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.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

1959 Thin-o-matic T-500

1959 Hamilton introduced the Thin-o-matic line of automatic watches.  At the time, Hamilton was forming a joint venture with Buren Watch Company, a Swiss company.  Many, but not all, of the Thin-o-matic models used Buren micro-rotor movements.  Actually, you could probably say most, but not all, models used Buren movements.  There are a few Thin-o-matics that used ETA grades.

Anyway, one of the first Thin-o-matics was the T-500.  It was produced for three years.

The T-500 came in a stainless steel case and featured a textured dial with a silver-colored chapter ring or "white incised markers" as Hamilton called it.  The hands are luminous and the dial has luminous dots.

Inside the T-500 is a Hamilton 666 movement with 17 jewels.  Most automatics have two levels, one for the watch mechanism and the another with the automatic complication added on.  The 666 movement, as well as the other micro rotor movements, incorporated the automatic complication on the same level as the watch mechanism - so all of the parts are tucked in tightly amongst each other.

The micro rotors are very nicely designed movements but there are varying opinions about how well the small rotor really powers the watch.  

Opinions are like belly buttons... everyone has one, but I think there could be some basis for the thought the rotor is a little undersized to keep up.

I think the T-500 must be a popular model because I see them regularly for sale but they always sell above my typical project-watch target price.  I finally landed one a few weeks ago but it took me about a month and a half to work up the courage to tackle another micro rotor movement.  They are very intimidating movements with lots and lots of tiny parts to lose or break if you're not very careful.

As received, my project watch was a bit beat up and didn't run at all... not even briefly or when shaken.

I didn't realize until doing this post that my dial is a little unique.  The hour locations are filled with lume and there are no "dots" on the dial.  I don't know if it was originally like this but there's no indication the dial has been refinished, so who knows?   I suspect the lume was added later but that doesn't explain the missing dots.

The case is in good shape though and, looking closely at the case back, I can see that it should pop off when I apply some pressure with a case knife.

The movement looks clean enough and I can see a previous watchmaker's mark inside the case back. So this watch has been to a watchmaker at least once in the last 56 years.

Without the dial in the way, you can see the movement looks like your typical watch movement but there are a bunch more tiny pivots on the left side where all of the automatic-related wheels are supported.  All of the jeweled pivots are located in the lower right of the photo below.  It's looks like only about 1/3rd of the main plate's real estate is used for the time keeping gear train.

Looking at the back of the movement more closely, you can see that a good 50% of the movement is time-keeping related and the other half is for the winding mechanism.

The first thing to come off is the rotor and you can see by the red color that there's a jewel supporting the rotor arbor.

I find letting the mainspring down to be a real challenge on micro rotors.  I usually will just remove the balance and then pull the pallet fork, as that will allow the gear train to unwind freely.  However when I did that below, none of the wheels turned.  That tells me the works is likely gummed up by dried oil.

My hypothesis about dried oil was further supported by how hard it was to remove the balance jewels when I opened their shock springs.  They felt like they were glued in place but I was able to free them eventually.

Once I carefully pulled the train bridge, the mainspring barrel rotated until the mainspring tension was released.

Now it's just a matter of taking each part off, piece by piece, while I work my way back to the autowinding mechanism.

After taking the photo above, I noticed the auto mechanism was missing a reversing wheel.  That meant that the rotor was not actually winding the watch, even though it would swing freely.  Luckily I have a donor movement so I can put it back in proper order.

All the parts are cleaned and dried so everything is ready to be reassembled.  First I'll start with the time-keeping parts - so that I know the watch will actually work once it's put back together.

With the train wheels, including the barrel, back in position, the gear train spins freely when I wind the watch.  That's a good sign that the reason for not-running has been corrected.  Next up is the pallet fork and the balance.  Then I'll know for sure if the watch runs.

In the shot below you can see the pallet fork has been reinstalled.  I can now wind the watch and the pallet fork will keep the wheels from turning freely.  Once the balance is back in place, the balance will release the mainspring tension each time it swings past by the pallet fork... one tick at a time.

The balance assembly is reinstalled and the watch is running but I still have to reinstall the upper shock jewel before putting it on the timer.

There... now the balance is moving with good motion.  It's off to the timer to find out how well it's running.

It's running a little fast but everything else looks good.  I'll slow it down after I reassemble the rest of the movement.

I've worked my way back to the rotor assembly.  All that's left now is to put the rotor weight back on.

A new crystal will go a long way toward improving the looks of the watch.  29.8mm diameter will do the trick.

A slight tweak or two to the regulator brings the beat rate to an acceptable 5 seconds fast per day.

