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Saturday, December 21, 2019

1898 936 Pocket Watch

Life is like a 120 year old pocket watch... you never know what you're going to get.  Isn't that what Forrest Gump said?  Something like that.

The Hamilton Watch Company officially got its start in 1893.  There was a compelling market need for high quality, accurate time pieces to safely manage the growing railroad system in the United States.  Every train, every station, every classification yard needed accurate time pieces to ensure that trains wouldn't run into each other.

Hamilton adopted a fairly straightforward method for managing product inventory - sequential serial numbers.  Each particular product run was assigned a range of serial numbers and the next run got the next range of serial numbers.

Ledgers maintained by Hamilton accountants kept track of who watches were sold to.  In fact, these ledgers are available to members of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors - NAWCC.  So if you're not a member of the NAWCC you should consider joining... let them know I sent you!

After over 725 models, I've been finding it harder and harder to find watches that I haven't already detailed on the blog.  There are a surprising number of early pocket watch grades and although I like pocket watches, they tend to be very similar.  However, I recently came upon a pocket watch with  very low serial number - 11095 and it's a caliber I've not documented before.  The movement dates to 1898 so the Hamilton Watch Company was only 5 years old when this movement was created.  

You have to admit that a 120 year old pocket watch is pretty cool.

The pocket watch is a 17 jewel grade 936.  Even-numbered grades were "open faced" and typically had an odd-numbered equivalent that was "hunter cased" where the pendant was at the 3 position.

As I said previously, there are a surprising number of different grades.  Men's pocket watches at this time came in 16 size and 18 size with varying design details like the number of jewels, materials used for the train wheels, the style of damascening, the level of adjustment, the type of escapement, type of dial, etc. etc. etc.  In short, they all look very similar but there are subtle and non-subtle differences to each grade.

I'm sure my project watch could tell some stories after 120 years.  Some of them we know and some of them we don't.

For example, at some point the movement was recased in a different case than it originally was outfitted with... I'll tell you how I know in a bit.  Also, I don't think the hands are original either.  The dial is the correct double sunk design which means the hour numerals are on one level, the center is slightly recessed and the seconds register is recessed even further.  This is an enamel dial, with baked enamel on a metal substrate.  Enamel dials often show cracks, chips and hairlines and this one looks great.

Looking at the movement, you might find something that is a little puzzling... it says Cady & Olmstead, Kansas City.  Based on the Hamilton ledgers, this movement was sold to a large Hamilton agent Woodstock, Hoefer & Co. in Kansas City and was sold on 5-31-1898.  A little googling on Cady & Olmstead reveals they were dealers of diamonds and jewelry, including railroad watch inspectors.

As a relatively new company, Hamilton Watch Company would sell watches to anyone willing to buy them and they would happily customize movements for private label customers like Cady & Olmstead.  Beyond the name on the barrel bridge, this movement also has a damascening pattern unique to this customer.

Looking at the inside of the case back, this case is an Illinois watch case.  I'm fairly certain that jewelry standards didn't include terms like gold filled or rolled gold plate in 1898.  Typically cases were warranted for a period of time and the longer the warranty, the greater amount of gold in the case.  Given that, I would propose this case is an after-market addition, perhaps installed after the original case wore out.

Hmm... is it a good sign when there's a dial washer under the balance cock?  This watch did "run" when I received it but I think a better description would be "ticked".  This washer is obviously a shim to provide a little more end shake for the balance.

Another hmm... this balance is a single roller, not a double roller like the catalog would call for.  My catalog snip is from 1910 so it's possible the double roller was introduced after 1898.  However, it's also quite possible this balance came from another 18 size movement that called for a single roller balance like a 920-something.

This movement is lever set, meaning there's a small lever that you slide out with your fingernail to move the keyless works into the time setting position.

As I said earlier, this watch sort of ran but I know the mainspring still has a lot of tension.  So with the dial removed I will use the crown in the case to unwind the mainspring.  All I need to do is hold the click away from the ratchet wheel, as shown by my tweezers, and the mainspring will unwind.

You can also see the linkage for the lever that moves the yoke from the winding position to the time setting position.

Notice anything funny below?  The two screws that hold the winding hub are both broken.

Once the mainspring is relieved I can remove the barrel bridge and take out the mainspring barrel and ratchet wheel.

This barrel already has a white alloy mainspring installed, which is good to see.  These large mainsprings really pack a wallop and replacing them can be a challenge.

Notice the end of the arbor is a bit chewed up... that's can't be good.

I may not be a Swiss-trained watchmaker but I'm pretty sure the balance should not create a wear ring on the train bridge.

The winding bridge is missing a screw too... I wonder if it left the factory like that?  (no)

Okay... so what are we missing... hub screws, winding bridge screw, barrel arbor, hands... that's it so far.

I happen to have a "newer" 18 size 926 watch from 1907 with a worn out case and broken balance.  Believe it or not, I can use this watch to replace just about everything I need, starting with the whip-style hands.

The gold layer on this case has been worn away but it's well past its 25 year warranty - by about 70 years.

This is a good indicator of what the original case would have looked like though, with an inner dust cover in addition to the case back.  Hamilton sold movements uncased and a jeweler would case the movement in whatever the customer wanted.

Even though this 926 from 1907 is a "lesser grade" it looks pretty similar to the 936 and shares most of the same parts.  Check out the damascening on this movement... much more detailed.  Hamilton added 570,000 serial numbers to the ledger between 1898 and 1907... business must have been good!

Here are my two winding hub screws.

And here's my back winding bridge screw.

It took a little while but I eventually was able to get the barrel arbor installed.  This one is not chewed up like the last one.

My project watch has broken center wheel and pallet fork jewels.  My donor movement has better jewels but the settings are not the same.  I'll have to go with what I have.

Getting the train bridge back on is a little tricky since all the train wheels and the pallet fork have to be assembled at the same time.  Fortunately there is a lot of room to see what's going on and tweak as needed.

I'll assemble the dial-side of the main plate and then use the case to wind the mainspring.

Well, it took more than a little fiddling but I finally got the watch running.  There is very little clearance between the balance wheel and the train bridge but it seems to run in all positions.  Let's see what the timer thinks.

It's running three minutes fast and it's a little noisy... but it runs and not too many things that are 120+ years old can say the same.

Something is wrong with my minute wheel... can you see what it is?

My donor 926 minute wheel doesn't fit, the hole is too small.  I'll fix that with a small broach.

There... the finished watch looks much better with proper whip hands.  I think this is a green gold plated case, probably from the 1920s is my guess.

I'm pleased that the watch now runs better than I received it but I don't think I'd try to run a railroad with it.  This is a loud ticker... I can hear it ticking from about 15 feet away.


  1. I love the old watches I have several myself

  2. Heroic effort!

    If you look closely under the balance, you can see the serial number of this watch scratched in. it is original to this watch!