Hamilton: The First 15 years

Discussion in 'American Pocket Watches' started by DeweyC, Dec 4, 2019.

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  1. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Below is the basis of something I am writing for my own amusement. It is a summary of what I think I know about Hamilton and is based on the systematic observations of some 50 watches covering all grades produced from 1896 to 1912.

    The observations across the watches are strikingly similar suggesting they represent a picture of Hamilton products of the period.

    I have not included any photos and I have made no comparison study of other makers. I am only focused/concerned with Hamilton. Hamilton haters can write their own "article" :).

    At any rate, I hope this helps remove some of the confusion across Hamilton 16s grades and maybe offers useful insights into Hamilton as a company.

    Read with a glass of wine.

    *******************************************************************************

    Early 16 s Hamilton (1895 to 1911)



    I have made a study of the physical characteristics of Hamilton 16s watches from 1895 to 1911 (and beyond). This is the period where Hamilton was “finding its way” and established itself as the dominant force in railroad grade watches.



    From the very beginning, it is clear from detailed examination and restorations that Hamilton adopted the newest technology and even pioneered some precision manufacturing practices. Hamilton experimented with two different 16s movements: the bridge (960 series which was short lived) and the now familiar ¾ plate design.



    It is unclear why the bridge design was abandoned but it was used later in the 950, 952, and the 994. This may have been done to use up stock.



    The ubiquitous 992 is an example of the ¾ plate design.



    From 1896 onward, the ¾ plate movements were based on the lowly 974. Excluding the 4974B, 992B, 950B as true derivatives of their "namesakes", the 974 is the longest lived movement in the Hamilton catalog.



    If a jewel was subtracted, it became a 976. Using gold balance screws and adding the time required for the adjustment to position (approx 3 months) it became the 972. Make it 21 jewels and a double roller escapement and it became the 970. In 1912, add the time required to adjust the 974 and it became the 978. Put the 974 in a factory case it became the 956. Put the 972 in a factory case and it became the 954.



    One of the most notable aspects of Hamilton’s manufacturing process and innovation, was the absolute conservation of effort when it came to fitting out these movements. With the exception of the escape wheel (brass in 974 and 976; steel in all others), and things like gold wheels, virtually any part made for the 974 could wind up in any of the models.



    This includes balance staff, balance wheel, screws, unset jewels, motion work, setting parts, mainspring and winding, pinions and wheels. This means that only one library of tooling was needed. That is an economy that most companies did not enjoy.



    It also eased the whole distribution and after market service network. Where it was often required to order parts by serial number for other makers, the part could simply be ordered or pulled by part number. There was some variation by model (pivot and hole jewel size) which limits this generalization. But this was by design and not tolerance drift.



    This was a result of Hamilton’s commitment to ensuring tolerances were controlled to a very high degree. This required monitoring of tooling and quality assurance methods that were ahead of their time.



    I have used jewels from a 1912 974 to replace cracked jewels in a 1902 972. This includes lower third, fourth and center wheel jewels in various situations. An upper hole jewel can be replaced with another and result in perfect end shake. This is true with other set jewels I have replaced.



    That means the Hamilton controlled tolerances not only across runs, but across years!

    All of this means that Hamilton could price its watches based on perceived value, not actual manufacturing effort.



    The time to produce the parts and assemble the watch were no different among a 972 and a 974. Throughout their life cycles, the had the same escapement. (There were two, the poised single roller and the later simple lever).



    The only functional difference was that in the early years, the 974 used a brass escape wheel and the 972 received a steel escape wheel with oil retention groove. The 972 also received a heavier balance using gold screws and stiffer balance spring to facilitate timing to position.



    The 976 was a 974 missing the lower center wheel jewel.



    The 1918 catalog shows the 978 (adjusted to 3 positions) costing $2 more than the 974 ($17) (unadjusted). The 972 cost $24 (or 20% more than the 978) and the 970 costs $34 (142% the cost of the 972). Both the 972 and 970 required the same amount of time in the adjustment department. The adjustment to both the 972 and 970 is the same.



    So, the time used to go from unadjusted (974) to 3 adjustments (978) is represented by $2. In my experience, once the first three adjustments are completed, the remaining two are found in short order.



    To go from the 978 to the 972 (3 to 5 adjustments) resulted in a 26% premium when the added costs of gold balance screws and settings was minor (low carat and fixed gold price). To go from a 972 to 970 resulted in a 42% premium when both watches used the same balance and overall finish. The 970 added a double roller escapement with two extra cap jewels.



