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Greetings!

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 28, 2015

1937 Harris

Hamilton dramatically refined their 6/0 movement in 1937.  Prior to 1937 there were several 6/0 movements.  Initially there was the 986 and 986A in the early 1920's.  They gave way to the 17 jewel 987 and the 19 jewel 979.  The latter was used mostly in the solid gold models.

The 987 and 979 had jewel chattons, or settings, that were held in place with tiny screws.  By the end of the 1920's the 987F and 979F were on the scene.  The F was for friction - and the chattons were pressed in place and held by friction.  In 1935 the new 14/0 sized 980 and 982 were introduced and all of the solid gold models received 982's.  The 979F was discontinued and the following year the 987E was introduced in all models with 6/0 movements.  The E was for Elinvar, Hamilton's new hairspring material which allowed improvements to the balance assembly.

That brings us to 1937 and the dawn of a new era in 6/0 models.  The 987A was a dramatic improvement over the 987E.  The first three 987 variants share vitually all of the same parts... and you can swap parts from one grade to the other.  However, the 987A is significantly different.  It shares some of the same parts - mostly the gear train and the balance staff - but that's about it.

One of the new models introduced with the 987A is the Harris.  It was produced for only two years.  It came in a 10K yellow gold filled case with a choice of an applied gold numeral dial or a black enamel numeral dial.


The Harris is on the smaller side even though it has a large 6/0 movement inside.  That's probably because of the flat rectangular shaped bezel opening.  The case is very prone to wear through, especially near the corners of the crystal.  Several years worth of wear against shirt sleeves can take a toll on the case.

As you can see below, the 987A is similar to it's predecessors but it's considerably different.  Initially the 987A's has recesses for case screws so it could be held in place in 3-piece cases, even though there were no three piece cased models at the time.  That implies it was meant to be 100% interchangeable with the other 987 movements.  However, by 1938 the case screw holes were left out of the 987A design, as shown in the 1938 movement below.


In 1940 Hamilton introduced the 987S - with a central sweep second hand.  It's very similar to a 987A.  WWII saw the introduction of the 18 jewel 2987.  It's almost identical to the 987S other than the 18th jewel to support the special second hand sweep pinion.

So Hamilton got a lot of mileage out of the 987A design.

I recently restored a Harris but I neglected to take photos of the process. I thought I had already posted about the model so I did't bother to document the process.  I wish I had a "before" photo because it was in rough shape after 75 years.

I've restored several Harris's in the past.  However, I had not done a black numeral dialed version.

I thought this one turned out really well.


And here's an example of the AGN version from a few years ago.  Although the black enamel dial was less expensive when new, I think they are considerably less common today and much more appealing to collectors.

Harris photo Harris.jpg

The Harris is very similar to the 1938 Reagan.  The latter is a little more square than the Harris but they are easy to confuse.  The Reagan came with an AGN or black numeral dial as well.

Reagan photo Reagen.jpg

Saturday, June 27, 2015

1932 Ladies Edgewood

When Hamilton first started to produce wrist watches the first models were ladies watches.  They date back to the early 1900's.  Wrist watches were considered feminine.  However, I guess after a few million men slogged it out in the trenches of WWI it became clear that real men could wear wrist watches too.

In the 1920's, ladies and men's models shared the same movements.  Only the case styles differentiated the intended gender.

By the 1930's, new, smaller movements were introduced for the ladies watches and they started to become a little more elegant with intricate engraving, detailed dials and various hand styles.

One of the workhorses of the ladies line was the 17 jewel 18/0 sized 989.  Other than the 6/0 sized movements from the 1920's, the 989 is the largest movement put into a ladies watch.  After the 989, ladies movements got smaller and smaller.

The 989 is unique in that it's also the only ladies movement (other than the early years) that was also used in a men's model.  The 1936 Norfolk used the 989 and for a long time it was the only men's model to not have a second hand.


Technically the Norfolk would use a 989E with the Elinvar hairspring but you might also find them with a 989, depending on when the watch was assembled.

Although the 989 is the largest of the oblong ladies grades, it's by no means an easy movement to work on.  It has a tightly packed gear train with long arbors that are tricky to get into position and the balance is precariously unprotected at the end of the movement - so it's very easy to break the balance staff if you mishandle it.

That said, I sometimes find a working 989 watch too hard to resist... especially if it's in a nice looking case.

I picked up such a watch quite a while ago.  I was unable to clearly identify it because the bezel is engraved.


Around the same time I purchased mine, I saw another one for sale... this one came in it's original box with matching papers.  The only difference is it was yellow instead of white.




So I knew mine was a legitimate Hamilton model and not a recased jewelers model.  There are TON of recased jewelers model watches out there, especially in ladies watches because jewelers could recase a gold filled Hamilton model it in a solid gold private-label case and sell it for a lot more.

Anyway, armed with confirmation that my project watch was a legitimate model and not a donor-movement for a future Norfolk, I set about trying to identify it.  Identifying models is usually accomplished by noting the case shape, the crystal shape, the case material, and the type of movement inside.

The best I can tell, my project watch is an engraved Edgewood from 1932.  Although the catalog shows a different bezel pattern, the shape, the crystal shape, case material and movement all match.  There are no other models from this period with the same details.
The Edgewood only shows up in the 1932 catalog so it's possible other variations were available.  That's really not unusual and there are plenty of models that were never cataloged.

Anyway, the Edgewood comes in a two-piece case and the back snaps into the front.  My project watch has a "stone crown" which is a crown with a gemstone in the center.


Although the 989 has a two-wheel train bridge, you need to put all the wheels in at the same time as the bridge covers all four wheel.  Note ho the balance wheel is so close to my finger.  One small move and the balance staff will go "POP" and that's the end of that.


