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Sunday, November 30, 2014

1951 Model A 950B Railroad Watch

Hamilton made a variety of pocket watches back in the day.   In fact, during the first quarter of the last century, there were about two dozen different pocket watch movements.

However, by 1941, only two "railroad approved" pocket watches were still being produced... the 21 jewel 992B and the superior 23 jewel 950B.  Both movement grades were offered in different cases so collectors will look for both the type of movement as well as the case it's presented in.

The 950B is a striking design and looks as great as it runs.   It's very popular with railroad collectors and normally commands a healthy premium over a 992B model.

The 950B was introduced in 1941 and produced all the way through 1965.  One of the two case varieties available in 1951 was the Model A.

The Model A case came in 10K gold filled.  The other case available in 1951 was the Model No. 2 "Bar over Crown" case and that came in both solid gold or gold filled.

The 950B was a replacement for the original 23 jewel 950 that was produced for almost 40 years prior to 1941.  The major differences between the 950 and 950B are in the balance design, hairspring, cap jewels and the mainspring barrel... otherwise the two movements are very similar in appearance.

One of the details that makes the 950B such a high-end movement is the solid gold train wheels and rhodium plating on the main plate and bridges.

I've envied the 950B for a long time but they're very expensive and I don't tend to use pocket watches.  There are a lot of wrist watches out there that are just as tempting and I normally go for those before a pocket watch.  However, if you were going to only have one pocket watch, the 950B should be a top of the list.

As fate would have it, I came across a nice 950B and the price was right so I jumped on it.  As received, it was running but I could tell that it hadn't been serviced in a while.  The enamel dial has a couple of minor hairline cracks - that can dramatically impact the value of a watch but they don't bother me as much as other dial damage like chips or repairs do.

The 950B traditionally came with a heavy gothic dial and baton style hands, as mine does below.

There's a little bit of a haze to the damascened finish but, even with that, the movement looks bright and shiny.

The bezel unscrews to reveal the lever at 1:00.  You need to slide the lever out to the setting position (as shown) in order to set the time.  Being "lever set" was one of the requirements for getting railroad approved.

Once the two case screws are removed from the back, the movement comes right out the front.  Great care has to be taken to make sure I don't fat-finger the movement and drop it on the balance side - as that would break the balance staff.  Three dial foot screws secure the dial to the main plate.  Once they're loosened the dial will lift straight off, and take the second hand off with it.

Another sign that the movement hasn't been overhauled recently is the light coat of verdigris on the dial washer.  The green oxidation ring is caused by the two dissimilar metals of the washer and the dial touching for a long time.

Four small screws hold the ratchet wheel onto the barrel arbor.  The ratchet wheel has a jewel in the center to secure the barrel arbor.  In fact, both ends of the arbor rest in jewels.  Those are the two extra jewels that make this a 23 jewel grade instead of a 21 jewel movement.

When the smaller winding wheel is removed, you can see how it connects to the winding pinion that is under the barrel bridge (which has been removed).

Removing the two train bridges is as easy as unscrewing four screws.  The bridges just lift off to reveal the solid gold center wheel, 3rd wheel and 4th wheel.  The escape wheel is steel.

With the balance out of the way, all that is left to come out is the pallet fork, which is held in place by it's bridge.  You can see there is a cap jewel over the pallet fork's lower pivot.  Both pivots on the escape wheel, pallet fork and balance staff have cap jewels, top and bottom.

Pretty much everything has been taken off now and is ready to be cleaned.

A nice white alloy mainspring will give the watch plenty of run time.

All the parts have been cleaned, dried and are ready to be reassembled.  They are noticeably brighter than their "before" state.  Fresh oil will be applied to each of the bearing surfaces so the watch will run as close to friction-free as possible.

The running movement goes onto the timer.  A 16 size pocket watch movement is way bigger than the usual 6/0, 8/0 and 140/0 movements I typically work on... but the timer accommodates it just the same.

I took my photo before the timer was able to calculate the amplitude but the beat rate is a little slow and the beat error is on the high side of acceptable.

