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.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

1968 Sea Crest III

Hamilton introduced a number of watches in the last two years of the 1960's.  In fact, you could say the 1960's went out with a bang with well over 180 models in the line-up.  That means that 16% of all the watch models ever offered were still for sale in 1969.

One of the new models introduced in 1968 was the Sea Crest III.  As you would suspect there was a Sea Crest and a Sea Crest II, the latter being discontinued after 1964.  So the lineup was Sea Crest-free for a couple of years before the III was offered.

The Sea Crest III is a fairly blah, conservative-looking watch with classic 1960's styling.   It came in a one-piece stainless steel case with your choice of a strap or a stainless steel Kreisler bracelet.  The dial has luminous dots and thin luminous baton hands to match.

Tucked inside the case is a 17 jewel 688 movement.  This grade is basically a manual-winding version of the ETA automatics used during the same period.

I recently received a Sea Crest project watch in need of some TLC.  It looked a lot better than it ran.

As you can see, the timer shows a whole lot of something going on.  It's running almost 10 minutes fast per day.  Something is definitely not right inside.

Being a one-piece case, the Sea Crest III opens through the crystal.  With the crystal out of the way you can see the dial is actually textured with vertical lines.

The watch is running, which is good, and the movement looks clean but even a trip past the demagnetizer doesn't have an effect on the performance.  I can tell by the position of the regulator (at full slow) and the placement of the hairspring stud, that something is wonky with this balance.

Everything gets fully taken apart and thoroughly cleaned.  Any oil on the hairspring can make the watch run fast and if that was the situation here, it would be cleaned off now.

The movement is nice and shiny and ticking away.  One thing I noticed is the crown wheel screw is stripped, or the barrel bridge is stripped... one or the other.  So it doesn't hold very well.  The crown wheel is the smaller of the two winding wheels and closest too the stem at 3:00.  I moved the hairspring stud counter clockwise a little to be closer to in beat.  Now I can see what the timer thinks.

Well, it's not running fast anymore... now it's running slow and the beat error is still maxed out.  Time to take a close look at the hairspring.

The hairspring has a nice coil all the way to the last turn, where it bends to go out and into the hairspring stud.  I suspect the shape of this last section is incorrect.  The last cm or so of the spring is also bent so the coil isn't flat when it's installed.  This little section needs to be reshaped.  I suspect someone's screwdriver slipped and went into the balance - bending the hairspring in the process.

To fix it is really a test of one's fine motor skills.  You need to take the hairspring off the balance, install just the spring in the regulator, and then observe where the center of the spring falls relative to the balance jewels.  Ideally they would line up but if they didn't, you'd have to shape the spring such that the center of the spring is moved into the proper position.   If you'd like to see such a process first hand, check out this video by the very talented Mark Lovick.

I happen to have a donor 694A movement with a good balance so I will just swap the balance and see if that does the trick.  As you can see, this balance is much better and with a few tweaks to the regulator you can see the beat error gets reduced to almost zero as the two lines come together.

I still have to so something about the loose crown wheel screw but the watch is reassembled in the meantime.  This watch has it's original bracelet as well.  It's a nice looking example of a relatively uncommon model.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

1962 Huntley

You can't beat the classics... but you can repeat them occasionally.

In 1962 Hamilton introduced the Huntley.  It must have been fairly popular, as it was produced through 1969.

Initially it was offered with a very unique patterned dial with fancy 1960s numerals at 3, 9 and 12.

In 1964 the fancy pattern was discontinued in favor of a plain white finish on the marker dial and an all-numeral dial was added as an option.  The price was also increased by $10 to $135.

I'm not sure but I think the all-numeral dial might have had a textured finish as well... at least that's what some of the catalog images appear to show.

So how is the Huntley a classic design, you ask?  Well, it's 14K solid gold case is very reminiscent of the 1939 Brock which was made through 1952.  I believe it also shares a crystal with the 1953 Brockton, although that case is 10K.  So it's a bit of a blend between the two models, with a little extra 1960 spice thrown in.

