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, December 31, 2017

1955 Malcolm

One of the most common questions people have about their watch is "how old is it".  Sometimes that's easily determined by a presentation on the case back but that's normally not the case - otherwise the question wouldn't be asked.  Other times them model is a one-year wonder and that makes identifying its age easy too.

Perhaps the best way to determine a watch's age is to check the serial number of the movement.  The case typically has a serial number too but that's more related to the case maker than the Hamilton model.  Of course, the serial number option has it's difficulties too, as the movement could have been changed at some point and Hamilton stopped putting serial numbers on movements starting in the 1954/55 time frame.

Another way to date particular models is to look for subtle variations in the model appearance.  Things like the stylized H logo or other elements.

A good example is the 1955 Malcolm.  It was produced for two years and there are a few ways to tell a 1955 from a 1956 Malcolm.

First, just looking at the catalog depiction of the two years, can you spot a difference?



One difference that's easy to spot is the price tag... the 1956 version was $25 more.  Of course that wouldn't help you identify the year unless you found a Malcolm in it's original box with price tag.  A better indicator is the diamond-shaped marker under the 12 on the 1956 version's dial.

One of the reasons for the price difference could be the introduction of the "new" 22 jewel 770 movement in the 1956 Malcolm.  The 770 came out mid-1955 so it's possible a few Malcolms from 1955 have the 770 but another clear sign of a 1955 model would be the 19 jewel 754 movement.

The Malcom has a solid 14K yellow gold case so it received the 754 movement.  14K gold filled models with 12/0 movements received the 19 jewel 753 movement and 10K gold filled models got the 17 jewel 752 grade.  All of the 12/0 movements were replaced by the 770 starting in the 1955/56 timeframe.

My Malcolm project watch looks very good but it only tells the correct time twice a day... meaning it's not running.  It's "wound tight" which basically means it's fully wound and not running.  You'll often see that referred to as "over wound" but that's a misnomer.  You really can't over wind a watch but you can fully wind a non-running watch.

Based on the lack of a marker under the 12, this should be a 1955 model (although the dial has been refinished).

This watch was a Christmas present for Truman Fairbanks in 1955.

With the bezel removed you can see the dial a little more clearly.  It's a simple dial and easy to refinish correctly.  Notice the notch on the edge by the 3.  There's also a fingerprint between the 1 and 2.  It's not mine but I'll try to remove it so that it doesn't become permanent.

The movement inside is a 19 jewel 754 movement.  You'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a 753 and 754 other than the circle with an H inside of it and the engravings have an orange-is enamel compared with black on the 753.  Notice this 754 doesn't have a serial number on it.  Those numbers were dropped sometime in the 1954/55 time period and you'll see other grades like 747, 748, etc. that don't have serial numbers too.  Oddly, I've heard that some 770's did have serial numbers but I've never actually seen one yet.

This model has a spacer under the dial and it has the word TOP on it.  That's a clever hack to make it a little easier to reinstall, as it can be a bit confusing to put the spacer back on (the seconds bit should be a good clue though).

Here's one reason why the watch isn't working.  The long bit of the 4th wheel that the second hand attaches to is bent.  It doesn't take much to stop a watch and a bent bit like this can have other effects on the watch.  I might be able to straighten it but 9 out of 10 times the bit breaks off when you try to re-straighten it.  Another 4th wheel from a 752. 753, 754 or a 777 would work fine.

Everything is cleaned and dried.

The reassembled watch is ticking away with good motion.  Notice the regulator is set towards slow.

Sure enough, the watch is running a smidgen slow.  The amplitude and beat error look decent though.

I'll move the regulator a little more towards the center.

That's much better.  The timekeeping is almost spot-on now.  The beat error of 2.0ms is within my tolerance for balances of this design.  I could probably improve it but doing so also risks goofing up the hairspring and I don't think the extra juice is worth the squeeze.

The finished project doesn't look that much better than what I started with.  My light tent shows a little corrosion on the hour hand and I noticed an inclusion in the glass crystal but otherwise this watch looks new old stock.

Here's another photo in more flattering light.

Friday, December 29, 2017

1957 Ventura-matic

What?  A Ventura-matic?

Someday the last barrel of crude oil will be extracted from the ground and my 1967 Firebird will become a static display.  That's the problem with finite resources.

The same is true for the Hamilton Electric movements.  Electric movements involve parts that were meant to wear over time, like brake pads on a car.  Those parts are no longer made and eventually the few that remain will be exhausted.  Then what do you do?  Maybe make alternative parts?

One option is to replace the Electric movement with a mechanical calibre of the same dimensions.  There's a lot involved in that but I'll show you how that can be done.

