One area of Hamilton watches that a lot of people are interested in is the Vietnam-era military watches. Hamilton was one of several watch manufacturers that made watches for the US military under various specifications. The most predominant specs are the Mil-W-46374 and the GG-W-113. The former was mainly for "ground pounders" and the latter was more for aviators.
The cardinal rule for these watches is "Buyer Beware". For whatever reason there are a ton of fakes out there. If you happen across a seller with a very nice looking (dare I say new?) "vintage watch" and they seem to have sold several just like them - you can pretty much assume it's a fake. Maybe it's not fake, maybe the guy just happened upon a crate of them stored next to the Arc of the Covenant in an old government warehouse somewhere... but odds are it's a fake.
So if you're in the market for a military watch from this era, you need to really do your homework. One of the best sources for information is Ned Frederick's great website. He has compiled a lot of great info on the variations in this genre.
Speaking of variations, there are a number of them. In fact, Hamilton didn't make examples in all of the variations. The original spec was Mil-W-46374 issued in the late 1960's. It was revised several times, each time getting a new letter at the end. So there is the Mil-W-46374A, B, C, etc. Hamilton's first model was in the A line up.
In 1975 the B-spec was introduced. Technically that's after the end of the Vietnam War - so the B models are more along the lines of what you'd have seen Bill Murray wear in Stripes.
The other thing to keep in mind with these watches is they were intended to be "expendable". Although they're serviceable, they were really meant to be used until they stopped working and then they were thrown away. The specifications called for accuracy of up to plus or minus 60 seconds.
One reason there are so many fakes is the parts used were supposed to be commercially available so costs were kept down. You can find many of the case parts still for sale. The one thing that seems most difficult to find is appropriate crowns though. So pay attention to the crown on these types of watches... it's not flat and it should dome all the way to the edge of the knurling.
I bought a project watch a long time ago thinking it was fake and thinking that I would do a post on fake watches. But it turns out that there are a lot of legitimate variations out there and I realized I wasn't informed enough to provide a comprehensive summary of the things to look for. So my suggestion is to thoroughly read Ned's website and post questions to the various military watch forums on line like the MWR Forum. There are lots of helpful collectors out there willing to show you the ropes.
My project watch turned out to be a legitimate model. I thought it was going to be fake because when I bought it there was no movement shot. All I saw was the outside of the case and that's one of the first warning signs... if there's no movement photo, assume there's a reason for that.
The B models were the first to have H3 and a symbol for radiation on the dial. Prior to that the dial lacked those features (well, sort of - read Ned's site). The H3 and radiation symbol were indicators that the watch contained Tritium - which was used in the luminous paint. It's nothing to worry about but it needs to be disposed of properly. But just in case, don't eat your watch.
The case back on the B watches is removable. The printing is very purposeful and it should look like you see below. The MFG PART NO 39988 means there's a 7 jewel movement inside. 7 jewels you say? Yup, this watch was disposable and not intended to last for decades with proper maintenance. If you see 39986, that represents a 15 jewel movement is inside - and you'll see that in the D models. That's a higher quality ETA movement with a hack feature - so given the choice between a B and D model, I'd pick the D. The D was made in the early 1980's.
The date of Mar 1977 is the manufacturing or assembly date. Notice the spring bars... they're not spring bars at all. The spring bars on this watch are not removable so if you see a watch for sale with spring bars... buyer beware.
Tucked inside is a relatively boring movement. There are bushings in the place of where the jewels would be in a higher quality movement. The cap jewels on the balance are plastic - and the plastic gives enough that it provides shock protection. This movement is stamped 447 ST CO. This movement is a Durowe 7420/2. You can read more about it here.
The dial has a matte-finish to it and the hour markers are luminous... or were at one point anyway. I don't know if they still glow.
This movement has dial foot screws to attach the dial to the main plate. One on each side.
With the dial out of the way you can see the main plate is unremarkable - other than the dull haze of the plastic balance jewel.
The "click" is what you hear when you wind the watch. On this movement it's just a piece of spring wire pressed into the barrel bridge. If keeps the ratchet wheel from unwinding when you apply tension to the mainspring.
Once I removed the ratchet wheel I noticed a ton of mainspring grease under the wheel. Eventually this would have gummed up the movement and caused it to stop. The case back has a watchmakers mark in it that leads to believe this watch was serviced a few years ago.
There's oil under the train bridge too - this definitely would have stopped the watch eventually.
Here's a bit of a surprise.. the watch is "jeweled at the center" meaning the center wheel is set in jewels. Normally this wheel moves the slowest and would be the last place I'd expect to see jewels. It could be this jewel is for the fourth wheel but theres a jewel on the main plate too and no 4th wheel jewel on the train bridge.
Here you can see the jewel in the center and also the manufacturer's mark for the 7420/2 grade. There's no jewel for the pallet fork in the main plate but there is one in the pallet bridge. This watch is weird.
Did I mention that the parts were sourced as commercially available parts? There's nothing inside this watch to tell you that it's a Hamilton - but then again, it was meant to be thrown away.
All the parts are cleaned and dried before being reassembled.
Everything goes back together just like if it was a higher quality movement. The balance is now "doing it's thing" so it's off to the timer to see just how well it's performing.
It's running a little fast but that's okay. Otherwise the other specs look great.
The dial and hands go on next and I'll prep it to go back in the case.
Well, there you have it. This watch looks almost new. The only thing that gives it's age away is the tired lume on the hands. It's a nice looking watch. In fact, it looks like an old LL Bean Field Watch... or should I say, the old LL Bean Field Watch looks like a Mil-W-46374B?
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.