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, September 11, 2022

All Is Not Lost - Thinomatic T-402

The two most common questions I receive from people, and I get them a lot, are "What do l have?" and "Can you help me?".  The latter is often desperate and it's not unusual to be the result of an accidental mishap.

My latest project is a great example.  It's a family heirloom for the owner and he dropped it.  Before he knew it, the crystal popped off, the hands got bent, and several markers on the dial vanished.  It's definitely the sort of experience that leaves an empty pit in your stomach when it happens to you.

The watch in question is an Awards Division model based on the 1959 Thin-o-matic T-402.  The T-402 was made through 1961.  The Awards Division produced watches for organizations to give as awards and presentations.  They often used discontinued models that they outfitted with slightly different dials.  The telltale sign of an Awards Division watch is says "masterpiece" on the dial.

As you can see from the photo below, my project watch has a similar dial to the T402 but there are luminous dots at the numbered markers instead of at the other markers.  With the crystal taped in place you can see the second hand is a bit mangled.  

The back of the watch is nicely engraved as an award for 25 years of service in April 1967.

With the crystal out of the way you can now see that there are missing markers at 11, 1, 4, and 5 and the 1 from the 12 is also gone.

The rotor on the back of the movement fell off in the mishap as well.  This is a 17 jewel 620.

I worked with the owner to procure a donor movement.  The dial is a slightly different pattern but the needed markers are there to repair the original dial.   I can also use the second hand.

The donor is a 663 movement.  It's very similar to the 620, as you can see in the photo below.

It's important to note the rotation of the mainspring when you install it in the barrel.  Usually the coil from the outside to the center is counterclockwise - except on these movements.  In the picture below you can see the coil goes clockwise.

While the movement is in the ultrasonic I'll turn my attention to the dial.  I've got five figures ready to install.

Success!  Now I'll apply UV glue to the back of the dial to secure the rivets and keep the figures from falling out.

Everything is cleaned and dried.  My goal now is to put it back together without having any parts left over.  You can see that rotor was loose for a long time - it's worn a circle into the case back.

The first parts back on are the train wheels.  I'll check to make sure everything rotates smoothly and freely.

Next on are all the parts from the automatic framework through the mainspring barrel.  As the rotor spins the motion will get relayed to the barrel.

Now the pallet fork and finally the balance go on and everything springs back to life.

The timer tells me it's running a smidgen slow but that's an easy fix.

A tweak here, a tweak there, and this watch is back in running order.

The rotor that came with the watch would not stay on so I replaced it with a donor.  Now the back of the movement is complete.

All the remaining parts are reinstalled on the front of the main plate and I can finally install the dial and hands.

What a transformation!  I new crystal completes the restoration and you cannot tell this watch was ever a basket case.  I'm sure the owner will be delighted to get this "hopelessly lost" watch back in his hands.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

1951 Cambridge

If you wanted to have a small, but exquisite, collection of Hamilton watches you would focus solely on the platinum models.  Only four show up in the catalogs, although there are a few other special models.  The four you might find are the Meadowbrook, the Rutledge, the Richmond - all from the 1930s and the last one was the 1951 Cambridge.  If you were really lucky you might spot one of the four Piping Rocks made in platinum or even the Oakmont - of which one was made according to Hamilton records.   I think you might find an Oval or two in platinum as well as a couple of other specially made models.

If you do see a platimum model, be sure to do your research because it was common practice for jewelers to recase Hamilton movements in aftermarket platinum cases and bling them out with diamond-encrusted dials.  Those are not authentic models and Hamilton passionately discouraged the practice but with little success.  The most obvious tell for these mules is the movement is typically the 17 jewel 980 - which Hamilton would never have put in a solid gold or platinum case.

Anyway, you'll definitely be able to find Rutledges and the 1951 Cambridge in the wild and they are both beautiful and elegant models.  The 1951 Cambridge is the second model to use the Cambridge name.  The earlier model was made in 1931 only and you won't find too many of them out there.

