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, May 29, 2016

1956 Automatic K-202

It's not unusual to see luminous paint on watch hands and dials.   In fact, it's just as common today as it was 60 years ago.

Radium paint was used for decades but it gave way in the lat 1960's to other materials. Radium is a very commonly found element that is radioactive.  The rays given off by the radium reacted with the paint and made the paint glow, 24x7, until glowing material in the paint burned out.

It's not usual for watch collectors to go though a brief phase of panic when they realize their watch collection is radioactive.  Do a little googling on "radium girls" and you'll see why.  However, the radiation given off by radium paint is blocked by the watch, watch crystal and even your skin.  So as long as you don't eat your watches, you'll be fine.

During the 1950's Hamilton designers used radium paint on the back of the hour and minute hands of some models.  That gave the appearance of the dial glowing and the hands were a silhouette.  I'm sure that was very interesting when it was new - but after 60 years the radium can burn the dial.

One of the models with "silhouette hands" was the 1956 Automatic K-202.  It was produced for two years.

The 1956 catalog doesn't say much about the dial but in 1957 the catalog showed both a white and a black dialed version.  I don't know if the white dial is truly white or if it is a silver butler finish... I think it's the latter.

Regardless of the dial, the case for the K202 is solid 14K gold.  Tucked within is a 17 jewel 661 automatic movement.

I recently landed a K202 project watch and its the "white" dialed variety - although it's definitely a silver butler finish.  It appears to be an original dial though, the dial is a little toned in the center from decades of exposure to the hands and the golden "pearl" track is in nice shape.  The latter is a hard detail to get right on a refinish.

The case back is nicely engraved with a presentation recognizing 25 years of service in 1958.

Although the watch appears to run, there's something amiss inside... it's missing the automatic portion of the movement.  The oscillating weight and the carrier with the reversing wheels is missing in action.  This watch still works just fine but you have to wind it manually.  Fortunately I have the extra parts needed to complete the watch so it will be an automatic again.

Everything is cleaned and dried.

The movement is reassembled and running with good motion.  Time to put it on the timer and "listen" to how well it's running.

Hmm... something its not right.  It's running but it's not giving off a consistent rate.  Something is making extra noise.

Running it through the demagnetizer seems to get things running a little more smoothly.  However it's  still not looking too good.

I noticed a tiny piece of lint stuck under the pallet bridge screw.  I also recleaned the hairspring.  Now it's running much better, but it's just a smidgen fast.

A slight tweak or two to the regulator and now it's running with good time keeping, good amplitude and a good beat error.

The movement is now running nicely and it has all the parts to be a complete 661 again... time to go back into the case.

You can see that the dial has toned a little in the center thanks to the old luminous paint.  The paint is gone now, so this watch is lume-free.  With a new lizard strap, I think it's a fine looking watch - with or without silhouette hands.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

1958 Automatic K-408

Who says round watches can't be interesting?

Well, probably pretty much everyone, I bet.  After all, round watches do tend to look a lot alike after a while.

However, Hamilton designers knew that there was a lot that you could do to spice up a watch.  The dial, hands, lugs and even the crystal are opportunities to add a little extra flair.

A great example is the 1958 Automatic K-408.  It was only produced for two years.

The K-408 came in a 10K yellow gold filled case.  The catalog image shows that the watch had very unique lugs, reminiscent of the Sir Echo introduced in 1957.  The model was available on a strap or with a bracelet that looks like it integrated flawlessly with the uniquely shaped lugs.

What you don't really see on the catalog depiction is the textured dial with a radial finish.  With the gold highlights of the numerals and hour markers, the dial seems to sparkle with brilliance.

Tucked inside the case is a 17 jewel 661 automatic movement, just as you'd expect for a K-series watch.

You don't see the K-408 very often, so when I saw one for sale I made a serious run at it and I had to pay dearly.  I was surprised there was as much interest, as it was in rough shape and the case back was dented.  As received, it looked promising despite how all the grime and dirt.

I crossed my fingers that the case would be okay.  I can't think of any reason why the case back would be so dented and I was hoping the case threads would be alright.  Fortunately, I couldn't see any issues beyond basic cosmetics.  The case opened with ease and the closed tightly.

The movement would run and it was largely rust-free so nothing more than a trip to the spa was likely to be needed.

Everything is now cleaned and dried.  Time for reassembly.

The movement is reassembled enough to give the barrel a few winds and make sure everything works.  The watch is ticking away with good motion so it's off to the timer.

Nothing wrong with this timekeeping.  I'll leave it running a little fast while everything settles in.

A new crystal is in order since the original was cracked.  This watch takes a fairly small crystal, relatively speaking.  26.9mm should do the trick.

A fresh brown lizard strap completes the restoration of this uncommon K-408.  I put fresh lume on the hands so they're a little brighter than what I started with.  This watch is smaller than it's peers in the Automatic K series.  I suspect that's one reason why it so much less common.  It's not tiny, but it's definitely smaller.  I like it though, it's a sharp looking watch... for a round watch.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

1957 Rotomatic I

Hamilton had three very small lines of automatics that you don't often see in the wild.  There was the Astramatic line, the Kinematic line and the Rotomatic line.  All together they sum to seven different models.  The rarest of the models are the two Astramatic watches.  They are both solid gold, the Astramatic I being 18K and the Astramatic II in 14K.