Unlike the Brock or Brockton, the Huntley has a 12/0 size 22 jewel 770 movement inside, certainly a step up from the 19 jewel 754 movement (although very similar) in the Brockton, although both are the same size.

I recently received a 1962 or 63 in need of a little TLC.  I know it's from that period because of the dial.  It's actually in very nice shape, so it shouldn't be to difficult a project.  Looks like one of the lower lugs is a little bent, but other than that it looks great.

The only downside that I can see with the Huntley is it's a little on the small side compared to other 1960's models.  It's consistent with 1940's models, which tended to be smaller but watches were larger in the 1960's.

One thing that isn't readily apparent with the bezel in place is the dial has a golden band going across the top and bottom.  The pattern on the dial looks like a screen to my eye.  It's an interesting look but I'd hate to have to get it refinished.

The 770 movement is in great shape, it's a little dirty but nothing too distracting.

The case back has a couple of service marks inside from past trips to a watchmaker.

The 12/0 and 14/0 sized grades actually have two different length cannon pinion and hour wheel setups.  So if you needed to replace a cannon pinion, you'd need to know which version.  The Huntley has the longer version as it uses a spacer plate under the dial - that's usually a good clue which length is involved.

Everything is cleaned and dried before being reassembled with fresh lubricants.

The movement is now back together and ticking away nicely.  If you haven't already seen them, I have step-by-step views of how to take apart or reassemble the various movement types posted in the "overhaul examples" page in the menu on the right side of the screen.

Hmmm... the watch is running fast, even if I move the regulator to full slow.  Something is not right.

If you look really closely, you might be able to see that the hairspring is not inside the two prongs of the regulator pins.  It's inside the inner pin and that's making the watch run fast.  I'll have to gently coax it into the proper position.

Ah... much better.  The beat error is on the higher side of acceptable.  It's not easy to adjust and could result in goofing up the balance so I'll leave it as it.  The watch might stop a little sooner as it winds down than if the beat error was lower... but that's about the extent of the issue and it's pretty minor.

Well, now the inside of the watch is running as nicely as the outside looks.  I like the looks of the Huntley with the patterned dial... it's interesting and a little unusual.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

1930 Coronado

I know a lot of collectors whose favorite genre of watches is the 1930's.  Truth be told, it's probably my favorite decade as well... and why not?  A lot happened in the 1930s; the Elinvar hairspring was invented, the 14/0 sized movement was introduced, the 12/0 401 grade from the Illinois Watch Co. powered several highly collectible models, the 6/0 sized 987 movement evolved through the 987F,  987E and the 987A grades, the higher-end 19 jewel 979 movement was produced and the Art Deco era had a huge design influence on the models.

The 1930's was the golden age of Hamilton watches.

Another reason for popularity is there weren't as many models produced in the 1930's as in the later decades... of course, that doesn't mean they are easier to locate.  I suspect a lot of watches succumbed to economic forces like the Great Depression and WWII.  Cases wore out and household disasters struck. I'm sure a lot of watches have been lost to time.  So scarcity is another valid reason why collectors favor the 1930's.

At the top of the more highly prized 1930's models is the 1930 Coronado.  It's one of three models to feature an enamel bezel, the other two being the 1928 Piping Rock and the Spur.

The Coronado was made through 1932 and came mostly in solid 14K white or yellow gold.  A small handful of solid green gold examples were also produced.  Proportionately, 2,343 14K white gold Coronados were made compared to 1,524 14K yellow models.  Hamilton records indicate that three 14K green gold examples were made... thus making the green gold Coronado one of the rarest models out there.

The Coronado was not an inexpensive watch.  It retailed for $125 in 1930 and that's equivalent to almost $1,800 in 2016 dollars.  In fact, you will often see Coronado's sell for north of $2,000 today... so it's one of a few vintage models that is worth more today than it was when new!

