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, January 22, 2023

1928 Spur

Asymmetric models are some of the most sought after watches in the vintage Hamilton lineup.   In fact some of them sell for more than their inflation-adjusted original retail value!

The very first asymmetric model is fairly obscure.  It's called the Spur.  It showed up in the catalogs in only one year - 1930.  However, production records indicate the first Spur was produced in 1928 and the last one left the factory in 1932.  

A total of 1,183 were made, mostly in solid white 14K gold (683), followed by yellow gold (499) and there's a single solid green gold Spur somewhere out there.

The Spur is a very interesting model.  Priced original at $125 in 1930,  the same cost in US dollars in 2023 would be $2,190.  However, you can expect to pay over $7,000 today for a good example, assuming you actually find one for sale.

In more modern times (1992) Hamilton introduced "reissues" of many vintage models - including the Spur.  Generally reissue models are not very popular.  The reissue version of the Spur features a mechanical movement but the case was electroplated in 18K yellow gold.  Believe it or not, a reissue version of the Spur will likely cost you more than $2000 today as well!

The Spur has a very unusual case with a Piping Rock-esque black enamel bezel but the center of the case has hidden lugs behind a set of cascading fins.  It's a tiny model, even by vintage watch standards, and the strap is a mere 12mm wide (1/2").

The Spur is way "too rich for my blood" so you'll never see one on my wrist but it's so small that if I did have one, it would end up on my wife's wrist anyway.  That said, I did happen to lay hands on one briefly, as someone reached out to me for help with theirs.

As received, this king had lost his crown.  Crowns simply screw on to the stem that goes into the watch.  The crown turns the stem and the stem winds the watch or sets the time.  The trick to crowns is there are different styles, shapes, threads, etc. and they have to be matched to the style of case and the length of the stem in order to be a good fit.  

Overall the watch looks great, other than a minor scar on the dial between the minute hand and seconds register, probably due to removing the hands at some point over the last 9 decades.

This style of crown is common to models of this era, although often it's a dust proof design with an integrated dust shroud.  This crown is obviously bent, suggesting it got caught on something while on the wearer's wrist.  It's also indicative of winding a watch while it's on your wrist.  That technique is commonplace but it puts uneven wear on the crown and stem that can certainly weaken a crown after years of use.

I'm not convinced that this crown is original to the watch.  The reason is the stem tube has been shortened at some point.  This model pre-dates the introduction of dust shrouds, or at least did not originally use that style crown.  This stem tube should be longer and is meant to extend into the crown to keep out dust.  I suspect that at some point over the last 90 years, someone modified the case in order to fit the wrong crown.

Tucked inside the center of the three-piece case is a 19 jewel 979 movement.  This serial number dates to 1929.  The case is just barely larger than the movement, showing this is a very small watch.

The owner said the watch wasn't due for an overhaul but I couldn't resist the temptation to put it on the timer.  Overall it runs cleanly with solid amplitude.  It's a little wavy and that could be due to wear and tear over 90 years.  Certainly looks very good by my standards.

A replaced the crown with another period-correct version.  It's not exactly the same style as the damaged crown but to my eye it's a better match to the catalog.

It was nice to be able to see a Spur in person and share with you.  Like a lot of rare models, I'm eager to send this one home.  It was mine for a day, that is enough.

Friday, January 20, 2023

1944 992B Railroad Special

The watch that started it all for me was my grandfather's Hamilton 992B pocket watch.  He had many jobs over his lifetime ranging from prison guard, to railroad man, to storekeeper.  When he passed away I inherited his pocket watches and for over two decades I carried them from place to place in an old cookie tin.

In around 2007 I decided to see if I could find someone to repair them for me.  I had watches in all shapes and sizes and in various makes from New York Standard, to Elgin, to Waltham, to Hamilton, and a few less common brands too.  I learned a lot from those pocket watches, starting with many watchmakers won't work on them, since not all old watches are serviceable, with the exception of higher quality brands like Hamilton.

I got my grandfather's watch working and I was so enamored with it that I started to collect other pocket watches.  Then I realized that Hamilton made wrist watches too.  I realized that I didn't carry a pocket watch very often and wrist watches were much more useful.  After that I was "off to the races" as they say.  

It's a story that pretty much every Hamilton collector shares.

I was recently asked to work on another 992B, very similar to my own, so I thought I'd showcase it.

The 992B is a 21 jewel 16 size Railroad-grade model that was introduced in 1940 and produced through 1969.  That makes it one of the longest production run models, although the original 992 had an even longer run!  Railroad-grade watches had to meet several requirements, including the accuracy of a few seconds over a week.  Most pocket watches are not railroad grade.

