fink" and it was not running.  I really hate these "one size fits all" expansion bracelets with spring loaded ends.  The springs press the sharp edges of the bracelet ends up against the lugs and will eventually wear right into them.  You can see that's been going on with this poor watch and I almost passed on the purchase because I feared the case would be shot.

As suspected, the bracelet took it's toll on the lugs but I've seen a lot worse.  There's verdigris peaking in around the crystal too - giving the crystal a green glow.

Without the bezel in the way, you can see that the dial is in nice shape.  It's a textured dial with small vertical grooves.  Just a little excess verdigris leaked onto the outer edge but that will be easy to remove.

There's no obvious reason for the watch not running.  I assume it's probably just gummed up by old oil that has turned to gel.

Everything is thoroughly cleaned and ready to be reassembled.  Nothing appears to be broken so, hopefully, it will run just fine once I put it back together.

Oddly enough, I could only get the watch to run for about 30 seconds before it petered out.  After checking and re-checking everything, I eventually determined that the watch was not running due to having and incorrect stem installed.  Go figure.  If the wrong stem is installed, it could bind slightly  provide just enough force inside the movement to rob the gear train of energy.

The crown on the watch had an Omega symbol - so it's an obvious replacement.  Since I have to fit a new stem, I decided to put a new crown on too.  That's why the stem looks too long in the photo below of the now-running watch on my timer.  I will trim it to length later.

With the gear train free to convey the energy of the mainspring through to the balance, the watch is running great with lots of amplitude and a low beat error.

A new, low profile, PK-style crystal will do a lot to dress up the exterior aesthetics of the watch.

A new lizard grain strap completes the overhaul of this now-running watch.  I think it turned out gratifyingly well - considering with what I started with.  The lug damage could probably be repaired by a jeweler but it's not bad enough to jeopardize the strength of the lugs - so I'll leave it as it.

The Martin is a nice, clean looking, no frills design.  It doesn't even have any lume to glow in the dark.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

1956 Edgemere B

Typically "B" models denote a change in the movement grade within a specific model.  The nomenclature was used only in the 1950's and started when the 12/0 grades replaced the 14/0 grades that were used previously.

There was another wave of B models when Hamilton switched from using excess Swiss-made Hamilton Illinois movements and started to use different Swiss-made Hamilton movements.

There is one B-model though where there is no non-B version of the model in the catalogs.  It was called the Edgemere B and introduced in 1956.  The Edgemere B was produced for three years.

The Edgemere B came in a 10K yellow gold filled case.  It's one of several large, round models that featured Hamilton's high grade 22 jewel 770 movement.  I wonder if there were plans for a non-B model with an 8/0 730 movement and they just scrapped the idea when the 770 came along.

Tucked inside the case is a sterling silver dial with solid 18K gold markers.

I recently picked up an Edgemere B because the price was right and I liked the inscription on the back.  You can't really tell in the picture below, but the dial has some finger prints on it that I hoped I could clean off.   I noticed while taking the photo that it's also missing an hour marker at the 7 position.

One of the reasons I bought the watch was the presentation on the back.  It's very nicely done and 40 loyal years is a commendable achievement.

The case is a two-piece design with a front bezel and a case back.  The seam between the two sections is in the middle.  You can see that the prior owner put the bezel on wrong, as the recess for the stem is visible on the wrong side.

I was hoping I might find the missing hour marker inside and sure enough, I got lucky... there it is inside the case back.

The 770 movement does run but it's pretty dirty and definitely ready to be cleaned again.

The 770 is a nice movement and Hamilton designed the movement with watchmakers in mind because it goes together very smoothly.  The reassembled movement goes onto the timer and it's running great, right out of the shoot.

Well, my light tent makes the reassembled watch look a lot worse than it really is.  I was not successful in removing the spotting from someone's finger prints.  It doesn't look as bad in real life.  However, it would be a simple enough design to get redone correctly - so I will probably send it out to be refinished.

I guess while I am at it, I can have the wear through hole on the back of the stem tube repaired by my local jeweler.  With a refinished dial and a restored case, the watch would be returned to it's formal glory.


I decided to get the dial redone and I think it was a prudent choice.  It looks much better now, don't you think?


Thanks to a fellow collector and fan of the site, I was recently informed there is, in fact, an uncatalogued Edgemere.  This model is presumably from the 1954 / 55 timeframe and used the 8/0 sized 747.  Why it didn't carry on with the 730 and got the 770 instead is still a mystery but at least there's evidence of at least one Edgemere out there.

Thanks Ryan!

Edgemere photo 22e97cdc-4dde-4189-a338-e8eb671eb7eb_zps5xmo07j2.jpg

Edgemere photo 2b482870-473b-4b4c-afcc-68a9771fd69d_zpsbxnmreoz.jpg

Edgemere photo be50ce75-a85c-4f08-998a-8ec5fa0aa25b_zpsxysrsiyf.jpg

Saturday, October 18, 2014

1933 Lee

It's a gross understatement to say the Great Depression was a challenging time in American history.  People complain about how tough times are today but we collectively still enjoy benefits from the lessons learned by our ancestors in the 1930's.

