Chronometry: Hamilton model 21 condition


Registered User
Mar 8, 2007
I have a Hamilton model 21 that when you open the outer box you swear you can smell the salt air consequently the condition of the box and brass is rough, I know that with a lot of antiques you want to leave the original patina but all the 21s I see on "that" auction site have all been polished and refinished should I consider leaving the condition as is or should I refinish the box and polish the brass?


Registered User
NAWCC Member
Dec 16, 2008
Ahhh, Butttercreek, that is one of the oldest unresoolved questions for collectors ;)

The first important question for you to answer is - what are you trying to achieve? Are you planning to sell it? Are you a chronometer collector, or a pocket watch collector, or a collector of historical pieces, a marine collector, or not a collector at all? Do you want to display your chronometer?

This is always an interesting and controversial discussion point. Be warned that opinion varies widely in the collecting community, and your decision will be largely determined by your own inclination. And it will be helpful to the discussion if you can post some nice clear photos!


Registered User
NAWCC Member
Feb 5, 2007
In the 80s, many European buyers insisted that instrumnets ,ook "as they left the maker's hands". Whatever that means, but I did accomodate them. Most are now sorry they went down that road. Today the most I do when restoring the instrument is to refinish the screws which is not really an aesthetic thing as much as it is a rust preventive. Same with polishing steel. I do not get invlved with box work.

No matter how scarred the box, I now sell instruments in the boxes as found. Including the brass work. And it takes a lot to get me to recommmend refinishing the dial. And I never refinish M21 dials because AFAIK, no one has been able to dupplicate that particular finish and you can spot a refinished M21 dial a mile away.

The reason for not refinishing boxes is because reproduction boxes are ubiquitous, There are tells on Gary's M21/M22 boxes, but they are very subtle. As for reproduction older boxes, the inlay even with scrollwork is terrific. So the only way for most collectors to be certain boxes are original is that they do not look new.

Over the years, Ball and Ball and other manufaturers have made good chest lift handles and and even stop hinges. But English gimbals hardware has not been reproduced that I know of. Keys are now available at very low cost.

If you decide to have the brass redone on your M21 (sounds full of verdigris and corrosion pits), do not allow it to be bright polished. It should be left with a fine machine finish.
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