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, December 30, 2021

1964 Hamilton Thin-o-matic T-209

It's interesting to note how prolific Hamilton's lineup became in the 30 years between 1930 and 1960.  For example, in 1934 there were 20 men's models in the lineup and in 1964 there were over 130!

Of course, over those 30 years Hamilton introduced automatic movements, Electric movements, models cases in stainless steel, even a variety of entry-level moves with Swiss-made manual winding movements. In 1934 you had your choice of a 987F movement or a 979F, when it came to wrist watches.  

Pocket watches were still very popular in the 1930s and there was a broad selection of calibers and models.  Pocket watches were still available in the 1960s, including Railroad models.

Anyway, I recently received a very nice Hamilton Thin-o-matic in need of some TLC.  It took me a while to figure out what model it was... either the T-203 or the T-209.  I'll give you my rationale below but I'll let you make up your mind too.

The T-203 was introduced in 1962 and made for three years.  It came in a solid 14K yellow gold case.

The T-209 was a one-year wonder, produced only in 1964.  It also has a 14K yellow gold case.

Both models appear to show the same dial and style of hands.

My project watch is pictured below.  Identifying a watch model requires taking into consideration several attributes...

  • What is the case material (gold filled, solid gold, stainless steel back, etc)
  • What is the shape of the crystal / bezel opening (round, rectangular, etc)
  • What are the markers on the dial (numbers, markers, etc.)
  • What is the movement inside?

Based on the photos above, which model do you think this is... the T-203 or the T-209?

The artists behind the catalog images always did a good job with their depictions and if you look very closely at the cases, you'll see the lugs attach to the case slightly differently.  Both bezels appear to have two steps around the circumference.  On the T-203 the lugs stop at the outside of the case.  On the T-209 the lugs go a little farther into the case, and join the first step.  In other words, on the T-203 you could trace a pencil point all around the bezel without hitting the lugs but on the T-209 your pencil point would hit the lugs.

So I went with the T-209 on this watch.  Let me know in the comments below if you'd disagree.

Looking at the back of the case, you can probably guess this model has a micro-rotor automatic tucked inside.  The case back is flat.  I don't see any sort of seam so I suspect this is a one-piece case and opens through the crystal.

Watches that open through the crystal have a two-piece stem.  I have a small tool that I use to gently pry the crown out of the case and separate the male side from the female side of the stem.

You can see below the female side of the stem is in the crown.  Usually it's the other way around.

Once the stem is separated, I can lift off the crystal and the dial / movement will come out the front of the bezel.  There's a little bit of wear around the edges of the dial but nothing too dramatic.

As suspected, there's a micro-rotor movement inside.  In this case, the 17 jewel 620 caliber.  These movements were made by Buren in Switzerland.  Hamilton eventually would acquire Buren and, after that, close the Lancaster PA factory and move production to Buren's Swiss facilities.

I can see from the circle inside the case back that the rotor has been rubbing the inside of the case.  I can also see a previous watchmaker's mark inside the circle.  So this watch has been serviced at least once since 1964.

The dial-side of the main plate looks very clean so I don't think this watch has had a lot of use over the last 5 decades.

Everything is taken apart and thoroughly cleaned and dried.  There are a LOT of parts in a micro-rotor movement and a lot of places to lubricate during reassembly.

You might be able to tell how much brighter the freshly cleaned movement is.  It really sparkles now and it's running with a nice motion.

The timer agrees.  It's running just a smidgeon slow but I really haven't wound it much yet since there's no crown on the movement.

Everything goes back into the case and a new crystal is installed to complete the overhaul.  This is a beautiful watch and has styling that would be appropriate in a Hamilton showroom today.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

1962 Golden Tempo "R"

 Merry Christmas!

2021 has finally almost come to a close.  It has been an eventful year for us - lots of change to adjust to but also a new normal has been established.  We completed our move from Pennsylvania to the "motherland" of Virginia and we're finally all settled into our new home outside Shenandoah National Park.  In fact, I unpacked the final box in my workshop this past week!

Christmas is here at last and it's wonderful to celebrate the holiday in our new home.

If you've followed my blog for a while you probably know that my favorite models are those with Christmas presentations and I have an interesting model to share with you this time.  