There are 74 unique catalogued Electric models that use the 500, 500A or 505 movements.  Several of the models are very popular asymmetric models but many of the Electric models are less exciting and often become donors for parts needed by the more popular models.  It's a dog eat dog world when it comes to Electrics.

One of the first Electrics was also one of the most popular... the Ventura I.  Typically the Ventura I is just referred to as the Ventura.

I wonder if there were plans for a Ventura that was an automatic, sort of like how the 1961 Pacermatic (Pacer A) was modeled on the 1958 Pacer.  In any event, the Ventura never came with a non-Electric movement but if the Pacer can have one then logic would presume that the Ventura could too.  There is a non-cataloged model called the Ventura II.  It's a solid 14K version of the Pacer case but with the Ventura dial and it was made specifically for presentations, mainly for GE, Kraft and a company called Sanders & Thomas.   I have also seen it referred to as the Pacer II... that may depend on which dial is inside, triangular markers for the Pacer or round markers for the Ventura.

The Ventura is a very popular model and was offered in solid 14K white or yellow gold and eventually with diamonds on the dial too.  It is not a rare watch and is easy to find.  However, the challenge can be to find one with a nice crisp case that hasn't been over polished.  There also are some 18K solid yellow and rose gold examples that were made specifically for export.   They are much less common and can sell for upwards of $20,000!  If you have deep pockets you could assemble quite a collection of different Venturas in both white and black dials, with and without diamonds, in 14K and 18K gold.

I was recently contacted by a friend who wanted to convert one of his Venturas and thought it would be a great project.  A lot of what you need for this project can be obtained from Jarett Harkness at www.unwindintime.com.  In fact, if you have an Electric in need of TLC I would highly recommend you contact Jarett.

My project watch was a decent example with a sharp case that hasn't been overly polished.  It also has the proper black and gold strap that Rene Rondeau still sells. 

The back of the two-piece case is also in fine shape and is clearly marked Hamilton and 14K gold.

The 500A tucked inside the case is missing it's battery so I have no idea if it works.  The 500A replaced the original 500 introduced in 1957.  The Ventura was made through 1963 so you will also find examples with the 505 movement.  All models are powered by a battery that drives the balance motor.

The 500A is about the same size as the Hamilton 661.  The 661 is slightly smaller at 11.5 ligne vs ~12  ligne for the US-made 500A.

Although the 661 fits into the movement ring that holds the 500A the case won't close with it installed.  In order to close the case with a 661 inside you will need to have a different movement holder.  You'll also need to relocate the feet on the dial as well as resize the holes in the hands.

The first order of business for my project is to get the 661 back in working order.  I actually have two donor movements so hopefully between the two I will be able to assemble one good one.

On my first attempt the reassembled movement is running okay but the amplitude is low.  Low amplitude can be related to the barrel sticking, a weak mainspring or something else stealing power from the gear train.

I switched to the balance from the other donor movement and it also has low amplitude.  Next I'll change barrels and then swap pallet forks.

Looks like the pallet fork was the issue as changing that brought the amplitude up considerably.

The reassembled movement (excluding the rotor) goes into the case with the new movement ring.  I'll need to shorten the stem a little to bring the crown in tighter to the case.

Alright, the crown is where it needs to be and the rotor is reinstalled.  It looks like this watch was designed to use a 661, doesn't it?

Thanks to the new movement ring the case back snaps on firmly and I can hear the rotor swish around as I move the watch.  My friend provided a newly refinished dial with "automatic" just like the Pacermatic would have.  It even says "SWISS" at the bottom, just as it should.  This Ventura project watch really came together nicely.

I showed this watch to my wife and daughters and they were each equally unimpressed.  My son, on the other hand, thought it was very cool and Star Trek like.  I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

If you like the looks of the Ventura and want one with an automatic, you should check out the current Hamilton model line - as they have options in both white and black dials.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

1953 Hamilton Illinois Automatic Model A

Hamilton Watch Co purchased the Illinois Watch Company in 1928.  They continued to make Illinois watches into the 1930's but times were tough in the Great Depression and the Illinois business was consolidated into the Hamilton's Lancaster operations.  Hamilton continued to own the Illinois brand though and in 1953 they introduced a line of Illinois-branded watches co-marketed with the Hamilton line.  The Illinois product run was short lived though and was discontinued in 1956 with several Hamilton Illinois models renamed as Hamilton models.

