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, June 21, 2015

1977 Mil-W-46374B

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?


  1. Dan great post as always, wouldn't mind seeing some of the other Hamilton military pieces from the Vietnam era. Maybe the GG W 113.....

    1. I bought a GG-W-113 a few years ago when my interest in these watches was initially piqued. I quickly realized (assumed) that it was fake because it didn't hack (stop when you pulled the second hand out). At that point I wasn't as skilled as I am now and I did not want to break it and be stuck with it. So I returned it.

      I swore off Vietnam-era watches after that and decided to focus on pre-1969 models that were easier to identify.

      That said, maybe I'll look for another one and see what turns up?

    2. Hello HandyDan,

      Thanks for the informative posts on Hamilton watches. Vintage hamilton watches are great to own.

      I have a GG-W-113 that i bought for $13 at a thrift store. It is the top loader version (solid case back) It had a replacement crown, drilled out lugs and did not hack. I took it to my watchmaker and he plopped the movement out and it was the correct 649 17 Jewel movement. It looks like it just had a defective hack mechanism. The case had the drilled out lugs to fit regular straps on it. I suspect that the original owner wore his GI issued watch in civilian life and treasured it as it had been serviced several times (had scratch marks and date inside the caseback)

      So you may have not gotten a dodgy GG-W-113 just one that had a bad hacking setup.

  2. Any chance this watch (or a similar one) is for sale by you?

  3. Anyone know where I can buy an exact replacement strap? I found one here, but out of stock https://www.amazon.com/Genuine-Military-Issue-Watch-Olive/dp/B0044YRZNS/?tag=leosm1-20 Contact me via vfw_al@citlink.net

  4. Hi, does anyone know where I can get a replacement crystal for one, I have a 1979 463746 that I am wanting to smarten up for as a present, the original is cracked so beyond polishing. Thanks

    1. Any watch parts house or even eBay. You just need the measure the current one to the nearest tenth of millimeter. A GS PHD-style will do the trick.

    2. Ok, thanks for that I'll give it a try. Sorry to be a rookie but what is GS PHD?

  5. Recommendations for getting an original watch serviced?

    1. Any competent watchmaker can do it. Look at the AWCI.com website to find one in your area or google it

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Oops, accidentally deleted your comment. Sorry. The value of the watch is hard to say without seeing it.

  7. Hey Dan. Any recommendations on crystal? Mine almost seems like a hard plastic dome that scratches far too easily. Would love something with the same look buy sturdier. Thanks.

  8. Hey Dan I recently came upon one of these beauties, but on my one the dial is off-centre and slanted to the left a bit. Before taking it off to a watchmaker do you know what might have caused this?

  9. Hello, I am searching for 3 years now for one of these made in September 1979. I am getting 40 years old now and really would like to give it to us elf as a present. Does anyone of you guys want to sell a Sep 1979 built? Please give me a message!

  10. Hello, nice pictures. I got one from 1980 that I would like to clean the case, but I don't know how to remove the crown. Is there an easy method to do so?

    1. If the case opens like the one above, you just push the set lever detent in and you can pull the crown and stem out of the movement. Don't push too hard, just enough to free it.

    2. Actually, on this movement it's a screw, not a detent. It's the smallest screw head near the crown, turn it counterclockwise 1.5 - 3 times and the crown & stem will come out.

  11. Hello, I have a Jan 1978 Mil-W-46374B PN#39988.
    I was actually issued this watch while in the Army.
    Until I started looking for information tonight, I had no idea that so many people liked these. I just kept it because it was from my time in and I will give to my son someday with all of my other Army gear I kept.
    The crystal has some deep scratches in it and I was wondering if any of you knew where I could get a replacement one (and what I would say to get the correct one) or the best way to polish the one I have?
    I have no skills in working with watches so I would be purchasing the crystal then having a jeweler do the swap.
    Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
    "All The Way!!"

    1. I don't recall the exact specs for the crystal. I believe it has a silver (white) reflector ring. A competent watchmaker would be able to spec the proper one. A jeweler is just that - deals in jewelry. You should consult a watchmaker for a crystal and probably a cleaning and oiling too.

  12. Dear Dan,

    I've messed up. Following your "everything goes back together nicely" I went over optimistic and completely dismount my watch and I'm a complete newby, first time I have opened a watch, actually first I own a mechanical watch. Mine is a bit newer from 1980 and was not working more than 5hours, hence I told myself, I'll clean it like on the nice blog, how hard can it be ?

    There is a few difference from your model, for example the way the mainspring is locked, I have a piece under the rachet for the click, or the setting lever mechanism, but it's basically the same.

    At the end the watch was clean but the crown wheel screw was broken, this I have to change. But before that, I am completely unable to put back the balance wheel so it balance again and nicely move the pallet; any advice on how one is suppose to do ?

    Thanks for your blog - Maxence

    1. I would say you’re over your head at this point. The good news is it’s not a quality movement but the bad news is it will be hard to find replacement parts. Messing around with the balance and hairspring is a great way to stop a watch for good. I really can’t talk you through it. It’s something you develop a touch with through making many mistakes.

  13. buenas noches: tengo un Hamilton H3 radiator del año 1977,MIL-W-46374B, 6645-00-952-3767,y he perdido el cristal y la aguja del segundero .Alguien me poria ayudar a conseguir dado que mi reloj funciona perfectamente , pero es muy dificil encontrar esta aguja segunder, es de 33 mm por favor que alguien me oriente como conseguirla. gracias mi correo es pacmovi@hotmail.com Gracias