Depending on the timeframe, you could purchase the 992B with different dials and different cases.  They also came with a special bakelite storage case.

My project watch is interesting in several ways.  First, it's from the WWII era when production was supposedly dedicated to the war effort.  I say supposedly because the movement serial number dates to that timeframe but the movement doesn't say US Gov't, as I've seen in other examples.  Second, the case is made by Keystone and not marked Hamilton.  Keystone was a Pennsylvania-based case maker that made cases for Hamilton and other watch manufactures.  The case style is not one that is shown in the Hamilton catalogs for the 992B but it was used in the 1930s in a model called 'The Mainliner".  

So how did it get into this case?  It doesn't really matter, but it's simply an interesting element that makes up this watch's story.  Maybe it was originally cased in a solid gold case that was sold for gold when times got tough?  Maybe the original case was damaged and needed to be replaced?  

Of course, since this watch dates to 1944 and materials were in short supply, perhaps Hamilton cased it in whatever they had in inventory.

Only the original owner knows for sure. 

As received, the watch looks well used but it's in good shape.  The crystal is scratched and there are some faint hairline cracks in the double sunk dial but nothing distracting or overly noticeable.

The case back is lightly engraved with a monogram so I'll leave the case unpolished so I don't risk losing the engraving.

The two case screws are loose but otherwise everything appears to be in nice shape.

I usually don't wind a watch before I work on it as it's mostly irrelevant.  If it has issues I'll have to fix them anyway.  However, in this case I wanted to see what I was up against.   Dial up it runs okay, a little fast and with low amplitude.  I didn't wind it too much though, just enough to get it running.

Pendant up it runs a little slower.  This is due to having more friction as all of the wheels in the gear train are riding on both ends of their axles, versus just one end.  Now I have a good baseline to compare to after it's been serviced.

There are three dial feet that hold the dial in place but this watch is missing one of the dial foot screws.  I'm obviously not the first person to get into this watch.

The owner mentioned a concern with the set lever being very close to the dial and hard to access to set the time.  You can see the set lever at 1:00 in the photo below.  When you slide this lever out, it moves the keyless works into the time setting position.  You need to scrape the lever with your fingernail to get it to come out.  You'll often see dials that are a little chewed up at the 1:00 position from decades of time setting.

The set lever is held in place with a set lever screw, accessible on the back of the movement.  It's the darker screw nearest the edge of the barrel bridge.  You can see the set lever is slid out in this photo.

Comparing the design to an earlier 992 design, the 992 set lever is similar but the set lever screw is accessible from the dial side - so the set levers are not interchangeable.

The mainspring is an older blue steel design.  It's probably set but I'll try it anyway, as changing pocket watch mainsprings is more difficult than wrist watch springs.  They are MUCH stronger.

Everything is cleaned and ready to be reassembled.

It's all back together.  Now I just need to wind it up and see how it runs.

Fully wound it runs a little fast but the amplitude is still low.  I tried to adjust the original beat error before assembly but I moved it the wrong direction and made it worse.  I'll have to try again.

There... after several attempts I got the beat error back in line.  It's not perfect but getting from 0.8 to 0.0 is almost a matter of luck and every attempt risks ruining the balance.  The amplitude is too low though so I'm going to have to change the mainspring after all.

I have several choices of mainsprings.  I'm going to use the newest of the lot, as it's precoiled and small enough that I should be able to insert it into the barrel if I'm lucky.

I have to pull the barrel bridge to get to the mainspring barrel.  Then I'll install the new spring and put it back together.

The old spring is "set" in a coil and you can see it's lost most of it's potential energy.  It obviously powered the watch enough to run but it wouldn't power the watch to run as long as a fresh spring will.

After a quick adjustment I have the reassembled movement running very nicely now.

It runs just as well pendant up.

I installed a new glass crystal in place of the worn plastic crystal that came with it originally.  This watch now looks as good as it runs, and it runs great.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

1966 Seaman II - a tale of two cases

The 1966 Seaman II is either a one-year wonder or a two-year wonder, it's hard to say for sure. 

The models is only shown in the 1966/67 catalog.  There is no 1967 catalog that I'm aware of.

 The Seaman II is the second model to bear the Seaman name, the earlier version being a one-year wonder from 1962,  The Seaman II was an entry level model priced at $50.  That's about $450 in today's currency and that's about what you'd pay for a similar entry-level model in today's Hamilton lineup.

I posted a Seaman II in 2018 and it featured different hands than the catalog image.  That wasn't too unusual as sometimes the factory would use similar hands during busy times of the year in preparation for graduations or Christmas.