I don't think it's fair to view the Illinois line up as "less than" the Hamilton watches - after all, within a few short years many Hamilton models would end up using the same Swiss-made movements.  I think the Illinois experiment was a "putting a toe in the water" and seeing if the market would tolerate Hamilton incorporating √Čbauche movements into their product line.  I guess all hell didn't break loose so they ended the experiment and jumped all the way in.

It would be unfair to compare the 1950's Illinois watches with the pre-1930 Illinois models - as they are similar in name only.  Pre-1930 Illinois watches were excellent time pieces - although they lack the advances that came in the 1930's like Elinvar hairsprings.  Illinois watches have a very loyal following but I personally find them to be a bit temperamental - as are all pre-1930 movements - and unless they were well maintained or not used at all, they often are near the end of their expected service life.

Anyway, the introduction of the Illinois brand in the 1950's also brought the introduction of technological advances that Hamilton was slow to introduce, relative to other brands that is.  For example, the first automatic movements and models with calendar complications were Illinois watches.

A good example of the former is the 1953 Automatic Model A.  It would be produced for two years.

If the design of the Automatic A looks familiar it may be because the case looks very similar to the 1953 Rodney.  The Illinois models were also the first to introduce shock jeweled balances too.  The Automatic A came in a 10K gold filled case.

I recently purchased an Automatic A, mainly because it has a new movement that I haven't worked on before.  I'll show you that in a bit.  In the meantime the project watch appears to work sporadically and the second hand seems to stop near the minute hand.  I passed it through the demagnetizer and that seemed to correct the issue.

From this angle the watch looks just like a Rodney.  However it's stamped ILLINOIS 9505 on the back.

The bezel and crystal pop off like a Rodney to reveal the two-toned embossed dial.  The second hand is silver but the hands are yellow.  I'm not sure if this is an original detail or if the hand is a replacement.  I think it's a little hard to see against the silver butler finish of the dial's center but it's the correct length so I'll leave it for now.

Here's a shot of the movement inside. This is an Eterna 1248 and it was also used in the earliest Hamilton automatics that would be introduced in 1954.  Its the only Hamilton-branded movement without a caliber number.  The same is true on the Illinois version - there is no unique Illinois ID but it does have a movement serial number.  Eterna movements are known for their five ball bearings in the center race of the oscillating weight.  If you check out the Eterna logo it's five round circles - a nod to this design feature.

Oops!  I accidentally broke the stem while trying to get the movement ring off.  Oh well, it happens.

From the front, the movement looks a lot like an ETA movement.  In fact, ETA was a subsidiary of Eterna.  Eterna first introduced automatic movements in 1938... long before Hamilton got on board.

One screw holds the oscillating weight / rotor in place and once it's out of the way this movement is starting to look a lot like an ETA 1256 and what would eventually be the Hamilton 672 automatic used in the first Accumatic models.  Notice the TXD stamp on the balance cock.  That's the import code for Illinois and all Illinois-branded movement have this code just like the Hamilton grades have HYL on the balance cock.

The similarities to the 672 continue with the rotor framework out of the way.

Removing the barrel bridge and train bridge reveal the escape wheel and the bridge that supports the center wheel.  I'll need to take the pallet fork off in order to get the center wheel out.

The main plate is stamped 1248TC.  That's the info you would need to order replacement parts, like a stem, if needed.

Everything is taken apart and cleaned.  It looks a lot shinier now that it's been through a trip to the spa.

It turns out an ETA 1256 stem fits fine.  So my stem-problem is solved.

The main parts of the watch are reassembled and the watch is ticking away with good motion.  Off to the timer to see what it thinks.

Hmm... the beat error of 6.8ms is a bit out of spec.  It's not easily adjusted but I can't leave it here without feeling a bit guilty.

Adjusting the beat error requires removing the balance from the balance cock and then rotating the center hairspring collet in the right direction to the right amount - otherwise it has to be redone... again and again until it's where it needs to be.

Phew!  Got it right the first time.  Now things are looking great.

Putting the rotor and frame work back on is a piece of cake compared to adjusting the beat error.  I'm in the home stretch now.

A new crystal and a nice alligator strap make a huge improvement to this Automatic A's appearance.  Now it looks as good as it runs.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

1957 Bradford B Masterpiece (Diamond Dial)

For the first 50 years or so of Hamilton's existence it was known as the "The Watch of Railroad Accuracy" and their reputation for highly accurate and thoroughly designed time pieces was well earned.  It was said that you could take 100 Hamilton watches completely apart, mix up the parts and then reassemble 100 working watches again.  That degree of precision and repeatability was almost unheard of in an industry where watchmakers traditionally fitted a movement one piece at a time.  It was also why Hamilton became known as the Patek Philippe of the United States.