A little tweaking to the micro-regulator speeds up the watch slightly.  The amplitude is a vigorous 310 degrees.  The beat error could be reduced if I took the balance off and tweaked the hairspring collet the right direction but, to be honest, I'd be tempting fate and the benefit gained by a lower beat error is way less than the risk of potentially goofing up the hairspring.  It's not like I'm planning on running a railroad anytime soon.

With the dial and hands reinstalled and everything put back into the freshly polished case, this 1951 Model A 950B is a fine looking watch.  I may keep my eye out for a defect-free dial but otherwise this watch looks fantastic to my eye.

It's too bad I have to cover up the movement with a solid case back.  There's something very satisfying about looking at a running movement after having taken it fully apart, cleaned it and reassembled it.


  1. Good morning Dan. My growing collection now includes a 1951 (estimated) 950b with baton hands and melamine 082 dial. The movement is in great shape, accurate within a second or two per day. My question is the case....I cannot find it in the posted blogs about cases. On eBay I located an exact case "Standard issue US Govt. Base Metal Keystone open face". My case has no military markings like the eBay example does.
    My question: Is this a military only case? If so, do you think surplus cases were released for public use? I read that cases "A" and 17 and possibly case 2 were about the only acceptable cases for this watch. I may re-case!
    Thanks for your help and advice!

    1. By 1950 the 992B and 950B were the only 16 size grades in the Hamilton line up. Both grades could come in a Model A or a No 2 case and the 992B had a couple of other case options too.

      The inside of the case back would be clearly marked "Hamilton Watch Co. Lancaster PA".

      Being 16 size, a 950B would fit in any 16 size case that accommodated a lever set movement. So I suspect your watch was recased at some point - unless it's marked US GOVT on the movement too.

  2. Dan, the crown pulls up with a snap. I do not like the case. It is very hard to line up the back to screw on. This latest attempt took 15 minutes. It also sliced my thumb! Time to re-case. My last two watches.... great movements, not so great cases. Oh well, I bought them right and great movement/ yuk case is much preferable to the other way around. Oh. No military markings on movement or case. Thanks again!

  3. I need a replacement mineral crystal for my 950b 1959, What size would I need. I am terrible @ mm fractions

    1. Get a set of calipers that measure in millimeters and measure it. Or bring it to a jeweler to do it for you.

  4. Anyone have a suggestion for a watchmaker in the NJ shore area (Monmouth County) who could replace a main spring and service my 950B? I used to do this sort of thing myself so I know what's involved and also know I'm getting too old to try doing it myself anymore.


    1. I recommend you check the AWCI.com website for registered watchmakers or perhaps a watch forum for recommendations.

  5. Dan, that was a great suggestion. Found a watchmaker not too far from me who I'll be contacting!


  6. Hi Dan, I found a Hamilton 950B from 1950 something, It states that it was never used and comes in a Bakelite case, Did they ever use the Montgomery dial on the 950B? I have always want a 950B but like you said they are very expensive, I am disabled and don't get much from the government each month so it takes a while for me to save up for a watch of this quality. Please let me know about the dial and do you know about what this would be worth if it is a New old stock watch that was never used? The dial has Hamilton railway special like other 950Bs I seen but never one with the Montgomery dial

    1. Hi Dan,
      This is what it states about the watch this is just the beginning
      Outstanding NOS Hamilton 950B 23 Jewel Railroad Grade Pocket Watch. Serial number S15693. 10K Gold Filled Hamilton Case K358212. 16 size case

  7. I don't know why it said anonymous on my question, this is chad about the 950B,Hope I hear back from you soon before he sells this 950b,Thanks for your help

    1. As a general rule I distrust sellers that say a watch is "new old stock" unless it comes with all of it's original, numbers-matching paperwork and boxes, etc. As for values, let "sold" listings on eBay be your guide.

  8. Were the early 1950's 950B railway specials only made with the baton hands, or was there a variety of hands used for that particular model at that particular time?

    1. The hands were dependent upon the model and dial chosen so sometimes spade hands where applied and sometimes baton.

  9. So the type of dial played a role in which hands were used. Thank you very much. Which hands would've been used on this particular dial style in the early 50's? https://hubcitytime.com/products/hamilton-railway-special-pocket-watch-950b-23-jewel-case-model-2-two-tone-10b