One of my personal Christmas traditions is to watch "A Christmas Carol" at least once each Advent.  Normally I'm able to get in a few different versions before the 25th rolls around.  I think the best version is the 1951 adaptation with Alastair Sim but the 1984 version with George C Scott is a close second.

Of the four ghosts that visit Scrooge, my favorite is Jacob Marley.  To me he is the scariest.  Dickens' description of him inspires the imagination and the 1951 and 1984 versions capture his character the best, in my opinion. 

I'm often asked, "How's the watch business?" and I always reply, "It's just a hobby" as I don't make my living restoring watches, nor do I think I'd really like to (it can be very frustrating).

However, Jacob Marley reminded me this year about one of things I really do enjoy about restoring watches.  

If you're not an aficionado of Scrooge, let me remind you that Jacob Marley was Scrooge's long time friend and business partner.  He died on Christmas Eve and was gone seven years when he visited Scrooge on December 24th, presumably while in purgatory atoning for his sins he accumulated while alive.

Marley admonished Scrooge to change his ways while he still could, as the "chains he forged had grown to a ponderous length".  Scrooge replied. “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," implying that surely things weren't as dire as Marley described.

As Dickens wrote, "Business! cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

It made me think, so how is the watch business?  One of reasons that I enjoy taking on other peoples' projects is that I feel I bring a little joy into the world with every watch I restore.  

For example, I recently restored a 1951 Bailey for a woman after her 90+ year old father dropped his high school graduation present.  It was run over by a car and hopelessly destroyed.  He was devastated.

Imagine her (and his) delight when they opened the package and saw his restored watch, almost as good as new!  The original inscribed case back and movement serial numbers were the same - so the watch still aligns with it's original box and paperwork.

Pretty much every Hamilton watch collector that I know got their start in the hobby by inheriting a "priceless" heirloom from an ancestor, their father, or grandfather.  Every family watch that I restore brings a little joy into the world.

So my "watch business" is good.  It's very good.

The watch I'd like to feature this Christmas is a very unique model from 1962 called the Golden Tempo "R".  It was produced through 1964.  Priced originally at $100 in 1962, it rose to $110 in 1964.  That would be about $920 in today's currency.

The catalog image just doesn't do the actual watch justice.  The Golden Tempo "R" has a multicolored striped and textured dial.  It's cased in 10K yellow gold fill and it was paired with a matching multicolored metal bracelet!  It really makes a statement... maybe not a statement that you'd like to make but a statement nonetheless.

Tucked inside the case is a 22 jewel 770 movement - the flagship caliber in Hamilton's wristwatch lineup.

My project watch arrived via eBay and I was really excited to get it.  I've only seen two other examples of this model in the past.  It arrived in "okay" shape... the crystal was the wrong style (too tall) and the crown had obviously been replaced.  Only a purist would make those observations though.

You can tell from the grooves worn into the lugs that this watch used to have the bracelet but it has been lost to time.  I don't like metal bracelets for this very reason - they tend to eat grooves into the lugs and weaken them.  However I would make an exception for the Golden Tempo "R" - the bracelet is a really interesting feature and complements the watch perfectly.

With a little effort you can see the back is engraved with its original owner's name along with Xmas 1962.  I would prefer to keep Christ in Christmas but I'm sure this watch was still a treasured gift, even if they did save the cost of 5 letters when it was engraved.

I was able to find the owner after a little internet sleuthing.  He was born in 1939, he had two older brothers also named Vincent, but they were each born still born (very sad).  Evidently Vincenzo Tammelleo and his wife, really, really wanted a son named Vincent.  He passed away in 2019.

From the side you can see the crystal is a bit tall, about the same height as the overall thickness of the case.  The generic crown is okay, but I hopefully have a better replacement.

The case is a two piece design and with the crystal and bezel removed you can really see the unique striped dial and solid gold applied figures.

The 22 jewel 770 movement is a great design and very easy to service.  Based on the dust and dirt inside, it's been a while since this watch was last cleaned but it has at least had some attention over the years.

One of the easy ways to tell a gold filled case from a solid gold case is that gold filled cases will usually show some green verdigris while solid gold cases will not.