The name "Coronado" was a result of Hamilton's practice at the time of naming models after popular high-end resorts of the era.  The Piping Rock, Pinehurst and the Meadowbrook are other examples, as is the Oakmont, which was the site of the most recent USGA tournament.

The case of the Coronado is very similar in design to the Piping Rock.  It's a three-piece design with a snap on case back, a center section that holds the movement and a solid gold bezel that is filled with enamel.  The dial has no hour markers, as the numerals are integrated into the bezel.

Inside the case you will find the 6/0 sized 19 jewel 979F movement.  This higher-end grade was used mostly in solid gold models and is very similar to the 987 movement, but has two extra cap jewels.  It shares many, but not all, parts with the 987 grade.

I was recently able to purchase a Coronado.  It was a big swing for me but the opportunity for a Coronado project watch doesn't come along every day.  It was a bit of a risk as the seller's photos indicated the watch was in "as found" condition and I couldn't even tell if it was white or yellow.  As they say, "you pays your nickel and you takes your chance"... I was hopeful it would be worth it.

As received, the watch looked rather tired and well-used.  The lugs are supposed to be flexible but the upper lugs are a little more sloppy than the lower lugs.  The enamel in the bezel has a few missing chips but it looked decent enough

The back of the watch looks exactly like a Piping Rock.  Notice the open sections in the corners of the center section.  In the Piping Rock you can see right through to the other side but in the Coronado, the bezel covers the openings.

Looking at the movement, it's clear that it hasn't been to a watchmaker in a long, long time.  A few winds gets the balance to swing though - so that's a promising sign.

The movement comes out the front but you have to remove the bezel first.  Without the bezel in place, the dial looks awkwardly plain.  I can tell from the finish that the dial is likely a refinish.  It looks okay, but the printing is a little light in the upper left.

The inside of the case back is stamped with the usual early 1930's markings.  There are about a half dozen watchmaker's marks from past overhauls, so this watch was well maintained while it was in use.

Sure enough, this dial has been redone at least twice, based on the two different sets of numbers scratched into the back.

The 979 is essentially the same as a 987 when it comes to an overhaul.  These early 6/0 movements can be very temperamental and finicky.  I much prefer the more modern movements, as they typically present with much less wear and tear.

The movement is reassembled and ticking away.  It's off to the timer now to see how well it runs.

Things don't look too bad dial down.  It's running a little slow but otherwise looks fine.  Dial up was a different story though.  There was a LOT of noise and it ran much faster.

I decided it would be easier to swap balances with a 987F movement since the original balance had a bit of a wobble.  The replacement balance runs much better.  Even with the regulator at full slow, it runs a little fast and is consistent in dial up and dial down positions (and pendant down too).   I could use my dynamic poising skills and timing washers to slow it down, but I decided to leave it as is.  I have found that sometimes "good enough" is a great strategy when it comes to these early Hamilton movements.  Pursuing greatness can result in disaster.

A lot of watches from the early 1930's require female spring bars.  Rather than having holes in the lugs, the lugs have posts that go into holes in the spring bar.  Getting replacement spring bars with holes large enough for the posts can be a real challenge but I have a small stash for just this purpose.

The "after" photos reveal what appears to be an entirely different watch.  I re-enameled the missing sections of the bezel.  The crystal is plastic and I was able to polish it nicely - it will do until I get a nicer glass one.  I also replaced the crown with a period-correct version so that looks better to my eye too.

Part of the challenge with photographing the Coronado and Piping Rock is to get the numerals to shine.  Looking at them from an angle helps.  Here you can see a little of the irregularity of the black enamel around the number 7.  It's not perfect for sure, but it looks fine on the wrist.

It looks just as sharp from the other side.  Notice the gap in the upper lugs is a little wider than the lower lugs.  A jeweler might be able to tighten them up but I'm not going to risk it.

