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, February 25, 2024

1940 Midas

 I'm often asked what I think about this model, or that model, by people who see things for sale.  There are a tremendous number of Hamilton models and surely something for everyone.  

That said, if I were to do it all over again I'd be tempted to limit my collecting to only solid gold models.  I haven't counted them but I'd guess there are over 200 out of the roughly 1,100 men's model produced through 1969.  My logic is simple.  First, solid gold models where always the best that Hamilton produced.  Nacho Libre would agree.

Second, it cost just as much to maintain a solid gold watch as it does the least expensive rolled gold plated model.  Watches need to be serviced every few years, just like you need to change the oil in your car.  With solid gold models your collection will be much smaller but your maintenance cost will be much less too.

Third, there are so many solid gold models that you can have pretty much anything you're into... automatics, art deco, asymmetric, you name it, it's available in solid gold.

I'd say the only downside to solid gold is you're pretty much in the dress watch genre and you're not likely to want to wear a solid gold watch with sweat pants.

Anyway, if you're into solid gold models and especially like the 1940's era, one of the options you could consider is the Midas.  Even the name implies solid gold.

The Midas was produced through 1946, with a few years off to fight WWII.  It's one of the models that was also produced for a year or two in solid rose gold, or coral gold in Hamilton parlance.  

The Midas is interesting in that it spans the transition from 982 movements to 982M movements.  Prior to 1940 Hamilton used the 19 jewel 982 in solid gold models and the gold filled models received the 17 jewel 980 movement.  After 1940 the 982M, as in medallion, movement was used in solid gold models and the 982 went into 14K gold filled cases.  The 980 was used in 10K gold filled cases and stainless steel cases. 

So that's a long way of saying you may find a Midas with a 982 or a 982M movement, the former likely being a 1940 example if the movement serial number agrees.

My project watch has some stories it could tell.  The dial is a mess and the hands are a little too long and they're rhodium plated (so they look silver). 

The back of the case is nicely engraved with the original owner's initials.  It looks like it also has some DNA too under the hooded lugs.

With the bezel and plastic crystal out of the way, you can get a better look at the dial.  There's a marker missing from the 5 position and the printing appears to be a decent example of a refinished dial.

The movement inside is a 982M that dates to about 1942.

It's hard to decipher watch maker marks but there are 8 to 10 marks inside the case back, demonstrating this watch has some mileage on it and was well maintained.

The back of the dial tells the tale and I can see a couple of different sets of numbers scratched into the silver - a clear sign that this dial has been refinished a couple of times.  Refinished dials are not huge detractors in Hamilton watch values.  Sure, an original dial is always preferred but a lot of people with "original dials" really have refinished dials that were redone when the watch was serviced by Hamilton at some point.  As long as the pattern used is correct, it really doesn't make much of a difference.

I'm surprised with all the service marks to see a blue steel mainspring still inside the barrel.  There's a high possibility this spring has set in place.

Yup - the spring has lost much of it's potential energy.  I'll replace it with new white alloy spring.

While the parts are being cleaned I will prep a new glass crystal for installation.

I was able to get some of the funk off the original dial on the left but some of it is just too far gone.  I have another Midas dial on the right that is a little better but still not perfect.

Everything is cleaned, dried, and ready to be reassembled.

Frozen in time by my camera, the movement is ticking away with a nice motion and sitting on the timer.

Not too shabby but I can speed it up a smidgeon.  I prefer to have a watch run a little fast after an overhaul as they usually settle down after a while.

It doesn't take much to get it to speed up a little.  This timing is definitely acceptable.

The finished watch looks much better than what I started with.  A new glass crystal goes a long way just on it's own.  Proper hands are also an improvement.  The watch still looks like it's 80 years old but I bet most 80 year old people would like to look this good.  Paired with a nice genuine croc strap, this watch is ready for some more wrist time.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

1939 Bowman

 Tubular lugs must have been in fashion in the 1930s.  Several Hamilton models featured unique lug styles.  Some, like the Dodson and Sutton were made for a few years.  Others were short lived, like the 1939 Bowman.  It's a one-year-wonder.

The late 1930's also featured a lot of models that were "curved to fit the wrist" and the Bowman is in that genre.  Priced at a mere $52.50, that doesn't sound like a lot of money but that would set you back $1,100 today.  