    Catalog prices of parts do not explain these difference either.



    What this means is that Hamilton could price their watches at very favorable profits.



    The other thing Hamilton did was to avoid the prestige market. The 950 is their highest grade, but it was adjusted no differently than the other 5 position watches. It does have extra finishing details like the beveled regulator assembly.



    This meant that Hamilton finishers (timing dept) needed to be trained in finishing only a few levels of adjusting. This greatly simplified the procedures allowing Hamilton to focus on consistently tight timing (6 seconds a day across 5 positions) without the need to create a masterpiece.



    To Hamilton, a watch was a scientific instrument intended to accurately measure intervals of time. It was a working instrument. Their entire process was focused on that.



    In the early years, Hamilton not only experimented with bridge and ¾ plate designs (concurrently) they also used designs of components some of which are today seen as modern.

    Specifically, up until about 1910, all the steel escape wheels had oil retention grooves at the teeth to keep the oil from migrating. This was abandoned with the introduction of the 952/954 but today it is considered a requirement on very high beat (36,000 BPH) wrist watches.



    Another component design was that all pallet jewels were radiused along the vertical plane (from 976 to 990 and 992). This was abandoned with the new escapement design introduced with the 952/954. I have been unable to find any information on the benefits of radiused pallet jewels.



    Another feature of the early watches shows commitment to timing excellence and parsimonious use of tooling and parts inventory. Up until the escapement redesign, all watches used a poised lever assembly for the pallet fork. This was composed of a counterweight (mustache) to counterbalance the weight of the fork and its jewels.



    This was abandoned upon the realization that inertia is far more important in the action of the escapement. The increased mass of the mustache resulted in increased inertia of the pallet assembly and required more power and more time to respond.



    The assembly of this shows Hamilton’s simplification of the manufacturing process. The poised pallet assembly was composed of 6 parts. The 2 pallet jewels, the pallet frame, the counter poise w/ impulse slot, the dart and the staff. The jewels could pink or white sapphire (white to 972 and above), a single design of pallet frame, a single design of counter weight and two designs of safety dart (single roller and double roller). Either dart could be fitted to the impulse slot end of the counter weight. There were two designs of pallet staff Single roller/17 jewel and Double roller/21 Jewel.



    The six component parts could be combined very quickly to make a double roller or single roller escapement poised pallet assembly.



    In 1911 Hamilton redesigned the escapement to the familiar escapement today with the simple pallet assembly.



    These observations reveal Hamilton’s well thought out and deliberate approach to manufacturing, inventory management and distribution. Parts ordering was simplified. In a pinch, a watchmaker could substitute parts form another grade to enable the watch to function until the proper part arrived. Hamilton’s tooling, assembly and finishing departments essentially had only 16 size watch to be concerned with.



    It is interesting to note, that other than a brief interlude with the 976, Hamilton eschewed the low end of the market. It seems they wanted to project the image of consistent accuracy. No 7/11 jeweled 16 size movements.



    Hamilton could focus on consistent product quality while pricing watches at favorable profits.



    It is my opinion that these are significant factors that explain why Hamilton, in 15 very short years, became the juggernaut of precision watches.
     
  2. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Thank you for your comments (not surprisingly sent via email). I have added some new content in response to those comments and will add pictures when I get to it.

    There is about a continuous page of new content which is underlined for your convenience.

    And to be clear, I am talking about the first 15 years of full production. I do know Hamilton was incorporated several years before but I should have been more clear.


    Since this is turning into something, I have converted it to a PDF which is found at the below link. Enjoy.

    https://www.historictimekeepers.com/documents/early hamilton.pdf
     
  3. Robert Sweet

    Robert Sweet Registered User

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    Dewey,

    I've attached an excerpt from page 10, (Halligan's 16 & 18 size movements) that shows a different temperature spec. for 950 when compared with the 992. It also shows a 10 sec. spec. over all - 5 positions. These specification are for an uncase movement. Are your listed specifications, i.e. 6 sec. over all - 5 positions for a cased movement? Just curious of the difference.

    With respect,
    Robert

    Timing from page 10 of 16 and 18 size movements.jpg
     
  4. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Robert,

    Thank you.

    I was just about to make a change when I realized I originally read this note differently.

    I read (red) the note as referring to final regulation since they are "bulleted" under that sentence.

    However, it does make sense that there were in fact 3 timing standards. 972 10 seconds across 5 positions; 992 6 seconds across 5positions, 950 3 seconds across positions.

    That last is a stunning achievement.

    Would you agree this is a valid interpretation?

