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, July 14, 2024

1938 Contour

In the 1930s "thin was in" and most prominent watch manufacturers introduced long and skinny models.  However, the challenge with long and skinny watches is if they're flat they don't fit comfortably on the wrist.  So Hamilton introduced models that were "curved to fit the wrist". 

One of the most wrist-accommodating models was the 1938 Contour.  It's a driver's watch and was designed to be worn on the side of the wrist so you could see read the time without letting go of the steering wheel.  That left the other arm free to be around your best gal.  It was produced for only two years.

Thanks to the flexible lugs, you could wear the watch in three positions... on top, on the inside or on the side of the wrist.

The Contour was unique in several ways.  First, there's no second hand.  An earlier model, called the 1936  Norfolk, also didn't have a second hand, but it used a movement that didn't feature one.  The Contour used a 14/0 sized 980 movement - which did feature a second hand - in every model except this one.  

The second unique feature to the Contour is the movement is rotated 90 degrees so the crown is on top, near the 12.  It makes it a little hard to wind, in my opinion, but that was the only way to get it to fit so snugly.

My project watch is very dirty but it is actually in excellent shape.  The flexible lugs are still quite tight and there's virtually no wear to my eye.

The dial is very dirty.  The numerals are solid gold but they don't look it.  Hopefully I can clean up the dial a little bit.

The 980 movement is correct for a gold filled watch like this.  The serial number G161902 dates to 1938, just as it should.

This version of the 980 features a 4th wheel without an extended bit to hold the second hand.  That's the only thing different about this movement versus any other 980 movement.

This dial shows no signs of ever being refinished.  That's great because original dials often clean up nicely.  Refinished dials, on the other hand, can respond poorly to cleaning attempts.

No surprise that the blue steel mainspring has set in place.  I'll replace it with a fresh white alloy mainspring.  That will probably double the run time of the watch.

Everything is cleaned and dried.  The dial cleaned up well - it still looks 85 years old but I hope I look this good when I reach that age.

A new glass crystal will be a nice improvement to go along with this very nice case.

My camera froze the movement of the balance but it's beating away with a fine motion.  Let's see what the timer has to say.

Not too shabby - good amplitude, good beat error, and just a smidgen fast.

With a fresh genuine lizard strap, the finished watch is a real beauty.  I like the vintage patina on the dial - it's not grungy anymore but it doesn't look new like a refinished dial would.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

1948 Barton

If I were to start collecting Hamilton watches, knowing what I know now I would only collect solid gold models.  My logic being that I'd have a smaller collection but every example would be a fine watch.  It costs just as much to maintain a solid gold watch as it does any other case material.  So the maintenance cost for a small collection would make a huge difference in the end.

One of the watches I'd probably have would be a 1948 Barton.  It's a classic tank-shaped model cased in solid 14K gold.  The dial is sterling silver and the numerals and markers are solid 18K gold.  The Barton was made through 1952 so it's a fairly easy model to find in the wild. 

My project watch came courtesy of the original owner's grandson.  Family watches are the best and make excellent heirlooms.  I can tell that the dial has been refinished at some point and there's a missing marker at the 11 position.  It seems to tick for a few seconds but is not running.

With the bezel and crystal removed you can get a better look at the dial.  It's very dirty but I don't want to risk cleaning it as refinished dials don't always stand up to cleaning.

Tucked inside the case is a 19 jewel 982M movement.  The M is for medallion and you can see there is a solid gold medallion inset into the train bridge.  This is a very high end movement and this detail would never be seen by anyone other than a watchmaker.

No surprise here, the back of the dial has some numbers scratched into the silver.  That's a sure sign that the dial has been refinished at least once in the last 80 years.

Here's a surprise though - there's already a white alloy mainspring installed.  That happens about 10% of the time.  I usually find a blue steel mainspring that would need to be replaced.

Looking in my stash of donor dials, there are actually several sizes of dots and some are flat, some are domed, and some are faceted.  None of these will work on the Barton dial.

Fortunately I have another Barton dial to offer up a solid gold dot.  This dial was refinished too, as you can see the horizontal line interferes with the number 12.

Everything is cleaned and ready to be ressembled.

The movement is ticking away with a good motion, let's see what the timer thinks.

Hmmm... it's running very slow and it has a low amplitude.  Generally I'd expect the amplitude to be well over 225, especially with a white alloy mainspring.  I don't know why type of mainspring was installed though, perhaps it's not strong enough.

First I'll fiddle with the balance and make sure the hairspring is properly seated in the regular.  A little tweaking brings the rate up to normal but the amplitude is still very low.

I'll try a new Hamilton mainspring and see if that makes a difference.

