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Sunday, June 23, 2024

1990 LL Bean Automatic Field Watch F403HH / 9721

Hamilton made field watches for LL Bean starting in the 1980s that were based on the Khaki model, which, in turn, was based on the military watches made for the US and UK.  The mechanical LL Bean models are quality watches and you'll find the same models with private labels from Orvis, Brookstone, and probably a couple other catalog retailers.

One of the models that is very difficult to find in the wild is the LL Bean Automatic Field Watch.  It showed up in the 1990 catalog and as far as I know it's a one-year-wonder.  It's much easier to find the quartz versions - which clearly say Quartz on the dial, but the automatic version is quite scarce.   

Based on the catalog, LL Bean's product number is F403HH and the back of the case is stamped with 9721. 

The watch looks very similar to the Hamilton Khaki automatics available during the same period - so there's no surprise there.  The catalog says it's based on a British military watch, the triangle marker at 12 is sort of a "broad arrow" symbol so I guess there's a connection there as well.

You can see the back is unremarkable for the most part but it still references Hamilton Watch Co, Lancaster PA.  Tucked inside is a typical automatic that is clearly based on an ETA caliber based on the shape of the rotor.  I'll know which caliber for sure once I remove the balance.

The case is marked Hong Kong - not unusual for Hamilton models from this era.

Modern ETA movements are very similar to their vintage ancestors but have several unique improvements over the vintage calibers.  For example the stem is held in place by a push button detent incorporated in to the set lever on the other side of the main plate, rather than a screw.  You just press the button in and pull the crown out.  The trick is to not push too hard and get the button stuck - other wise you need to remove the dial and fuss with the keyless works.

With the stem and movement ring removed, the movement is freed and can drop out of the case.  I'll remove the hands and then slide out the two levers that hold the dial feet that secure the dial.

I normally don't check the timing on a watch before I service it but out of curiosity I thought I would check this one out to see if there were issues.   I wound it up a little after removing the rotor and put it on the timer.

Well, it's running but it's not running very well.  It's definitely running slowly.  At least I now have a baseline to compare after it's cleaned and oiled.

With the dial and hour wheel removed you can see the calendar complication in detail.  Normally on vintage ETA calendar movements I start sweating a little because there are a couple of springs involved that will disappear into the ether if you're not super vigilant.  This modern design is much simpler for a watchmaker to manage.

In the center of the photo below you can see the index lever and spring incorporated into a single part.  This lever positions the calendar wheel so that the number will be centered in the dial window.

I'll carefully remove the balance jewels so they can be thoroughly cleaned with the other parts, and then start disassembling the back of the movement.

Now that the balance is out of the way you can clearly see the ETA shield symbol and the caliber number 2824-2.  Armed with this info you could purchase just about any part you needed or look for a donor.

The main plate is finally stripped of all the parts and you can see some grime here and there - definitely time for a good cleaning.

Everything is cleaned and dried before being reassembled with fresh lubricants.  Several different greases and oils are used, depending on the application.

First on are the train wheels and the barrel bridge.  These should rotate freely when they are in place - absolutely no force is required to seat the bridge once the all the arbors are correctly aligned.  Next, I'll reinstall the pallet fork and it's bridge.

Once the back is reassembled I replace and oil the lower balance jewel and cap jewel before carefully closing the shock spring.

Winding the mainspring a little to reenergize the movement, once the balance is in place it takes of ticking, even without the upper jewel installed yet.  I would stop if I flipped the movement over, right now it's just riding on the lower jewel below.

There... the upper jewels are in place and the watch is ready to go to the timer.

Not too shabby.  The amplitude and beat rate are fine.  The beat error of 0.7ms is more than acceptable in most situations but it's so easy to adjust that I feel obligated to lower it.

Part of the beat error adjustment is to figure out which direction to go... one way will make it worse and the other way will make it better.  Go too far and it will get worse again.  After a couple of tweaks I got it to zero but also sped up the rate.  So now I just have to adjust the regulator.

A little dab will do you... it doesn't take much to slow the watch to a mere 16 seconds fast per day.  It will probably settle down a little further from there.

Each part goes back on the front of the movement until it's ready to receive the dial again.

On a calendar movement I loosely attach the hour hand and slowly advance the time until the date changes, indicating midnight.  Then I more firmly reattach the hands at 12:00.  Now, once midnight comes around again the date will change.

The watch is now fully cleaned and oiled and ready for some more wrist time.  The owner wasn't worried about the scratches on the crystal so I'll leave it as is.  This is a really nice model and I can see why they hardly come up for sale - I wouldn't want to get rid of it either!