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, January 12, 2019

1938 Otis

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, isn't that the saying?  Well, I guess when it comes to high end watches, imitation can also lead to intrigue and rumors.

In 1938 Hamilton introduced a model called the Otis.  It was produced into 1941, although only shown in the 1938 through 1940 catalogs.  It was arguably one of the most unique models of all time, as the case was "reversible" and allowed the wearer to flip the watch over to protect the glass crystal while still wearing the watch.

For many, many years collectors believed Hamilton was sued for patent infringement because of the Otis, thus resulting in the demise of the model in 1941.  The design is very similar to the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso, also produced in the 1930's.  In fact, you can still purchase a new JLC Reverso today!  Did Hamilton get caught stealing another company's designs?  (no)

If you notice in the 1938 catalog, two caveats are mentioned by ** and (x).  Those mention the US Patent for the watch and that it's not available for export.

It turns out, thanks in large part to Mark Cardelucci at www.vintagehamilton.com, that LeCoultre granted Hamilton a license to manufacture and sell watches in a reversible case, in accordance with the US patent, in exchange for a 60 cent royalty to be paid to LeCoultre on every watch sold in the US.   The Otis ceased to be made simply because of the outbreak of WWII, just like many other models manufactured at the time.

Originally the Otis was outfitted with a 17 jewel 980 movement.  That was the norm for gold filled models using a 14/0 sized movement.

Oddly enough, there are at least two solid gold Otis examples known to exist.

In 1940 the Otis was outfitted with a 19 jewel 982 movement.  That was the new norm introduced when the 982M was created for solid gold models and the 982 was used for 14K gold filled watches.

So you will find Otis watches in the wild with both the 982 and the 980 movements, depending on the year it was produced.

As for other features of the Otis, it was available with either a black finished dial or a silver butler finished dial.  The back of the reversible case was intended to be engraved with a personalization but there are plenty of examples where the back in unengraved.  Which is preferable?  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some people prefer unengraved while others prefer a nicely engraved example.  Regardless, an Otis will always command a premium and sell well into the thousands of dollars today.

I recently came into possession of an Otis and I took a little bit of a leap of faith with it.  When it comes to a watch with a moveable case, it's hard to say what shape it is in without actually holding it in your hands.  However, as received it turned out to be pretty much what I was expecting... beat up, extremely dirty, and functional.

From the looks of the front and back you would not expect the Otis to have any other unique properties.  It looks like your normal, garden variety, gold filled Hamilton of the 1930's.

However, with a little force you can slide the case to the side and once it's fully slid outward you can flip it over.

Voila!  The watch is now closed up tight and reveals that this watch was presented to the president of the Advertising Club of Los Angeles in 1941.

The careful application of a case knife separates the back from the bezel.  Inside you can see two steel springs that work as the hinge as well as the detent to hold the assembly in position.

Wow, this in one dirty watch.  I think I could probably send the residue in my cleaning solution to 23 and me and get the DNA of the original owner identified.

Although it's super dirty, the movement is in otherwise fine condition.

The inside of the case back has a plethora of watchmaker's marks inside indicating that this watch was well maintained, at least for the first few decades of life,

This dial is a candidate for refinishing in my opinion.  Its very dirty and if I try to clean it I'll probably find that it looks worse.  At the same time, it looks pretty grungy as is.  I can tell by the D60 at the bottom of the dial that this is the original dial.

Don't believe me?  Check out the original dial pattern for the Otis.  The black version is dial D60 and the silver version is dial D59.

Taking the movement apart, as expected, the mainspring inside is an old blue steel example.  There is a 99% chance that it's "set" and will need to be replaced.

No surprise here, this spring lacks most of its original energy and would probably only power the watch for a few hours.  A fresh Dynavar spring will give the watch upwards of a 40 hour power reserve.

While all the parts are in the cleaner I will see what I can do with the dial.  My first pass seemed to make matters worse.