The new mainspring didn't much of a difference so I went through each wheel in the train.  I found the pivot on the escape wheel was damaged and the pallet fork was a little iffy too.  So I replaced them both.

Voila - the movement is now running fast and the amplitude is right where it should be.  Now I can tweak the regulator and slow it down.

Okay - that's perfect.

The finished watch looks and runs great now.  Technically this model uses a "cylinder" crystal, domed from top to bottom, but the current crystal is in decent shape so I didn't change it.  With a new marker at the 11 position, this heirloom watch is ready to be handed down to the next generation.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

1961 M69-1

One of the more obscure lines of Hamilton watches are the M-series.  There's also an F-series for ladies.  The M-series only showed up in the 1964 catalogs but they're believed to be made starting in 1961 and going into the mid 1960s.

If you didn't already know, you can find the catalogs on this page in my blog.  Check out the last page of the 1964 catalog to see the various M models.

The nomenclature used for the M series is the first number is the retail price of the watch.  The second number is the order the model came in that price.  So an M69-1 was the first model priced at $69.  1964 shows there was an M69-2 and an M69-3.  So the M69-1 was introduced before 1964.

One way to spot an M-series model is if it comes with it's original box.  The M-series (and F, as well) came in a red clamshell box.   The shape of the box is similar to the usual cream-colored Hamilton boxes but the color is red - so they're very easy to spot.  Here's a couple of example photos from eBay, right now.

Anyway, my belief is these models were distributed through a nationwide retailer.  Perhaps Sears, or Service Merchandise, or some other catalog-store that no longer exists.  Large enough to offer high end products that a quality jewelry store would offer.  I'm sure that Hamilton executives would be willing to offer a specialized product line that would not interfere or compete with their existing network of high end jewelry retailers.  That's just my opinion though, take it for what it's worth.

I've already done a post on the M69-1 but it's been a while and this one is actually a little different.  One thing is the same and that's that I received it without a crown.  This is a pretty common ailment of watches with a one-piece case.

The stem tube has a flat spot on it and I see no signs of the stem.  It'll be a two piece stem since this watch opens through the crystal.  So the crown side of the stem is probably still attached to the crown - wherever that is.

The case is interesting in that the lettering inside is a little crooked.  You don't see that very often, at least in my experience.  There are several service marks inside so this watch has been overhauled a few times before the crown disappeared.  The number inside is unique to this case but means very little to anyone but the Star Watch Case Co.  Presumably there's a P420106 or a P420108 out there somewhere.  My last M69-1 had the serial number P755427.  That doesn't imply there are 350,000 M69-1's out there though.  But there are likely at least two batches of cases for this model - assuming it's not shared with another Hamilton model.

This example has a 17 jewel 678 caliber inside rather than a 688.    The 678 preceded the 688 and they look very similar.  The main difference is the balance cock design and the balance.  You can see in the photo below that this balance has weights and a fixed hairspring stud on the balance cock.  When the 688 was introduced, it features a Glucydur balance and the hairspring stud was moveable.  That was a much improved design and made adjustments a breeze.

The female-side of the two piece stem is still present.  So all I need is the male side and a replacement crown.

From the dial-side of the main plate, this movement looks identical to the 688 movement.

If you didn't already know, you can tell this movement was made by ETA and it's based on a 2391 caliber.  So if you needed a part, any 2391 would serve as a donor, whether it was Hamilton or not.

Everything is cleaned and dried.  Time for it to be reassembled with fresh lubricants.

The sparkly movement is ticking away with a good motion.  Let's see what the timer thinks of it.

Not too shabby.  The beat error of 0.9ms is well within my specs but the hair spring stud is fixed on the balance cock so it would be very challenging to reduce it.  On a 688 it would be easy to fine tune but on a 678 I'll let sleeping dogs lie.

The male side of the stem is referred to as a "hub".  If you need to find one, look on eBay for a "Tap 10 male stem hub" and you'll see lots of examples.  The trick is to trim it to the proper length.  Tap 10 is the thread size for the crown.  If the crown was tap 8, you'd need a tap 8 stem hub.  After 1952 pretty much every Hamilton crown is tap 10.

The most common question I get from people is "what crown do I need for my watch?".  That's a very difficult question to answer.  Like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography, you know it when you see it.  In the case of a crown, there are so many factors.  For example, what thread size, is it water proof, how large is the stem tube, is there a gasket, does it recess into the case, how tall should it be, etc. etc. etc.?   

For this watch, I went with what looks best and fits best.

My finished project looks fantastic with a new crystal and a genuine lizard strap.  The crown is a perfect fit.  It looks like it just left the showroom floor.  All it needs is a red clamshell box.