I recently received a Seaman II in need of some TLC and it's an exact match for the catalog image.

Tucked inside the one-piece case is a Hamilton 688 movement based on an ETA ├ębauche.  Open up a modern Hamilton Khaki Mechanical and you'll see Hamilton still uses very similar movements made by ETA - although with definite improvements made over the last 50 years.

The dial was a bit loose on the movement and looking at the back I can see why.  It's missing one of the two dial feet.  So only one foot is securing the dial to the movement.

Everything gets disassembled and thoroughly cleaned.  Now it's ready to be reassembled with fresh lubricants.

The movement is clean and bright and ticking with a good motion.

The timer shows it's running pretty well.  These ETA movements are very easy to adjust (and very easy to goof up without a timer).  I should be able to dial it in nicely.

There... pretty much right on the money.  I'll leave it running a smidgen fast as I've found freshly serviced movements tend to settle a bit over time.

I'll use a couple of "dial dots" to secure the dial in addition to the one remaining dial foot.  The tan circles will be removed and reveal the clear two-sided tape that will hold the dial.

The owner of the watch provided a second case so I get to chose the one to use.  Notice they have different serial numbers but the same model number.  The one on the left must have had a bracelet as the lugs have slight grooves worn into them.

Looking at the backs, the one on the left (with the grooves) is unmolested while the case on the right is personalized with a name.  Which one would you use?  Leave a comment below to let me know your opinion!

The finished project looks much better with a fresh crystal and it now runs great too.  With the dial secured it should stay that way.

It may be hard to tell which case I used with the strap installed but I went the non-personalized route.  Personalized cases don't really bother me but if you have no connection to the original owner then non-personalized case is probably more appealing, even with slightly damaged lugs.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 2, 2023

1941 Wesley

 Sometimes watches present a mystery.  In many cases, the mystery is "what is what is wrong with my watch?"  Other times the mystery is "where did this watch come from"?  Watches can even present more than one mystery at a time.

My latest watch is minor example of a mystery watch.  It's a Wesley, a model made between 1941 and 1952.  This specific watch dates to 1951, based on the movement.

The 1941 catalog didn't show prices, just a code for the price.

In 1951 the catalog showed the Wesley sold for $180.  That would be over $2,000 today, so it was one of Hamilton's most expensive models.

Perhaps the main reason it was so expensive is it came in a solid 14K gold case, and the case is fairly large, especially for a vintage watch.

My project watch is in extraordinary condition.  The case and crown are superbly crisp.  It's as if this watch was never worn.

The first mystery is what's wrong with it?  When you wind the watch the hands just whirl around freely.  That's actually not very hard to explain.  When the hands whirl it simply means that nothing is stopping them from turning.  The part that stops the train from moving, and incrementally meters the power of the mainspring, is the pallet fork.  So either the pallet fork is damaged or the escape wheel.  I know it's after the 4th wheel because the second hands spins too.  

The movement inside is a 19 jewel 982M.  By 1951 Hamilton stopped including the solid gold medallion on the train bridge and used an engraved circle with and M instead.  The movement appears to be in excellent shape, other than the obvious issue.

The inside of the case back includes the model name - the trend of adding the model name to the case back started in the early 1950s.  It's easy to spot a solid gold case - there is no verdigris.  The lack of any green residue is a sure sign the case is solid gold.  There are no service marks inside the case back.  I wonder if this watch has ever been opened since it left the Lancaster factory?

Here's another mystery, the back of the case has an engraved presentation dated in 1958 - seven years after the watch was made.  The engraving style is not consistent with Hamilton's awards division.  In fact this engraving is still very sharp, as if the watch was never worn after it left the engraver's machine.

The dial has an interesting patina around the perimeter.  It's a great sign that the dial is original.

Aha!  The escape wheel has come loose from the arbor.  This would result in the arbor spinning freely when the watch is wound, as the escape wheel is constrained by the pallet fork.  I can either restake the escape wheel on the arbor or just replace the escape wheel entirely.

The barrel has very old grease residue around the arbor.  

Sure enough, the mainspring inside appears to be original.

These old blue mainsprings eventually set in place and lose most of their potential energy.  I'll replace it with a fresh white alloy mainspring.

Everything is cleaned and ready to be reassembled.

The watch is put back together and running with a nice motion.  Time to see how well it's running.

It's a wee bit fast at just over two minutes fast per day.  That should be easily adjustable, depending on the position of the regulator.

There... timing is right on the money and amplitude and beat error look good too.

The finished watch looks fantastic, as if it just left the showroom floor.  This is a beautiful solid gold Hamilton and would be the pride of any collection.