I even had a 5/8" Hamilton strap to install on it.  It's not a vintage strap but it looks great nonetheless. This Coronado is now the "pride of the fleet".

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dynamic Poising

One of my favorite quotes is often attributed to Michelangelo, supposedly said after he was 70 years old... "Ancora Imparo"... "I am still learning".  Although I just celebrated my 500th watch post, there are many things that I still don't know how to do, or that I lack the necessary equipment to do.

Certainly a "master watchmaker" ought to be able to make anything that he (or she) would need to fix a watch.  Using a lathe, you can make balance staffs or arbors for wheels.  Making a hairspring would certainly be tricky for anyone.  Adjusting hairsprings is within reach of hobbyists and you can watch true professionals do what is best described as "magic" when it comes to hairsprings.

A couple of my "watch heros" are from the UK... one is Christian Dannemann at http://watchguy.co.uk and another is Mark Lovick at http://www.patreon.com/watchrepair.  You can learn a LOT, especially from Mark's Youtube channel...  https://www.youtube.com/user/jewldood.

I also have tremendous respect for Paul Silvia, who is an accomplished hobbyist like myself.  He has a fantastic blog dedicated to adjusting watches - which is a true test of a watchmaker's skill.  I invite you to refer to his blog to see more about what I'm going to show below.  http://adjustingvintagewatches.com

If you know much about mechanical watches, you probably have heard about fine watches being adjusted to "six positions".  That was a requirement for railroad grade pocket watches.  The six positions are dial up, dial down, pendant up, pendant down, pendant left and pendant right.

Lots of fine watches, including pretty much all of Hamilton's wrist watches, were adjusted to three positions... dial up, dial down and pendant down.  The spec, as I understand it, was they couldn't vary by more than 30 seconds per day - but they are capable of much better performance than that.

Adjusting watches to a particular position required running them for a long time in that position.  It required a lot of effort to record how a watch ran, make an adjustment, then let it run again and record it's performance.  Adjusting to three positions was viewed as "good enough" for everyday use.

Anyway, I always check dial up and dial down when I overhaul a watch and usually one or two positions on the way from dial up to dial down.  Typically things look fine and if there's a big difference between dial up and dial down, then the balance staff is likely the culprit.

I don't usually pay close attention to performance in all six positions - mainly because there's not much I could do about it.  Of course, if I saw something "bad", my go-to solution is to replace the balance in it's entirety.  As a result, I have a depressing graveyard of bad balances and partial parts movements.

I'm sure I'm not alone in the ranks of watchmakers who don't adjust watches to all six positions.

Paul is a very special kind of crazy... and he really loves the cause and effect results of adjusting vintage watches to exemplary standards.  His blog has taught me a lot about the theory and technique but there's no better teacher than experience.  I'm a little crazy too,  so I purchased most of the tools that are needed for this specialized task.

As fate would have it, I recently had someone contact me about a watch he purchased last year that had stopped working for him after vigorously clapping his hands at a show.   He also had a watch I sold him a couple of years ago that he thought ran great on his nightstand but differently when he wore it. I asked him to send me the watches so I could check them out.

The watch that had stopped working was fairly easy to fix.  The task reminded me that in the 1930's when these watches were made, there was a watchmaker in every jewelry store.  Watches stopped all the time.  Think about all the old black and white movies where someone said, "Do you have the time?  My watch has stopped".

The second watch was another story... and the reason for this post.  The watch actually ran pretty well in four of six positions but I could see it varied dramatically in the other two.  I could see why the experience while wearing the watch might differ from the nightstand performance.  Apparently there is no time like the present to try these new techniques out.

The watch is an Endicott, one of my favorite models and the first model that I ever purchased (not this particular watch though, just this same model).

Plus it's anniversary just passed - it was given as a gift 74 years ago to Alfred from his mom and dad... a graduation present, I bet.