With a fresh black lizard strap, this Thin-o-matic T-500 looks great.  As you can see, the dial has black marks where the "luminous dots" would have been.  Were they ever actually there?  I don't see any evidence there were ever any dots and the luminous paint on the chapter ring looks pretty good so I'll leave it.  This is a sharp looking watch and looks even better in person.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

1940 Coral Essex

Coral Gold, or rose gold as it's usually called, was very fashionable in the early 1940's.  You'll often find rose gold models of pocket watches and wrist watches from all the major brands that date to the late 1930's or early 1940's.  Hamilton was no exception and it made several coral models in gold filled as well as solid gold.  The advent of WWII brought an end to the trend, as the copper used to alloy rose gold was needed for the war effort.

In 1940 Hamilton introduced the Coral Essex at the same time as it introduced the regular yellow Essex.  The two models are basically the same but they were separated in the catalogs to highlight the unique case material.  The Coral Essex was produced for only two years, 1940 and 1941.

The Essex looks like a driver's watch, or a model that's intended to be worn on the side of the wrist, rather than on top of it.  However, the lugs don't move on the Essex and the strap goes over the lugs, not between them, so the watch can only be worn comfortably on top of the wrist.  It's not usual to see Essex models for sale with the straps incorrectly installed.

The Essex came in a 10K gold filled case and received the 17 jewel 14/0 sized 980 movement to power it.  The sterling silver dial has a special coral finish and the solid 18K yellow gold numerals were rhodium-plated to appear silver, as were the hands.

I recently picked up a Coral Essex that was listed as non-running but the case was in above-average condition so I pursued it.  Typically the tubular lugs show extensive wear from the strap and the corners of the case back are often worn down as well - sometimes to holes!  My project watch was missing it's second hand but other than that, I thought it would be a nice example when it was all fixed up.

There were a few models in Hamilton's line up with flexible lugs, most notably the Wilshire and the Contour,  but the Essex's lugs are fixed in place.

Although this case back could stand a bit of polish, there's no wear through to my eye.  In fact, that is very unusual for this model.

Without the crystal blocking the view, the dial appears to be original, or at least very old.  The hands have a little bit of tarnish but you have to be careful polishing rhodium plated hands as the plating is thin and they will turn yellow with too much polishing.  I can see the second hand bit inside the hole, that's a good sign that all I need is a new second hand and not a new 4th wheel too.

The movement is a little hazy so it's been a while since this watch was last overhauled but the jewel settings are still bright so it hasn't been decades.  The serial number of this watch dates to late 1940 - just as it should.

As you can see below, the mainspring is broken.  Of all the reasons for a watch not to run, a broken mainspring is my favorite.  It's usually a very easy fix and I almost always replace the mainspring anyway.

I'll prep a new crystal for the case while the parts are in the ultrasonic.

Everything is prepped and ready for reassembly.  A new white-alloy mainspring is installed and will give this watch about 40 hours of run time.

The watch is running... yay!  The motion looks pretty good so it's off to the timer to see how it's really doing.

Well, it's running a little slow but the amplitude of 159 degrees is a bit concerning.  The amplitude is a measure of how far the balance swings from side to side.  That's an indicator of how much energy the watch is transmitting to the balance.  Ideally it should be over 250 degrees but 200 degrees is my lower spec limit.  159 degrees means something is robbing the watch of energy.  There are lots of possible reasons but I'll start with the mainspring barrel, as that is where the energy is stored.  First I'll check out the barrel and then work my way through the gear train.

Ah ha!  The mainspring barrel isn't closed completely.  The lid didn't seat fully on one side when I reinstalled the mainspring and I didn't notice.  The mainspring barrel is the "first wheel" and this issue would cause the barrel to rub inside the movement, losing energy to unnecessary friction.

With the barrel fully closed, you can see the watch is now running with an amplitude of a vigorous 274 degrees.  The beat error of 0.2ms is excellent.  All this watch needs is a slight tweak to the regulator to bring up the speed slightly.

There... 16 seconds fast per day.  I like to leave watches running just a smidgen fast after an overhaul as they tend to slow slightly after they settle down.

A new glass crystal completes the restoration of this very authentic 1940 Coral Essex.  It doesn't look "new" but it does look like an excellent 76 year old example of an Essex.

This model is typical of a 1940's men's watch but it's quite small by today's standards.  The strap is 11/16" wide so that gives the watch a little more wrist-presence but a woman could easily pull of wearing this watch today.

Friday, September 16, 2016

1935 Richmond

A lot of Hamilton models are named after places and I've lived in a handful of them.  One of them is the Ardmore, named after one of the towns on "the Main Line" outside of Philadelphia that extended all the way through Lancaster, PA and points West.  Another model is the Wayne, also a Main Line town.  A third is the Richmond.  I don't know if that's named after Richmond, Virginia (another place I used to live) or Richmond, PA - a town not too far from Lancaster, PA... probably the latter, I suppose.

