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Sunday, November 26, 2023

1953 Hamilton Illinois Nautilus Model A

Hamilton purchased the Illinois Watch Company in the late 1920s - just in time for the Great Depression.  Illinois Watch Co. continued to make models for a few years but Hamilton eventually moved production to Lancaster PA and shuttered the Illinois factory.  

Illinois was a quality manufacturer though and had a very strong reputation.  Hamilton reintroduced the Illinois brand in 1953 as part of a strategy to introduce using Swiss-made ebauches without risking the reputation of Hamilton-branded time pieces.  

Europe was still recovering from the devastation of WWII and European watch companies made very high quality watches at price points that were difficult for US makers to compete with.  One by one, American watch companies either closed shop or chose a "if you can't lick 'em, join 'em" strategy of using Swiss-made calibers to lower their price points.

There were a few Illinois models introduced in 1953, including the first automatic models.  One of them was the manual winding Nautilus Model A.

In 1954 the Nautilus A was expanded to include different dial options and the bracelet was changed to what would appear to be a Kreisler bracelet.

1955 was the last year of Illinois branded models and the Nautilus A appears to had dropped the black dialed version.

I was recently sent a Nautilus A in need of TLC from a fellow collector.  At first blush it appears to be in good shape other than some radium-related corrosion on the dial and hands.

The back of the case appears to have been polished considerably but is otherwise unremarkable.

Inside the case is an Illinois branded movement based on an ETA 1080.  The TXD on the balance cock is the import code for Illinois watches.  All Illinois calibers with Swiss-made parts have TXD on the balance cock.  Hamilton branded calibers with imported movements have Hamilton's import code - HYL.

The 9514 inside the case back is the model number for this case.  There are no serial numbers for Illinois cases or movements.

The set bridge / set lever spring is broken and missing the detent section that engages the set lever.  You can see there's a piece missing where my tweezers are pointing.

The replacement part shows you what section is missing.  This odd-shaped lever holds the set lever in the winding or the time-setting position and is what you feel when the crown pops into position.

Everything is cleaned and dried.

The reassembled movement is bright and shiny now.  I think this may have been the first time this watch was cleaned as there were no marks inside the case back.

The immediate time keeping is a little low but that's easy to fix.

A tiny tweak to the regulator speeds the watch up nicely.

I relumed the hands and the dial.  Black dials are very challenging and I broke my cardinal rule and slightly cleaned the dial in an attempt to make it look better.  In doing so I lost a portion of the O in Incabloc.  I was lucky that was all that was lost - it just takes a moment to screw up a dial.  I cut my losses and the finished project looks pretty good with relumed hands and new crystal.  I could probably make the dial look better if I gave it a light spritz of lacquer but I decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

Overall this is still a great looking version of a fairly uncommon model.

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