However, the dial looks better when it's wet than when it's dry.  So maybe if I give it a light spritz of clear lacquer it won't look too bad.  I call this the "poor man's refinish" and it will often turn out great.

Everything gets cleaned and dried.  Now it's time to put it back together again.

When I went to install the balance I noticed the impulse jewel was off to the side a smidgen.  I suspect the beat error will be a little high.  The watch is ticking away with good motion though so that's a good sign.  Only a watch timer will be able to really say what's going on.

It's running a little fast with great amplitude but the beat error is over my 3.0ms upper spec.  I think I know what direction to adjust the hairspring, now I just need to move it the right amount.

Ah, 0.6ms is much better.  Now I can tweak the regulator and slow the watch down.

There... 17 seconds fast per day will be fine.  It will slow a little as everything settles back into place.

My poor man's finish turned out okay, not great but not terrible.  The crystal has a chipped corner and a couple of dings so I'll add that to my list of things to track down.

This is such and interesting watch!  The movability of the case is oddly satisfying, like flipping a Gerber multitool.  The case is nicely cleaned of any past grunge and only a hint of wear through is visible to the high points of the lugs.

The back (or is it still the front) of the watch is just as attractive as the dial-side.  Personally I prefer engraved examples.  The unengraved versions look too plain and uninteresting to my eye.

I found the following in the Highland Park Post-Dispatch, Volume XI, Number 42, 2 July 1942

R. G. Kenyon New Vice President Of Edison Company

R. G. Kenyon, advertising: manager of the Southern California Edison Company for the past ten years, has been appointed assistant vice-president of the-company. Howard W. Hayes, assistant advertising manager, has been appointed advertising manager to succeed Mr. Kenyon. Announcement of the changes was made here today by Harry J. Bauer, Edison president. Mr. Kenyon, a member of the Edison organization for twentyfive years, was named assistant advertising manager in -1926 and became head of the advertising department in 1932. He previously had been employed in the company’s accounting department, the securities department and was assistant supervisor of employment. He is a director of the Public Utilities Advertising Association, a past president of the Los Angeles Advertising Club and a trustee of Occidental College. His home Is in San Marino. Mr. Hayes has been assistant advertising manager since 1932 and has been with the Edison Company fifteen years. Before joining the Edison advertising staff he was on the editorial staff of newspapers in Pasadena. Santa Monica and Visalia, and was on the staff of the Associated Press in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Ariz. His home Is In South Pasadena.

And here's a picture of him sitting at his desk!  It's from 1938 so he's not wearing this watch.  

Sunday, January 6, 2019

1953 Curtiss

One of the interesting ways to differentiate a watch is to make the lugs moveable.  I suppose that's also a nice way to make a watch "one size fits all" since it better enables the case to fit the unique contour of different peoples' wrists.  This was a design feature used in many different models.

The earliest examples are probably the 1928 Piping Rock and the 1930 Coronado, but lots of other models come to mind too; such as the 1938 Contour, 1935 Prescott, and the 1954 Automatic K-200.

Sometimes you wouldn't even realize the lugs are moveable unless you saw the actual watch in your hands.  On such example is the 1953 Curtiss.  It shows up in only the 1953 and 1954 catalogs.

The Curtiss is a complicated design and quite different than other earlier Hamilton models.   Designers appeared to use all the tricks in their bag when designing it.  For examples, the sterling silver dial features a pearled track.  The hour markers are both numbers and squares, the dial features a textured band around the perimeter and the lugs on the solid 14K gold case are hinged.  

Based on the years produced as defined by the catalogs, I would expect to find a 19 jewel 12/0 sized 754 movement tucked inside the case.

I don't think I've seen too many Curtiss' in the wild so when I recently saw one for sale I decided to pick it up.  Although the watch looks very good, the crystal is sloppily glued in and I can tell by the extra marks in the seconds register that the dial has been refinished.

This watch was presented to an employ of Aetna Insurance after 30 years of service in 1956.  Perhaps it came from the Awards Division.