Cased in gold filled and being rectangular shaped, you can expect to find the 17 jewel 980 movement tucked inside.  The 19 jewel 982 was for solid gold models until 1940, when the 982M was introduced.

My Bowman project watch appears to be in decent shape.  Mechanical watches should be cleaned and oiled every few years so even though this Bowman looks great, it could certainly be due for a service.

Looking at the dial, there are no obvious signs that it's been refinished (like a notch by the three) but I suspect based on the general appearance that it has been redone at some point.  It looks fine though so that wouldn't impact the value.

Sure enough, there's a 980 movement behind the dial.  The serial number dates the movement to 1938 but Hamilton watches were like cars and the new year models typically came out in the Fall of the prior year.  So this is most likely the original movement.

The back of the movement has some numbers scratched into it so this dial has definitely been refinished over the years.

Everything is taken apart and thoroughly cleaned.

The reassembled movement is ticking away with a good motion.  Time to see what the timer thinks.

Not too bad, a smidgen slow but if you look at the regulator above, it's set to the slow side. 

A couple of minor tweaks to the regulator brings of the beat rate to just a smidgeon fast.  The amplitude and beat error are well within specs.

I polished the plastic crystal and the finished project looks as good as it runs!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

1966 Dateline T-482

A lot of 1960s watches had very unique styling.  There are some plain Janes, of course but in may situations you can spot a 1960's model just by it's appearance.  They will often have florentine engraving, unique lugs, unusual hands, and especially calendar complications.

A good example is the 1966 Dateline T-482.  It has curved lugs, an engraved bezel, and a simple dial with a mismatched hands.

The name for the model is very descriptive... most calendar models are in the dateline family.  The T means it's also a part of the Thinomatic family.  The 4 in 482 means it has a gold filled case.  The 82 might mean something but it's not likely the 82nd model.

My project watch reveals the unique features of the model way better than the catalog.  It's a very interesting look, in my opinion.  I like the fat hour hand and skinny minute hand.  Even the window around the date is unusual - it's thicker on the right side than left.  You can see the bezel has a textured pattern to it but the lugs are polished to a shine.

The back of the case is unremarkable, other than a bit of wear.  Being a Thinomatic, it has a very thin case with a flat surface.  You can tell from the view of the rear that the lugs would benefit from using curved spring bars.

The most obvious distraction for the watch is the crown is shot.  It's very worn and the seal has separated from gold, leaving a silver ring floating on the stem tube.

Looking at the inside of the case back, can you guess what kind of movement is inside?  Yup, definitely a micro rotor.  Notice the two numbers in the case... the K12026 is a unique serial number.  The 997166 is the model number and the 66 indicates the year the model was introduced.

Under the hood is a 17 jewel 621 movement made by Buren, which Hamilton owned by this time.  In fact, Hamilton moved to Buren's factory location after shutting down Lancaster production in 1969.

The large silver oscillating weight tends to slide on the axle and eventually rubs on the back of the case - leaving the tell tale ring.

The calendar complication is fairly simple on this model.  The wheel by the 15 rotates several times over 24 hours and on the last one it flips the date wheel.  There's an indexing lever at the 30 that makes sure the date is centered in the dial window.

Under the cover is a spring that pushes the index lever against the calendar wheel.  I need to make sure this spring doesn't disappear on me.

This view shows you the orientation of the parts that make the calendar complication do it's thing.

While parts are being cleaned, I'll turn my attention to the crown.  I happen to have a new Hamilton crown that is a perfect match for the old one.

This model is unique in that the two piece stem has the female portion in the crown hub.  Not all crowns are identical.  I might get lucky and be able to reuse the stem with the new crown.  Otherwise I will need to trim a new stem for a proper fit.

Let's see... looks like a gazillion parts, must have everything.  Now to put it all back together again.

The movement is now mostly reassembled, enough anyway to be able to run.  I can now check it on the timer.

Not too shabby... the amplitude is a little low but I didn't wind the watch very much since there's no crown. That will come up significantly once I wind it more fully.

The finished watch looks great.  The dial has some moisture damage around the circumference but nothing too obvious.  Overall this is a really great looking watch!

Saturday, February 10, 2024

1953 Hamilton Illinois Debonair Model B

Hamilton purchased the Illinois Watch Company in 1928 - not the best of times to take business risks considering the soon to start Great Depression.  The Illinois Watch Company was a premier American watch brand, just like Hamilton, and it made perfect sense to bring two premier watch companies together.  Hamilton made a good go of it for several years but eventually they closed the Illinois factory and moved all they could to Lancaster, PA.  By the mid 1930s the Illinois brand was retired.

