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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!

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