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Saturday, August 26, 2023

1949 Neil - Can it be Fixed?

 I like a good challenge.  I like a challenge that is achievable, anyway.

In 1947 Hamilton introduced a new movement to replace the 987A.  The 6/0 sized 987A was the last of the series that started in 1927 with the 987, proceeding to the 987F and 987E.  The movement that replaced the 987A was the slightly smaller 8/0 sized 747 movement.

In 1948 Hamilton introduced the Neil.  It would continue to be produced for five years.  So if you come across a Neil it could be from as late as 1952.

Interestingly, by 1952 the Neil was also offered on a bracelet for an extra $7.00.  There was no price increase on the Neil over the 5 years of production.  That was the equivalent of $767 in today's dollars.

I recently received a Neil that was in serious need of more than TLC.  From the front you could say that it looked okay... as long as you didn't pick it up.

The back of the two-piece case is severely dented and it won't stay closed.  I really couldn't say what happened but it looks like maybe a dog chomped on it?

The dial appears to be refinished but the only obvious tell is the Hamilton logo is a little wavy.  There's a little glob of something by the 9.  I suspect somewhere along the line someone tried to glue the front and back of the case together.  Fortunately, the dial escaped being ruined by excess glue.

Another more obvious clue that the dial was refinished is there are numbers inscribed on the back.

There are a variety of punch marks along the circumference of the inside of the case back.  I suspect this was an attempt to flatten it or reshape it to fit the bezel.

My photo of the movement is a little blurry but that appears to be the only thing wrong with it.  It seems to operate - that's a good sign, a great sign really, considering the case back.  Based on the serial number of the movement I can date this as a 1949 Neil.

Nine times out of ten watches from before 1950 need a fresh mainspring.  I'm not sure when Hamilton introduced white alloy Dynavar mainsprings but the old blue steel mainsprings tend to "set" in place after decades in the barrel.  Hamilton offered white alloy "lifetime" mainsprings for all their calibers when the new springs were introduced.

Although not the worst I've seen, this mainspring has set enough that it probably has lost half of it's energy.

Hamilton made springs in a variety of strengths and the same spring is used in the 748 movement.  I'm going to use a standard strength spring.

This picture is worth a 1000 words in terms of describing the potential energy it stores compared to the old spring.  Notice how it actually coils in the opposite direction.

Everything is cleaned and ready to be reassembled.  I was even able to get some of the extra glue off the dial.

My "after" photo of the movement is crisp and you can really see how the movement sparkles now that it's cleaned.

Nothing to complain about with it's performance - lots of energy (amplitude) and a low beat error.

The crown on the original movement was well-worn, so I replaced it with a better example.  I also installed a new crystal and a nice black leather strap.  This watch now looks as good as it runs!

The case back is a huge improvement as well.

Here's another photo of the finished project in slightly better light.  It turned out great!


  1. Very nice work on the case back. It came out great.

  2. Dan, how did you straighten out the caseback? It looks great!

    1. Reminds me of that old laundry detergent commercial where the guy is asked how he got the shirts so white and he replied "ancient Chinese secret"... in my situation I happened to have another Neil case back.