The dial looks fairly good.  There's a dab of glue between the 10 and 11 and it's difficult to get a pearled track to be refinished perfectly.  It's not terrible though.

This watch has a 22 jewel 770 movement inside.  This movement was introduced in 1955 and is consistent with what a watch presented in 1956 would have.  I suspect this is an Awards Division watch - the intent of the Awards watches were to offer organizations a way to recognize people with very fine and unique timepieces that the recipient would not be to find in their local jewelry store.  They usually offered discontinued models or models with slightly different dials than original production watches offered.

There's no debate that this is a Curtiss though - it says so right in the case back.

Uh oh... when I pulled the dial off the second hand separated from its post.  The post is still stuck to the 4th wheel pivot.  I should be able to get it off though.

I'll use my staking set to carefully reattach the two parts of the second hand.

So far the hardest part of this overhaul has been to clear off the old glue that held the crystal in place.  It was very difficult to remove and I had to slowly chip it away.

The reassembled movement is ticking away with good motion.

It's running just a little slow but the regulator was set to that side of the balance cock.  It should be easy to adjust.

There - right on the money now.

With case cleaned up and the excess glue removed, this little Curtiss turned out very nice.  The cylinder style acrylic crystal provides a small magnifying effect, which gives the watch an interesting look.  It's a nice looking watch, if you like all of the various design features.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

1941 Gordon

If you wanted to have a small but premier collection of Hamilton watches, you could focus solely on finding the solid 18K gold models.  There are only 14 of them, plus maybe a couple more if you want to add the diamond dial variants.

One of the models that might be easier to locate would be a Gordon.  It was introduced in 1941 and produced through 1951 before being replaced by the almost identical Gordon B in 1952.

The Gordon features a solid 18K gold case with a two-toned sterling silver dial with solid 18K markers and squares.  It features hidden lugs with the impression they might be moveable but they are fixed in place.

Being a premier model, the Gordon was outfitted with the newly introduced 19 jewel 982M movement. The 982M is a more decorative version of the 19 jewel 982 and is said to have been made to even tighter tolerances than the 982.  It's definitely the prettiest 14/0 movement, which is interesting since no one would ever need to look at the movement other than a watchmaker.

My Gordon project watch presents an unusual opportunity.  You'll see why in a minute.  Looking closely at the dial, it's not hard to see that the finish is beyond a little compromised.  In fact, it's so crackled that it's almost pleasant to look at.  Other than being a bit dirty, it's not in bad shape.  The hands are rusty though so just changing those would be a quick improvement.

The initial 982Ms are easy to identify by the solid gold medallion inset into the train bridge.  All of the enameling is gold in color.  Contrasted with the highly damascened plates, you can see why I think this is one of the finest looking movements Hamilton made.

Check out the tiny notch on the edge by the crown.  That's a clue that this dial is an old refinish, although it looks fairly original.

Looking at the back of the dial confirms my hypothesis.  There is some sort of glue holding the markers in place and there are numbers scratched into the back.

The unusual opportunity I mentioned above is that I can actually replace the cruddy refinished dial with a very nice original dial.  The majority of the time it's the opposite that occurs and a refinished dial makes the watch look better.  

The inside of the case back is very simple.  There are lots and lots of solid gold watches on eBay, especially with diamonds on the dial, and if the inside of the case back doesn't say Hamilton Watch Co, like below, then you can be assured it's not an authentic model.

 The mainspring installed in the barrel is already a white alloy design.  So I will clean it and reuse it.

Everything is cleaned, dried and ready to be reassembled.

The movement is ticking away with a good motion.  That's alway a good sign.

Nothing wrong with this timekeeping.

My light tent is merciless and reveals every potential flaw.  Even with that, this watch looks fantastic.  I did not replace the plastic crystal with a glass version - that would be one more detail to improve the look but there's no doubt that an original Gordon dial with better hands was a huge improvement over the previous refinished dial.