I do have a nice Hamilton crown to use - I'll have to replace the stem as well.  A LOT can go into replacing crowns, starting with having the correct style but often you need to trim a new stem too, so it all fits together perfectly.

Everything is cleaned, dried and ready to be reassembled.

The newly serviced 770 movement glistens like a Christmas star in the sky and it's ticking away with great motion.

Initially running a smidgen slow, a slight tweak to the regulator brings the beat rate right in line.  The beat error is within my personal specs of under 3.0ms.  I could probably reduce it but that could also result in an accidental mishap that ruins an otherwise fine balance.  I've learned over the years that good is good enough when it comes to some things.

I couldn't find the matching bracelet online but I was able to find a very nice tan leather strap that complements the watch perfectly.  I think Santa really approves.

Here's a side view so you can appreciate what a proper crystal and crown adds to the overall aesthetics.  This is really a sharp looking watch!

As 2021 comes to a close I'd like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.  I hope your own personal business is good too and if not, try to find the opportunity in 2022 to show a little  charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence to your fellow man.  We all have our own ponderous chains to work on.

And out of curiosity, if I've been able to bring you a little joy to you this year or over the past few years, please drop a comment below to tell people about it and maybe inspire other folks to pay it forward in 2022.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 15, 2021

1955 Illinois Debonair G

One of the most popular genres of classic cars are the muscle cars of the 1960s and 70s.  Driving one today, 50 years later, you're sure to turn a few heads and get a lot of thumbs up.  Consider, for example, the Chevy Nova like this 3rd generation Super Sport model from the late 1960s.  Sweet!

In 1985 the executives at GM decided to reintroduce the Nova... who-wee!  Yeah buddy!  This car was a chick magnet... no?  No.  What were they thinking?

Well, one interesting thing about the 1985 Nova was it was largely based on a Toyota platform.  An American-made car with quality Japanese parts?

I suppose you could say a very similar thing happened 30 years earlier.  Hamilton was the premier American watch brand. The Watch of Railroad Accuracy.  

Times were tough in the 1950's.  The world barely survived WWII and then came the Korean War.  Much of Europe was still recovering and European manufacturers produced excellent time pieces at extremely competitive prices.  So competitive that, one by one, American manufacturers stopped making watches in the US or went out of business entirely.  Eventually Hamilton was the last brand standing, until it too ceased American production in 1969.

Hamilton put up a good fight though.  In 1953 executives reintroduced the Illinois brand that was acquired in the late 1920s when Hamilton Watch Company purchased the Illinois Watch Company.  Illinois also made excellent time pieces and much of their technology was integrated into the Hamilton factory.

Hamilton of the 1950s had to compete with the lower price points of other major brands.  In order to do so, they purchased Swiss-made ebauches (partially complete movements) and cased them in Illinois-branded models as part of the Hamilton line up. 

When all hell failed to break loose, Hamilton added their name to the models and they became Hamilton-Illinois models. 

Eventually the Illinois name was dropped entirely and by 1956 Hamilton branded models with Swiss movements were a permanent part of the Hamilton lineup.  In fact, every Hamilton automatic ever made features a Swiss-made movement.

One of the later additions to the Hamilton Illinois line was the 1955 Debonair G.  It was produced for a single year.  It came on either a bracelet or on a strap.  It has a yellow RGP bezel with a stainless steel back. 

My Debonair G arrived in good original condition for a 60+ year old watch.

The stainless steel back pops on and off.

Tucked inside is an Illinois branded movement.  The letters TXD on the balance cock is not the movement caliber, it's the import code for Illinois.  All Illinois-branded movements feature TXD and eventually Swiss-made Hamilton movements would get their own HYL import code.

The case back is stamped Illinois and the number 9523 is the model number for the Debonair G.  The other number starting with R is the unique serial number of this watch.

The back of the dial features the same model number.

If this caliber looks familiar, it's because it's based on an A. Schild 1200 movement.  The same movement that is the basis of the Hamilton 673.

Everything is cleaned and ready to be reassembled with fresh lubrication.

The reassembled movement is running nicely, albeit slightly fast.  That's easily adjusted.

There... 6 seconds fast per day is a nice place to leave it for now.