As you can see in the catalog add, the 1951 Cambridge came in a 10% Iridium-platinum case.  Platinum is a very interesting metal and it was alloyed with iridium to improve the physical properties.  One interesting fact with platinum is you cannot polish it to a shine.  You can try, of course, but the best you'll get is achieve a dull shine and eventually you'll lose any sharp corners.  Cleaning the case is really all you can do.

Tucked inside the case is a 19 jewel 14/0 sized 982M movement.

My project watch arrived in typical, "as found in a drawer" condition... it looked okay but it was wound-tight and not running.

The metal bracelet is actually solid 14K white gold and marked Hamilton.  I doubt it's original to the watch but possibly it is.  Only the original owner could tell you.

If you see a platinum watch for sale, be sure to look at the inside of the case back.  It should say Hamilton Watch Co Lancaster PA inside or you should be dubious.  This example even says Cambridge inside so there's no doubt that this is the real deal.

The 982M inside is what you'd expect to see and although the photo is a little soft, you can see the versions from this period don't have the solid gold medallion on the train bridge, just a circled M.

When I released the mainspring it slowly unwound and told me the inside of the barrel was gummed up.  Sure enough, opening the barrel you can see the tell tale green funk of old grease that has turned to a gel.

Nine times out of ten when you see a blue steel mainspring it's going to be "set" in a tight coil and this example is no exception.  I'll replace it with a fresh white alloy Dynavar spring.

Everything is thoroughly cleaned in the ultrasonic and then dried before reassembly.

The reassembled movement is now noticeably brighter and it's ticking away with a nice motion.  I'll put it on the timer to see how well it's doing.

No complaints to be made here.  I'll leave it just as it is.

I polished the acrylic crystal and put a fresh set of hour and minute hands on since this is such a great model.  The finished project now looks fantastic and it runs as well as it looks.

Monday, September 5, 2022

1928 Illinois Ritz

 In 1928 Hamilton Watch Company purchased the Illinois Watch Company and... then the Great Depression happened.  Within a few years the Illinois Watch Company was no-more and whatever could be salvaged was moved to Lancaster, PA.

The Illinois Watch Company was a well known American manufacturer with a great line up of wrist and pocket watches.  It was a great opportunity to expand Hamilton's business, gain economies of scale, and benefit from the technological synergies that Illinois offered.

Shortly after the acquisition, Hamilton introduced their Explorer series with Hamilton-branded movements based on Illinois designs.

Illinois continued to make watches for a while and one of them was the Illinois Ritz.  The Ritz is a unique model in that it was offered in a two-tone white & yellow case - a very popular option.

I don't know that much about Illinois watches, to be honest.  However there is an excellent set of books available from Fred Frieberg at www.illinoiswatches.com.  

I find Illinois watches to be as good as Hamilton watches from the 1920s but that simply means they can be VERY finicky and lack the technological improvements that came later in the 1930s and beyond.  I'm sure in 1930 they were excellent watches and with a watchmaker in every jewelry store they were easy to repair when necessary.  However, fast forward 90 years and you'll likely find Illinois watches with a LOT of mileage that are long overdue for maintenance.  Good luck finding spare parts! 

They can be very tempting though and Illinois models can offer really, really cool designs.  My latest project is a good example. 

Looking at the watch, in color you can see the impact of a two-tone case.  The dial is obviously refinished and the hour and minute hands are the incorrect style but only a purist would care.

The case back is also white gold filled and snaps on and off.

Opening the back of the watch, I can see it's been serviced fairly recently but you never know what the codes inside indicate.  Watchmakers have different methods for marking watches they've worked on.  

One thing I can tell for sure is this watch is missing the case screws that secure the movement inside the case.  Based on the dull brass color of the jewel settings, I'd say it's been a few years since this watch was last cleaned so the 1-11-17 could be from January 2017.  Five years is definitely due for another cleaning as the oil inside eventually evaporates.