Regardless, the Hamilton Richmond was introduced in 1935 and was one of the first models to feature the "brand new" 14/0 size 982 movement.  The 982 and it's 17 jewel counterpart, the 980, enabled Hamilton to make watches that were "curved to fit the wrist.  Both grades would continue to be produced through 1952.  However, the Richmond was produced through 1939.

The Richmond was a flagship of the new 14/0 powered models.  It was "top of the line" with an 18K solid gold case and only the Rutledge, introduced at the same time, was it's peer with a platinum case.

Proving that good things come to those who wait, in 1936 the price of the Richmond was dropped by $10 to $125... that's still over $2,000 in today's dollars though!

Although the Richmond was listed in the catalog as coming in yellow gold only, white gold versions are known to have been produced, as well as a few platinum versions.  The white and platinum versions are much scarcer.

Of course, there aren't that many 18K models to begin with.  In fact, there are only 13 different models that were produced in 18K gold.  Most of them are fairly easy to find.  The main exception is the uncatalogued 1927 Rectangular.

I recently purchased a Richmond and although I had to dig a little deeper than my usual project watch investment, I got a good deal for it since it was in need of a lot of TLC.

The Richmond has some striking similarities to the 1936 Clark - or should I say, the 1936 Clark may have been a "poor man's Richmond" since the Richmond came first.  The lugs on the Richmond have male pins so you need special female spring bars to mount a strap.  The spacing is 9/16 or 14mm - which is very narrow for a man's watch by today's standards.

The top and bottom of the bezel have an interesting purplish tone.  I don't know what would cause it.  It almost looks like the mark extreme heat makes but I don't think it was caused by heat.  It may be caused by the glue that holds the crystal in place.  Not to worry, I suspect it will polish away easily.

This watch was originally a presentation for a 25 year service award in 1939, making it easy to date the watch.

This is an engraved butler-finished dial with black enamel in the engravings.  I bet this dial is original, based on the corrosion marks on the sides but it could also be an old refinish.  This type of dial can be refinished to look exactly like new but there's no reason to do it again - it looks perfectly fine for an almost 80 year old watch.

The hands used on models is an important detail to look for.  The style of hands on the Richmond is called "moderne" and these hands are a perfect match to the catalog hands.

The 982 inside the watch is likely original since it dates to 1939.  It's in nice shape but will get a trip to the spa anyway, since I bet it needs a fresh mainspring.

It's not too often that I get to see "18K Gold" stamped inside a case back.  There are a bunch of past watchmakers' service marks inside and I'll add my own before I close up this watch again.

Yup, sure enough, the mainspring is set.  This watch would probably run 12-24 hours on a full wind with a spring like this.  A fresh mainspring will power it for upwards of 40 hours.

The coil of the mainspring isn't flat either.  This is a good indicator that the mainspring was installed without the use of a winding tool.  It's possible to install a spring with just your finger tips (if you're tough) but you can bend the spring like this while doing so.  This causes the spring to apply pressure to the inside of the barrel and rob the spring of energy from the extra friction created.

Time for reassembly.  Watches like this are a breeze compared to automatics with twice as many parts.

Before I put the movement back together I will install a new glass crystal in the bezel.  That way the UV glue can dry under my UV lamp while I work on the movement.  I use a little UV lamp that is meant to cure the glue used to apply fake finger nails ... it's the sort of thing you'd put your hand under while you gossip about all the ladies in town and who's wearing white after Labor Day.

It's always a little unnerving to install the balance on a 14/0 movement.  I'd be embarrassed to tell you how many times I have accidentally dropped the balance cock slip off the side of the movement - turning the hairspring into a slinky.  Patience and great dexterity is needed to get the balance properly in place.  Now the movement is ticking away with good balance motion.

It's running just a little fast but the other specs look great.  A slight tweak to the regulator is all that's needed.

Nothing to complain about this performance.

Such a fine 1930's watch really deserves a fine period-correct genuine Hamilton strap.  Too bad the buckle isn't solid 18K gold too.

This strap came courtesy of my friend Scott Allison at www.timesofplenty.com.  He has lots of great straps and bracelets for Hamiltons if you're looking for a perfect strap to complement a perfect watch.

I wouldn't trust such a fine watch to anything less than brand-new spring bars.

Here's the finished project.  The purple tone on the bezel came off without any effort.  This watch looks superb with a correct strap.  Don't you think?

You can get crystals in regular thickness or double thick.  I personally prefer double thick - especially on gold filled models since the extra thickness protects the case from wear from shirt sleeves, etc.  I also think it looks really cool with a thick piece of glass.

I bet Harry would be glad to know his watch is still in good shape.  I'm sure he was very proud to receive it back in 1939.