I recently found a Rotomatic I, so I have completed the Rotomatic line and can add it to the Rotomatic II and Rototmatic III.  The Rotomatic I was introduced in 1957 and produced for two years.

What made the Rotomatic line special was it's 23 jewel automatic movement.  The Astramatic models have 25 jewel grades, by the way.  The movement in the Rotomatic models is the Hamilton 665 and it's based largely on the same calibre made by Kurth Freres known as the Hamilton 661.  It just has 6 additional jewels.

The Rotomatic I is different from the other two Rotomatic models in that it has a solid gold case with a stainless steel back.  The others are gold filled.  The Rotomatic is interesting in that it has details in the bezel that echo the hour markers on the dial.  It's a little extra flair to what is otherwise a fairly vanilla case design.  The sterling silver dial has 14K markers and numerals as well as a pearled track and overall it's a very attractive design.

I recently purchased a Rotomatic and it's interesting in several ways.  First, it's not marked in any way regarding the case material.  The seller said it tested to be 14K but according to Hamilton it's 10K gold.  It's also a service award watch and factory-engraved so perhaps it's 14K after all?

This was a nice watch for the recipient, especially for 15 years of service.  Prior to working for Ralston Purina, the recipient served in the US Navy during WWII and was aboard the USS Chicago until it's sinking in 1943 during the Battle of Rennell Island.  He retired from the company in 1983... 23 years after receiving this watch.

If you look at the photo above and the one below you can see that there are no markings whatsoever that define the case materials.  That's pretty odd but not unheard of.

The 665 movement is almost identical to the 661.  In fact, the only differences that I can see are the six additional jewels where the 661 would have used bushings.

With the rotor out of the way you can see four red jewels in the rotor carrier.  You won't find those on a 661.

The lower pivot of the reversing wheel clutch is also jeweled on the train bridge.  That makes five additional jewels.  The 6th jewel is inside and supports the 4th wheel.  I didn't take a picture of that.

There are a lot of parts to a 661 / 665.  I think half of them are screws and this watch had a few substitutes from previous watchmakers probably losing one or two of them over the years.  Fortunately I have some donors to supply and rectify the situation.

Did I say the 665 was basically a 661 with extra jewels?  Check out the stamping on the train bridge... "17 Jewels".  The movement is now cleaned, oiled and running with excellent motion.

The timer says it's running a little slow but that's easy to adjust.

Nothing wrong with this performance... right on the money with excellent amplitude and an acceptable beat error.

A new crystal is always a great way to spruce up a watch.

And here's the finished project, paired with a nice lizard strap.  This is a very nice example of a Rotomatic I.  You don't see this model often and I feel privileged to have restored it.  I bet Harold would have liked to have seen it!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

1952 Gordon B

One of the great mysteries of Hamiltons is when the first B models showed up.  Maybe it's not such a great mystery after all, as the first B model to show up also showed up with a C model - and that's the Secometer B and Secometer C, from 1948.  But they were cataloged as such and didn't actually look like the original Secometer, so that shouldn't really count.

I suppose in order to me more clear I should have said when did the first non-cataloged B models that looked exactly like non-B models show up?

Other than the Secometer B, Hamilton started to use the B nomenclature for when an existing model had a movement change that required a different case.  There were three short periods when that sort of thing occurred.  The first was in 1952 when the 12/0 750, 753 and 745 replaced the 14/0 980, 982 and 982M movements.  There are lots of B models from this period since a lot of models that were produced with 14/0 movements continued to be produced for a couple of more years with the new 12/0 grades.   From the outside you would never be able to tell what was different.  But the case back and the dial had to be different to accommodate the different movement.  Hamilton didn't emphasize the difference in movements either... they just marketed the models as having 17 or 19 jewels.

The second period where B models were common was in 1955 when the 12/0 22 jewel 770 movement was introduced.  Oddly, since the 770 is the same physical size as the other 12/0 sized grades, no case change was needed and a B model wasn't justified.  However, the 770 also replaced the 8/0 747 movement in certain solid gold models... and those did require a different case so they became B models... for example, the Parker and Parker B.

The third period of B models occurred shortly thereafter when the Hamilton Illinois models were phased out in 1956.  A lot of the entry-level Hamiltons used excess Illinois branded movements so they were B models until the Hamilton branded movement replaced them.

Anyway, as you might suspect, I have B model to show you.  It's a Gordon-B.  The Gordon was introduced in 1941 and produced through 1953.  I'm going to assume the Gordon-B started in 1952, when the 754 replaced the 982M.

The Gordon is one of Hamilton's highest-end models.  Only the platinum Cambridge or Rutledge were more expensive.  The Gordon came in a solid 18K gold case and in some years it was also offered in both white or yellow gold.  You also had a choice of a two tone butler-finished dial with solid 18K gold markers or with diamonds.

Being such a premier model, you should only see a "medallion" movement inside like the 982M for the Gordon or the 754 for the Gordon B.