Friday, July 5, 2024

1956 Transcontinental A / Time Zone A

 In 1956 you could fly coast to coast in a day versus taking the train over several days.  Flying in the 1950s was a dress-up affair - at least based on the photos from the time.  You could take off in one time zone and land in another.  If you did it a lot, you'd have to remember where you were in order to know what time it was or when you're next flight took off.

Enter the 1956 Transcontinental A.  With a single watch you could set and forget the time - the dial would tell you the correct time as long as you knew where you were.  There were actually a couple of models that did this, including the 1956 Cross Country and a solid gold version of the Transcontinental called the Transcontinental B.

The Transcontinental A was produced for two years.  It's an automatic model and technically part of the K-series but I suppose you could put the A and B in their own category.

The Transcontinental A shared a case with the Automatic K-455.  So if it looks familiar, that's the most likely reason.  This style case is often referred to as a "flying saucer" for obvious reasons.  I wouldn't be surprised if other watch companies had similar case designs.

My project watch arrived in "well worn" condition or as I typically refer to "as found in a dresser drawer".  It's seen some wear and tear for sure.  If you have a keen eye you'll notice it's missing an hour marker - hopefully it's still inside the case somewhere.  The hour hand is pointing to a dot at the 9 position.  That's a little odd, which I'll get to shortly.  Typically you set the hour hand to the time zone you're in... so P is Pacific time, E is Eastern time, etc.  Maybe the hour hand is set to Hawaii time?

With the stainless steel back removed, you can see there's a 17 jewel Hamilton 661 movement inside.  This workhorse of a caliber powered most of the different K-series models - it's a bit chunky but it definitely got the job done.

The inside of this case is stamped Time Zone A.  I've seen other cases, including the K-455, stamped with Transcontinental A.  So this is interesting... I wonder if it varies by case batch?

Well, there was no loose marker in the case so it's been lost.  This is a good time to discuss how the time zone dial works.  The outer ring with the hour markers is separate from the inner dial.  The outer ring attaches to the movement with the usual dial feet.  So it's fixed in place.  The central dial is attached to the hour wheel and rotates like a giant hour hand.  The stick-shaped hour is also secured to the hour wheel - the dial and the hour hand rotate together as the hour wheel turns.

Except on this watch... someone glued the inner dial to the outer dial.  This defeats the purpose of the time zone dial... as it no longer rotates.  Just the hour hand moves so you have to tell the time conventionally.

With the hands and dial removed you can get a good look at the hour wheel.  This is a standard hour wheel.  I believe it should have a special hour wheel to attach to the dial.  Fixing this is going to require some creativity, I think.

The back of the inner dial is unremarkable, other than the glue residue from being attached to the outer ring.  There is no indication of how it was attached to the hour wheel.  I assume the original hour wheel had a hub that fit into the opening of the dial.  Perhaps it was damaged and a replacement couldn't be found. 

I forgot to take a photo of the fully disassembled movement but it's the same caliber as my last blog post on a Sputnik so check that out if you're curious.  The movement has been fully cleaned and oiled and is running nicely on the timer in the photo below.  It's definitely bright and shiny.

Well, there are no complaints with this movement - it's running right on the money.  No adjustments required.

Now to address the missing hour marker.  I have a stash of worn dials that I scavenge figures from, when required.  The figures are solid 14K or 18K, depending on the dial.

The missing figure is sort of spear shaped.  It's not a triangle, it has two long sides and two short sides.  I have a potential dial to use but I think these figures are slightly larger.

The brass washer pictured below is a No 4... and if you're familiar with hardware, 4 is pretty small but it's not small enough.  So I had to go to the local hardware store and see if I could get something even smaller.  Sure enough, I found a stainless washer that will fit on top of the hour wheel but not extend past the teeth.  This will lift the inner dial and hopefully clear the outer dial, so it will turn.  I may have to stack two washers but I'll start with one.

Success!  One washer was enough and I carefully glued the hour wheel, washer, and dial together with crystal cement.  I can be taken apart if needed but it will certainly hold enough to turn the dial.  The hour wheel protrudes enough to fit the hour hand and enough of the cannon pinion sticks out to secure the minute hand.

I ended up using an hour marker from a Nordon dial.  It's not a perfect match but it's really close and I bet you'd never notice it was different.  A new crystal makes a huge difference to watch and overall it looks fantastic compared to what I started with.  The owner of the watch lives in California so I set the hour hand to Pacific time.  Now it's easy to tell it's 10:12 in California and 1:12 in New York.  It's 6:12 in England - Greenwich mean time.

Here's a photo with better lighting - I bet you can't tell which hour marker is a replacement!