Looking at the watch on the timer, it's running a little slow but the amplitude is good and the beat error is on the high side of acceptable.

The regulator is set to full fast, so I could speed it up a little but not too much.

Looking at the performance a little more closely, here's what I recorded at each position, plus the midpoints.  You can see that it runs "fastest" midway between crown down and crown left.

When a watch is fully wound, the energy of the mainspring can mask the variability of the balance weighting.  The balance wheel has timing screws around the perimeter and they are what controls the balance of the watch.  In combination with the hairspring, the weights can also change the speed of the watch.

When you think about a spinning ice skater, when they pull their hands in they spin quickly.   They push their hands out to slow down.  So to speed a watch up you can remove weight and to slow a watch down, you can add weight under the same principle.  But you have to add or remove weight in the right places, otherwise the performance will vary by the position of the watch.  A perfectly balanced wheel is considered to be in "poise" or "poised".

There are tools to check for poise with the balance removed from the watch but with modern timers, it's faster to check for poise by running the watch on a timer and looking at it's performance in various positions.

To see what's going on with this Endicott's 987A, I will first thoroughly clean the movement, demagnetize it and set the regulator to the center.  Then I'll give the watch a turn of the crown to get it running with low amplitude.

Between the regulator setting and the low mainspring tension, the watch is running very slow now.  I'll record it's performance in all six positions.

Now the fastest position is Crown Left.  Dial up and Dial down are fairly close.  What's most important is the position where the watch is running the fastest... that means the heavy spot on the balance is directly below the balance staff.

This may test your spatial geometry skills, but from the back, the left side is on the right in the shot below.  So the heavy spot is on the balance wheel is below the balance staff, where my tweezers are pointed.

Now with the balance removed, my tweezers are again pointed at the heavy spot on the wheel.  From a tweaking standpoint point, I can remove weight from the heavy side or add weight to the lighter side.  But which one should I do?

Since the watch is running slow overall, I need to speed the watch up.  To speed the watch up I need to remove weight.  If it was running fast, I would want to add weight - and I could do that by putting a tiny washer under the screw on the opposite side of the heavy screw.   Since I want to remove weight, I will remove the screw from the heavy side and undercut it, or trim it from underneath.

There are several ways to remove weight but some of them are crude and make the watch look a little ugly.  For example you can file the screw down from the outside.  Undercutting is a cleaner way to trim weight.  One under cutter tool looks like the tool below.  Basically you put the screw in the tool and turn the screw like a "cheese grater" and remove tiny amounts of material.

Precision screw holders like the ones below make short work of grasping these tiniest of screws.  Using a screw driver is a great way to lose the screw.

I also took the opportunity to reposition the hairspring in order to lower the beat error.  After removing a little weight, the watch has slowed down a little but still has a long way to go.

Going a little further, the watch has now sped up nicely.

Well, here's the performance after a couple more tries... now the heavy spot is Crown Right.  I know that's the heavy spot because that's the position that runs the fastest.

Okay, now the heavy spot is crown down.  After a few attempts at removing weight I had to start to add weight in other places.  This is a very challenging process.. tweak a little, check it out, tweak a little, check it out.

After a few more tries, I'm back to Crown Right but the other numbers are slowly getting closer together.  I think I might call it a day... it's taken me about three hours of the sort of effort that involves "beads of sweat on the forehead" in order to get to this point.  Every time I remove the balance I'm rolling the dice and, to be completely honest, I'm shocked I haven't goofed up this hairspring yet or the balance pivots yet.

A man has got to know his limitations.

A slight tweak of the regulator is needed to get the dial up and down rates close to zero.  Notice the regulator is almost at the center position.

I've pretty much nailed this beat rate, amplitude and beat error.  The other positions vary slightly but not by too much as compared to where I started.

I'll have to observe the watch in action to see how it performs while being worn but I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with my first foray into this highly specialized technique.  I'm glad I don't run across this problem very often though.