If you watch shows or movies from the 1930's you will often see signs posted about the "NRA".  Today you might think that was the National Rifle Association but in reality it was the National Recovery Administration.   The NRA was a U.S. government agency established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to stimulate business recovery through fair-practice laws.  Part of the objective was to employ more people while also controlling costs.   If people couldn't afford to buy things, then manufacturers couldn't afford to hire employees.  If manufacturers didn't hire employees, then those folks couldn't afford to buy things, and more manufacturers wouldn't hire employees.  A vicious spiral could draw the entire country into poverty... and it pretty much did.

The economic principles behind the NRA and other Depression-era policies may seem obvious today but for the first 160 years of our nation's history the federal government's involvement in economics was limited.  The NRA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935 but the idea that keeping people working so they could spend money to keep the economy going still exists today.  How much of a role the federal government should have in that process is debatable.

It's also interesting to note also that in the early 1930's, the Civil War had taken place 70 years prior and there were still Civil War veterans in people's families, not too much unlike how World War II is still a part of our social identity today.

You're probably thinking, "yeah yeah, that's great but what's that have to do with Hamilton watches?".  

Well, Hamilton was not immune to the Great Depression and as a high end producer of fine watches, they were also subject to the policies of the NRA.  In fact, two new models were introduced in 1933 and later changed in 1934 to provide quality Hamilton watches at a price point lower than Hamilton's prior minimum price.  Those models were named the Grant and the Lee, after the opposing generals of the US Civil War.

The Lee was produced for two years.  In 1933 it was produced in 14K gold filled with a 979 movement.

Later in 1934 it was changed to a 10K gold filled case with a 987 and the price was reduced by over 10%.  The 1934 Lee was one of the first Hamilton models to use 10K gold fill.

It's not a common model and when you do see one it's most often in yellow gold fill.  There were about 4,000 yellow gold filled models and less that 300 white gold filled models were produced.

Two dials were available, a luminous dial or a very interesting hammered silver dial with "raised gold figures".  Hamilton would later change their nomenclature to "applied gold figures".

Under the dial you will typically find a Hamilton 979F in a 1933 model and 987F movement in the 1934.

I recently received a Lee project watch from a fellow collector friend of mine who needed some help.  As received, it was in typical shape for a Lee and that means it showed a lot of case wear and gold loss over the base material on the wide lugs.  This model is very hard to find without wear-through - in fact, if you find one without wear it could very well have been replated.  The crown on this watch is an obvious incorrect replacement.  It's not terrible but it looks a little clunky to my eye.

The back of the watch also shows a lot of gold loss to the edges and corners.  This could be repaired by a talented goldsmith with a laser-welder if the wear is too extensive.  The case back is marked 14K gold filled.

This watch has a 19 jewel 979-F movement.  The 979F movement was standard issue in solid gold models - and it's interesting that it was also installed in the 1933 Lees as well as several other gold filled models.

The dial has been professionally refinished.  You can tell because (a) it looks super nice compared to the condition of the case and (b) there's a little notch by the stem indicating it was redone.  It looks great though so there's no issues with a refinished dial when it's redone correctly.

This case is designed to accommodate a dust-proof crown.  This style of crown has a flange on it that will fill the hole in the case.  Without the flange, the stem has no support and the movement can actually rotate slightly in the case, causing the dial to look askew relative to the bezel opening.  That's one of the issues with the clunky crown - it's not a dustproof style.

The movement's mainspring is obviously set.  This will dramatically reduce the length of time a watch will run.

The 979 is a 6/0 movement and shares a lot of parts with the 987 but for some reason it has a slightly different mainspring.  Personally I don't think the differences between the 987 and 979 mainsprings are that dramatic - but I happen to have a 979 mainspring to install so I will use that, regardless.

Everything is cleaned and ready to be reassembled.  If you have a good eye you may notice there are two stems and crowns.  I have a better crown to install once I get the movement back together.

The reassembled movement goes onto the timer to see how it's running.

Good amplitude and a low beat error but the beat rate is a bit slow at 3.5 minutes slow per day.

One of the reasons for the slowness is the regulator is missing one of the pins for the fork that is supposed to hold the hairspring.  So, in effect, the regulator isn't regulating.

Well, as fate would have it, when I reinstalled the balance onto the balance cock, I accidentally broke a pivot on the balance staff.  ^&*%!   So that presented a new problem.  Long story shortened, I replaced the balance assembly with a balance with a bad hairspring and swapped hairsprings so the good hairspring went on to the good balance staff.

Now on the timer again, the balance is running better from a beat rate standpoint but the beat error is way too high at 9.9ms (or more) so I now have to reduce the beat error by adjusting the hairspring stud relative to the impulse jewel on the balance.

Okay - that's much better... everything is right where it needs to be.

The dial and hands go back on with a better suited crown for the model and it all goes back into the case.  My camera reveals all sins so now you can see the wear through to the lugs... I'm afraid that's the price you have to pay for being the owner of a Lee.