Decades later, the watch industry continued to evolve.  WWII decimated Europe and the global economy overall.  American watch companies began to falter.  The market was shrinking.  Price pressure came in two forms - the need to cut costs to make watches more affordable to customers AND the need to cut costs to compete with the high quality, low cost Swiss and German watch manufacturers.  Sounds familiar.

Hamilton executives realized they needed to change their ways.  For example, Hamilton NEVER used rolled gold plated cases until the mid 1950s.  Their dials were always sterling silver and when markers were used, they were solid gold.  How could they introduce cost cutting measures without risking their status as America's top watch producer?

I guess you could say, if you can't lick 'em, join 'em.  They decided to purchase partially completed Swiss-made movements called an ├ębauche.  Instead of a gold filled case, they used rolled gold plated cases with stainless steel backs.  Dials could be embossed (stamped) instead of using applied gold figures.  They decided to test the market and reintroduce the Illinois brand name since Illinois was still recallable as a quality manufacturer, and if the market imploded it wouldn't harm the Hamilton brand.

Several new models using the Illinois moniker were introduced in 1953 - including the first Automatic models and calendar models that Hamilton ever produced.  One of the manual winding models was the Debonair Model B, or Debonair B, as it would eventually be called.

The Model B was produced through 1955, at which point Hamilton executives dropped the Illinois reference and Hamilton-branded models with Swiss ├ębauches were introduced.

The 1954 catalogs show the Debonair B listed at the same price point but I cant't tell for sure if the bracelet style was changed.

The 1955 ad definitely shows a different bracelet.  So if you're one of those crazy people who like to pair correct bracelets with their vintage watches then you have you're work cut out for you.

My project watch is in semi-restored condition.  I say that because the case is in pretty good shape, the crystal is apparently new, but the dial is rather grungy,  The crown is a replacement and the watch winds but it's difficult to set.

The back of the case is a little splotchy, which is weird.  If you notice the number on the back, 9507, this is the model number.  You can see it matches the first four digits of the catalog.

With the bezel out of the way, you can see the dial is rather dirty.  There's an apparent crease between the 10 and the 12.  I suspect this may be a result of someone pressing on the dial to push the movement into the case.

There's not much I can do to the dial.  I can likely remove the loose dirt but getting this dial to look cleaner would risk making it look a lot worse.

The movement is an ETA 1220.  It has no Illinois caliber number.  The TXD on the balance cock is the import code - all Hamilton Illinois movements have this code.  Hamilton models with Swiss movements have HYL on the balance cock.

The inside of the case back shows signs of having been overhauled quiet a few times.

The dial-side of the main plate shows the set bridge is missing the arm that extends to the set lever.  

I get a LOT of requests to work on peoples' non-Hamilton watches... Walthams, Elgins, Bulovas, etc. and I usually turn them away because I won't have spares if something goes wrong.  If something is broken or disappears some how (it happens), it would require purchasing a donor movement or a lot of research to find the correct parts.

Fortunately I have a small stash of ETA 1220's to get a set bridge from.

In the photo below you can see what a complete set bridge looks like.

It's a little hard to see but most Swiss makers stamp the caliber and the maker on the main plate under the balance on the main plate.  You can see the 1220 in the photo below.

Everything is cleaned and dried.

The reassembled movement is running with a nice motion.

The watch timer says it's running well.  The amplitude is good and the beat error is within my specs.  The balance has a fixed hairspring stud, so reducing the beat error is not as easy as it is on later ETA calibers Hamilton would use.  I'm going to let sleeping dogs lie and leave this as is - as I could very easily accidentally ruin the balance if I pressed my luck.

The new set bridge is installed and this watch still is very hard to put in the setting position.  I tried to remove the stem and it was held fast... so I think this watch has the wrong stem installed.

I tugged and tugged and eventually it came loose.  Comparing the stem from the watch (above, In the shot below) to a correct 1220 stem and you can probably tell it's different.   With the proper stem, the watch will set and wind as it should.

The finished watch looks pretty good and it runs even better.  I just noticed the dial says Hamilton Illinois so I suspect this is a a 1954 or 1955 version.  Not bad for being almost 70 years old!