I recently landed a Gordon B and I was lucky to get it... probably because it looked terrible and scared off a lot of people.  If you look closely though, you can see the case is very crisp and that's what is most important.  Everything else can be replaced but the case cannot.

This watch was a presentation for 30 years service in 1955.  Although the company is Humble, this watch is anything but Humble.  Today if you were lucky to work for the same company for 30 years they would probably give you a fishing pole or kitchen knife set.

This dial looks terrible and I have serious doubts that it can be cleaned to look even remotely presentable.  It can be refinished to look like new though - so that's the route I'll take.

The dial curves a bit so this watch uses a spacer plate under the dial and a longer cannon pinion and hour wheel.  Like the 14/0 movements, the 12/0 grades have two different length cannon pinions, depending on what the model called for.

The movement is dirty but it doesn't look anywhere near as bad as the dial would have led you to believe.

I don't often see 18K stamped inside a case back.  I'm more of a gold filled or RGP-kind of guy.  I love solid gold cases though.  They are easy to spot because they never show verdigris, or the green corrosion typically found on gold filled cases.

This watch definitely calls for a new glass crystal.

Everything is cleaned and dried before being reassembled.

The movement is ticking away with good motion... I suspect the timer will confirm that everything is working as it should.

Yup - no complaints here.  I'll leave it like this for a while and check it after it has a chance to settle in.

I actually started this project about a month ago so it took me a while to get my dial back from the refinishers.  With a new crystal and a fresh lizard strap, this Gordon-B is a remarkable transformation.  The case is very crisp.  I don't know what happened to sour the dial the way it was but whatever it was, at least it didn't harm the case.  This not-so-humble watch is ready for another 60 years of service.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

1961 Automatic K-420

I've never thoroughly analyzed how many one-year wonders there are but I'd bet you a dollar that 1961 would have the most.  It seems like 1961 was a crossroad year and Hamilton pulled out all the stops. There were Thin-o-matic, Electrics, Automatics, Accumatics and all sorts of manual winders too.

One of the 1961 models that didn't make it to 1962 was the Automatic K-420.

The K-420 is a unique watch and came with it's own specially designed bracelet that matches the case perfectly.  If it looks familiar, you might be thinking of the Holden, which was also a 1961 one-year wonder.

The catalog doesn't do the watch justice, in my opinion, because the K-420 has a golden dial too.  So on the wrist I am sure the K-420 had a lot of bling to it.

By 1961 the Automatic K-series was using the 17 jewel 667 movement, which replaced the 661 grade used previously.  The two movements are very similar.  I think the main difference is the shape if the rotor, or oscillating weight, which allows the movement to fit into a more tapered case.

I recently received a K-420 from a friend and fellow collector.  I saw the watch on eBay and was going to make a run at it but it got too rich for my blood and it was VERY rough looking.  As received, it didn't look any better in person.  Is it just the crystal that's dirty?  No, as you'll see in a minute, this entire watch was a complete disaster.  I have no idea how a fine   iwatch can get this dirty.  It would be interesting to hear it's story.

Looking closely at the case back, there are no visible seams so this is a one-piece case and will open through the crystal.

Uh oh...  it has a Wittnauer crown.  Now I know I'm in trouble.  Actually, Wittnauers are fine vintage watches too and as good as any other Swiss company of the time.

The crystal was in terrible shape and extremely dirty but the dial isn't much better.

Holy smokes!  This is a new record setter as far as dirty watches go.  It's a cornucopia of corrosion... you have rust, verdigris, and a few other oxides based on what looks to be sand inside.  Did I say the watch was also not running?  It's no wonder, after looking at the movement.

Even the inside of the case back has corrosion - you don't see that very often.  I think it's just crud from the rotor.

With the dial removed, the main plate looks just as dirty as the back, but it's not rusty and that's good to see.

With the rotor and carrier out of the way you can see the dirt and grime goes all the way to the center.

Wow... the movement is clear of parts now but it's going to take a couple of passes through the cleaning solution to make sure all this grime is removed.

I made the mistake of putting all the small parts in with the really dirty big parts and the cleaning solution was so cloudy after the first pass that I couldn't even see the smallest parts in the jar.  I had to use a flashlight shining up from under the jar to see the tiniest parts.. but I found them all.  Now everything is bright and shiny (well, maybe not the rotor - it has lost some plating).

The movement is now running with good motion.

The timer agrees with my visual observation.  Everything looks good at this point.

The rotor lost some plating when the rust was removed but it doesn't look too bad.  Plus you'll never see it when it's inside the case.

I gave the dial a "poor man's refinish" after cleaning it the best I could.  Fortunately I didn't lose too much printing... in fact, the word AUTOMATIC looks the worst but it's no different than when I started.  A new crystal makes the watch look much better too.  However, I need to get an EvrTite crystal with a yellow reflector ring to finish the watch properly.  I also replaced the crown too... the Wittnauer crown disintegrated in the ultrasonic as it was far too worn.  It's not a bad looking watch now... I bet my friend will be happy he bought it.  You never see K-420s.  As they say on Antiques Roadshow, "try and find another".