Here's another shot of the balance wheel and it's precarious exposure.  It's fine when it's in the case but outside the case you need to be very careful.  At this point I have removed the hands and now I need to unscrew the dial foot screw on the side of the main plate.  Then I can remove the dial.


With the dial out of the way you can see the keyless works and the hour wheel, minute wheel and setting lever spring.  All that comes off next.


With the movement flipped over and the mainspring tension released, I can start to disassemble the back.


Normally I work my way from the mainspring to the balance when I take things off.  But with this movement I like to take the balance off first - just so it's safely out of the way.  Then I'll take the winding wheel and ratchet wheel off.


There are six bridge screws to remove in order to get the bridges off and expose the wheels below.  You can see how they all nest together in a tight space.  The wheels come off and then I'll remove the pallet fork at the bottom of the photo.


Everything is cleaned and dried.  Time for reassembly with fresh oil.


Assembly is basically the reverse of disassembly but before I put the balance on I will also reassemble the front.  Putting the balance on last is the best way to ensure I don't break it while putting the movement in the movement holder or dropping it accidentally.


All the setting parts go in where my screwdriver is pointing.  I also had to replace the set lever screw on this movement because the screw head was broken and there was no notch for the screwdriver to turn it.

One interesting bit of trivia with 989's is the early grades don't have a tip on the stem.  The are only supported in the middle by the set lever.  Later 989's have a stem with a tip that is supported by the main plate.


Now that the front and back is reassembled, I can put the balance back on.  I hate this part... it's nerve wracking to get it in just the right position and then seat the balance cock.  It's very easy to drop the balance cock off the movement and stretch the hairspring like a tiny slinky.  That's usually a great way to goof up the hairspring and it's just as bad as breaking the balance staff. (been there, done that)


The watch is now running so it's off to the timer.  The watch looks to be running fairly well.  The amplitude is lower than 200.  That's due to the old mainspring I left in the watch.  It just doesn't have the "get up and go" that it used to have so this watch will not run as long as it would if it had a fresh mainspring.


The movement goes back into the case and I can sigh relief that the balance is now protected again.  I re-enameled the engraving on the case.  There's engraving on sides too - this is a very pretty watch.  I happened to have a stainless steel bracelet to put on it while I look for a nice ribbon strap.


Unfortunately ladies watches aren't as collectible as men's models.  I think that's due in general to the smaller size of ladies watches and the decades worth of very similar cocktail watches out there.  The supply is high and the demand is low.  However, I think these 1930's watches are beautiful and I like restoring them, even if they may not command a premium once restored.  They still make nice gifts to people who appreciate "sparkly things".  This Edgewood turned out very nice... don't you think?

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?


Friday, June 19, 2015

1970's Thinline 19001-3

Things got a little wonky with Hamilton in the 1970's.  The company was caught up in several changes in ownership and the watch industry in general was in turmoil as mechanical movements gave way to electronic movements and eventually to quartz movements after that.

There were about 1/3rd as many watches offered in the 1970's catalog as their was in the 1969 offering.  Hamilton moved it's manufacturing center to Buren's facility in Switzerland.  Hamilton had acquired in Buren in the 1960's and the master eventually became the servant.

Buren's forte was super-thin movements and their micro-rotor designs were the power plant for many of the Thin-o-matic models.  Their manual winding grades were used in the Thinline models.

I recently picked up a mystery model and based on the eBay auction photos I wasn't completely sure it wasn't a "franken" or a recessed Hamilton movement in a generic case.

As received, it was quite dirty and the crystal was a bit beat up.  The Speidel expansion bracelet isn't likely to be original but it goes well with the watch.


The back of the watch unscrews.  It's got some generic printing but none of it says "Hamilton".   However, the model number of 19001-3 fits the pattern that Hamilton would use and the -3 represents stainless steel, which this case is made of.  So that was a good sign that it's legitimate.   The auction didn't have a movement photo or a shot of the inside case back so I took a leap of faith in purchasing.


Once I opened the watch the inside of the case back is stamped Hamilton Watch Co Swiss - so this is clearly a 1970s model.  It doesn't show up in any of the catalogs I've seen but that's not unusual.  Based on the gunk around the perimeter and the lack of any watchmaker marks inside, I suspect I'm the first person to see the inside of this watch in 40+ years.


The 17 jewel 639 movement is a Buren grade so although I don't know the exact model name (it could just be 19001-3) I'm going to assume this is a Thinline model of some sort.  The movement is dirty but looks pretty good, all things considered.


There's a little bit of rust under the winding wheel - that will come off in the ultrasonic.  I'll take the movement completely apart and get everything nice and clean.


Everything is cleaned and dried.  While the parts are being cleaned in the ultrasonic, I buff the case on the buffer.  Then I use the dirty cleaning solution to clean the case once the parts are in the rinse cycle.  Everything comes out nice and sparkly.


The movement is now reassembled and running.  It looks pretty good to my eye but only the timer will tell me for sure.


Hmm... running fast, low amplitude and a high beat error.  Although watches from the 1950's and 60's tend to be robust to magnetism, I think I run the movement through my demagnetizer and see what happens.  Older movements from the 1940's and earlier are much more prone to getting accidentally magnetized and that will screw up the timing for sure.


Well... that's a little better but it's not good enough.  I take the balance off and reclean the hairspring, etc.


A little tweaking and the movement is running just as it should.  I usually leave watches running a smidge fast as I find they tend to settle down eventually.


A new crystal makes a nice improvement to the watch. The dial has a little blemish between the 2 and 3 markers thanks to some moisture getting inside.  I bet that was the same moisture that rusted the winding wheel.  It actually doesn't look that bad in person but my camera is merciless when it comes to defects.  In any event, this mystery Thinline turned out pretty well - and it's a good size too - probably close to 35mm wide.