Everything is cleaned and dried.  This watch already had a white alloy mainspring installed, another sign that it had been overhauled sometime since 1950 or so.

Dang... it took me about 90 minutes to get this movement working again.  Did I mention I find these old movements finicky?  Power wouldn't transfer through the gear train very well.  I think the 3rd wheel had too much end shake and it would wobble.  I had to finally adjust the jewels so that they were closer together and would support both ends of the 3rd wheel pivots.  Finally I got it run with good motion.   Notice how much brighter the movement is overall and especially the brass jewel settings - that's a sign of freshly serviced movement.  A good clue to look for when looking at "serviced" watches on ebay.

On snap!  This watch is running very slow.  I didn't wind it too much so the low amplitude is partly due to that but the beat rate is really slow.

A lot of things can make a watch run too fast but too slow is a possible indicator that the regulator isn't holding the hairspring.  Without a regulator the hair spring is too long and that makes the watch run slow.  Looking closely at the regulator, I only see one prong where there should be two.

Here's an even closer look... I only see one prong where there should be two and the hair spring should be in between.  Note the two gold circles on the regulator and only one has something below it.  The "fork" holds the hair spring enough to effectively shorten the hairspring and make the balance spin faster.  With only one prong, there's not much holding the hairspring.

Moving the regulator closer to fast speeds up the watch a little but it's still running around 5 minutes slow per day.  That's not great but not too many people from 1928 are doing as well.  Considering a vintage watch is only worn for a few hours a day, most collectors would tolerate this performance and just set the time a little ahead in the morning so it catches up later.  There's not much I can do about it anyway - I don't have any spare parts for Illinois movements.

My finished project is looking great and it has fresh oil in it so it can be enjoyed, even if it will be a little slow over 24 hours.  Such is the life of a 90 year old watch.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

1980s LL Bean Field Watch

 I have a couple of new models to eventually post that I haven't done before but I thought I'd share another previously documented model first.

This is a LL Bean Field Watch made by Hamilton during the 1980s.  It's essentially the same as the Khaki model and you'll find other branded examples by Orvis and Brookstone.  I like these watches and I've collected quite a few over the years.  They are based on the US military watches made at the same time.  

These watches are very popular - so popular, in fact, that Hamilton continues to make more modern versions of these watches, except they are a little larger today.

My latest project arrived with a broken crystal but is otherwise in good shape.  It will look a lot better with some fresh luminous paint on the hands.  The catalog image shows you what it would have looked like originally.

All of these field watches have the same model number - 921980.  Later Khakis from the 1990s have a different model number 9415A.  They are similar but actually have an even better movement inside.  

One thing interesting about this example is the case back is a little different than other LL Beans I've restored. 

The inside of the case back is also engraved differently than other models I've seen.  It says the same thing, just in different places.  What's really unusual is this movement doesn't say Hamilton or 649 on it.  It's the correct caliber, etc. so I don't think there's anything suspicious about it - it's just interesting. 

I'll align the hands so they are easier to remove.

West Germany united with East Germany in October, 1990 - so based on the back of the dial this watch is clearly earlier than that

Everything is completely disassembled and thoroughly cleaned.  The best part of this movement is you can mess up which screw goes where - they are all the same!  Everything is bright and shiny.  Now to put it back together with fresh lubrication.

As for a new crystal, this model features a reflector ring but it's parkerized like the case.  I'll use Stella WRA crystal in 28.5mm and reuse the original ring.

The trickiest part of reassembling the movement is to remember to reinstall the L-shaped lever used to "hack" or stop the watch when you set the time.  This little golden level engages the clutch and is moved over to touch the balance when the clutch is moved to the setting position.

The reassembled movement goes onto the timer and although the beat rate is great, the beat error is a little high.  It's so easy to adjust that trying to get it closer to 0.0 is a no brainer.

There... 0.3ms is more than acceptable.

As promised, the finished watch looks fantastic with a new crystal and freshly re-lumed hands.  This watch is definitely ready for some more wrist time.