The completed project looks great.  Not a dramatic improvement over what I started with but still a nice improvement.  However, now it's ready for another few years of wrist time.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

1926 902 Pocket Watch

 It's been a while since I had the opportunity to work on a movement that I've never seen before.  If you check out my Overhaul Examples page, you'll the large variety of calibers I've tackled but there are still a few that I have yet to come across.

I can check another one off the list though, the 19 jewel 902 pocket watch.  The 902 is a 12 size dress pocket watch and second in command after the 922 Masterpiece.  It's a very high quality movement with solid gold jewel settings and solid gold train wheels.  It was sold cased in a variety of solid gold cases - which is one reason why I haven't had one already.  However, you could choose from a variety of cases and dials.

The 902 was produced for a relatively short period of time.  It was introduced in 1924 and replaced in 1930 by the 904 movement.

My project watch came in sock drawer condition - meaning it looked like it's been in a sock drawer for the last 70 years.  The crystal is broken and was held on by tape that self destructed decades ago.

The case back is nicely engraved with initials that appear to be OEH, or is it OHE?  You never can be sure when it comes to engravings like this.

Mystery solved, this is a Sales Award for O.E. Holmberg from 1926.  What a nice-looking presentation.  I'm sure this was a prized possession.

The 902 is a very attractive movement.  There's a lot of solid gold inside that will sparkle once this movement is cleaned.

The case is clearly marked 14K.  Based on other catalog years I would venture a guess that this is a Bascine case - it's one of the few solid cases that was not engraved.

The sterling silver dial has a serious case of "dial rash".  No amount of cleaning will make this dial look better.

Looking at the catalog options, this dial is a No 19.

Three dial feet hold the dial onto the manipulate.  Now I can remove the hour wheel, cannon pinion, seconds wheel, etc.

Flipping the movement over, the first thing I'll do is make sure the mainspring is released.  Then I can start taking things apart, starting with the balance assembly.  Notice the gold setting supporting the barrel arbor.  The barrel in the 902 is a motor barrel, which is a unique feature.  Jewels hold both ends of the barrel arbor and those are the two additional jewels that make this a 19 jewel movement vs the standard 17 jewels in a more basic Hamilton movement.  Hamilton didn't make movements with less than 17 jewels... at least after 1900.

Two screws hold the hair spring stud in place and allow the balance assembly to be removed from the balance cock.

The barrel bridge actually comes in two parts.  I'll remove the crown wheel first.

You can now see the keyless works that allow you to set the time or wind the watch.  This movement is "negative set" so the springs on the front side of the main plate move the keyless works, depending on the position of the stem in the case.

The ratchet wheel is attached to the barrel arbor and the two parts can be tricky to separate.

With the barrel removed you can see the arbor.  I'll try to separate the two but if I can't, the'll get cleaned together.

Moving on to the train wheels... the center wheel and third wheel share a bridge.  The fourth wheel and the escape wheel have individual bridges.

Bridge by bridge, the wheels are removed.

The mainspring can be pulled from the barrel to see if it has "set" into a tight coil or if it still has some life left in it.

Everything is cleaned and dried.  It all sparkles much more brightly now.

I'll put the train wheels back in place and make sure they spin freely.

The barrel goes in place next, along with the pallet fork

The keyless works is comprised of four parts, each gets a little lubrication before reassembly.

The crown wheel and bridge a back in place and now I can put the movement into the case and use the crown to wind up the mainspring.

With power in the mainspring, once the balance is in the correct spot the watch will start ticking.

Well.... it's ticking but the beat error is a bit high at 5.1ms.  I'll have to remove the balance again and adjust the position of the hairspring on the balance staff.

Much better beat error, now to adjust the timing a bit slower.

Okay - I'll leave it right here for now and let it run for a while.  It will probably settle down over time.

I don't know if my camera does the sparkle of this movement justice but it's definitely markedly brighter now that it's been cleaned and oiled.

I happened to have a nice dial in my stash, courtesy of a 916 donor movement.  You can see from the catalog snip above that it's a No. 11 A dial and totally appropriate for the 902, albeit not identical to the No 19 dial.

A new crystal and a light polish bring this beautiful heirloom back to showroom condition, don't you think?