After World War II the ability to fly from city to city, or even coast to coast, was within the reach of the common man.  Being the watch of railroad accuracy was no longer that significant.  Of course, Hamilton had quite a reputation for aeronautical navigation - but that's a topic for another day.

Hamilton's marketing evolved in the 1950s to promote watches as fashionable mechanical haute couture.  If you wanted a watch that would just tell time, buy an Elgin or Waltham.  If you wanted a timepiece of distinguishing taste, buy a Hamilton.  Many mens' and ladies' models where introduced with high quality diamonds in addition to their solid gold or platinum cases.

Some glamorous watches were only available with diamonds while others were diamond-laden versions of other high end models.  A good example of the latter is the Bradford B Masterpiece.  It was introduced in 1957, four years after the original 1954 Bradford was unveiled.  To underscore the prominence of Hamilton's diamond models they were identified as part of the "Masterpiece" line.

The Bradford B Masterpiece retailed for two times the cost of the regular Bradford B.  The B-model was the version of the Bradford that was outfitted with the 22 jewel 770 movement, when it was introduced in 1955.  The original Bradford has the earlier 17 jewel 747 movement.  Only the Bradford B has the diamond dial.

The Bradford B diamond version was rebranded in 1960 as the Bradford B Medallion and continued to be produced through 1962.  If you see a gold diamond-shaped marker under the 12 on the diamond dial then it's a 1957-1959 "Masterpiece" version of the model.  Without the marker it's from the Medallion timeframe of 1960-1961.

The retail price of $300 was consistent throughout the production period until the final year.  In 1962 the price was reduced to $275.  That was still the equivalent of over $2,200 in today's dollars though, so it was not an inexpensive watch.

Due to it's significant price point you don't tend to see the Bradford B Diamond very often.  It seems like on any given day you can find private-labeled re-cased Hamilton movements with diamonds on the dial but finding a true authentic model is another story. 

The Bradford B was also produced by the Awards Division so it's a fairly ubiquitous model in yellow gold.  Finding a white gold version is harder to do, in my opinion.

With that in mind I jumped at the opportunity to buy a Bradford B Diamond when I saw one for sale.  I think I got a good deal to, since it's didn't quite look correct and looks more like a private-label jobber.

One issue with my watch that is easy to spot is the dial has been incorrectly refinished.  It has the wrong Hamilton font and it's missing the details around the diamond markers and the circular seconds register.  Looking at the back of the case, it's clearly marked Hamilton though - a jobber case won't say that.

If the font and lack of details didn't convince you that the dial has been refinished, the notch at the 3 position is another clear tell.

The 770 movement appears to be in good shape, although it's very dirty and has some sort of funk oozing out from the winding wheel.

The back of the dial has oil or something on the underside.  The scratched-in numbers on the dial are also a clue the dial has been refinished - if there was any remaining doubt.

The dial-side of the main plate has some congealed oil near the mainspring barrel arbor so maybe the excess leaked out of the barrel?

The inside of the case back shows signs of a repair.  I don't see any obvious marks on the outside so whatever happened was repaired well.

The mainspring inside the barrel has no signs of excess lubrication.  I wonder where all the extra oil came from?

Everything gets cleaned and dried.  All the parts looks a considerably more sparkly after a trip to the spa.

The reassembled movement is ticking away with good motion.  It's off to the timer to listen to the ticking.

After a quick tweak to the regulator the beat rate was increased to a mere 4 seconds fast per day.  The amplitude and beat error look great.

A fresh crystal is always a nice way to spruce up a watch.  29.3mm diameter should do nicely.

One of the reasons the original watch looked funny was it had the wrong style and size hands.  As a general rule of thumb, the hour hand should just barely reach the closest hour marker and the minute hand should just clear the closest hour marker.  On rectangular watches the hands can look short at times like midnight or 6:00 when the hour markers are farthest away from the center.  However the hands need to be short to accommodate times like 3:15 or 9:45.  Round watches enjoy longer hands because all of the hour makers are the same distance from the center.

This watch should have dauphine hands and you can see in the shot below that new hands are a big change.

The holes in brand new hands sometimes need to be sized for the hour wheel and cannon pinion.  That's accomplished by using a broach and a hand holding tool.  Sizing hands is a very basic watchmaking task but that doesn't mean it's easy.  If the holes are too big the hands will move when the watch is jarred and get out of alignment (so they don't come together at midnight).

Wow!  What a difference new hands made!  A nice lizard strap and a scratch-free crystal help too.  Now the question is should I go the distance and get the dial refinished to it's proper specs?  It doesn't look too bad as is... what do you think?