    This simple 11 line note shows that even Halligan's notes can be ambiguous.

    If we agree to the three levels of final timing, I will make the change.
     
  5. Robert Sweet

    Robert Sweet Registered User

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    Dewey,

    Thanks for your reply. I considered there might be different specs. for a cased watch. Would you care to share the location of the timing specs. that you have listed? I have the timing specs. for the new 992B and 950B, but not the older 972, pre-992 Elinvar, and pre-950 Elinvar.

    Robert
     
  6. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Robert,

    I have what you posted earlier. It is just I read (red) it differently until this AM. Given the structure of the note, I interpreted the bottom part to refer what it followed, regulation (moving the regulator). But now I see it can be interpreted to mean there are three standards for 5 position watches: 10 seconds (972, 996), 6 seconds (992) and 3 seconds (950). I can certainly make a case for that now.

    If you agree this is valid, I will make the change.

    The only other things related to timing I have are correspondence with Ball (which breaks down costs of each step in manufacture) and the 992B standard.

    The ambiguity to which I referred was that even Halligan's seemingly simple note could be open to interpretation. I interpreted the other way for over a year until you suggested otherwise.
     
  7. Robert Sweet

    Robert Sweet Registered User

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    Dewey,

    I have looked over the attachment again (which, I agree is not absolutely clear), but my interpretation is that the first two lines relate only to positional timing, i.e. (Line 1) six seconds maximum variation between dial up and dial down ( Line 2) Ten second maximum variation between the five positions, i.e. dial up, dial down, 12 up, 3 up, 9 up.

    The last three lines (Line 3, 4, 5) relate only to daily temperature variation limits, i.e. (Three to six seconds daily variation), three seconds for the 950 and six seconds for the 992.

    I could be wrong with my interpretations, so please feel free to make what ever changes you see fit.

    Robert
     
  8. johnbscott

    johnbscott Registered User
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    My “translation” of the referenced Hamilton words is as follows.

    Positional Adjustments

    Maximum rate difference between DU and DD is 6 seconds per day. Maximum rate difference between one position and another amongst all five positions (DU, DD, PU, PR, PL) is 10 seconds per day.

    Regulation
    Movement regulated to a daily gaining rate of 3 to 6 seconds DU.

    Temperature Adjustments
    Rate variation caused by temperature variation not to exceed three seconds per day for #950 and 6 seconds per day for #992.

    I could also be wrong.
     
  9. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    #9 DeweyC, Dec 9, 2019 at 7:51 AM
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2019 at 8:09 AM
    Robert and John,

    OMG!!! And I agree that may well be the correct reading given the syntax and structure!

    Such performance compares to the best deck watches and even marine chronometers which were produced on a one-off basis. As you know, the balance masses are used to adjust both temperature and position.

    Such a result on a production basis is almost inconceivable to me.

    Ok. That is how I read it now even though I am shocked at those standards on a production basis. But I only know what I personally know and apparently Hamilton met those standards.

    We need to find the Timing Department procedures to see how Hamilton achieved this stunning feat!

    After I let this sink in I will incorporate this (and include Robert's document) into the text. It kind of changes the emphasis.
     
  10. Robert Sweet

    Robert Sweet Registered User

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    John, Dewey,

    John,

    After comparing your comments with the specifications of the 992B (attached), you may very well be correct with your interpretation of line 3 or Regulation, as you have noted. It appears the (rate) of 3 to 6 seconds daily variations would depend upon which grade movement is being tested, i.e. 992, 950, etc.

    I have highlighted the area of the 992B specifications that is being commented on. The 992B's rate was tested for five days in the pendant up position. The numbers of days of the subject movements, i.e. 992, 950, etc. are not mentioned.

    Robert

    Hamilton#992B-Timing-Specifications - Highlighted.jpg
     
  11. Jim Haney

    Jim Haney Registered User
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    It seems like we are drifting off subject by many years, if the thread is about the Title.

    Another set of movements you may want to include are Hayden W. Wheeler.

    He was sort of unique, in that, he was the only Agent/ Dealer/ Wholesalers that Hamilton gave his own grade status and unique damaskeen pattern. They did give unique DMK patterns to several of their largest agents but never named a Grade after them.

    They also experimented with a Thin Bridge Model, but I believe only made about 10 of them, The point being that Hamilton was always seeking improved design and by doing that reducing costs that increased profits and made more accurate and efficient timekeepers.

    DSCN0493.JPG DSCN0491.JPG DSCN0492.JPG
     
  12. Rhett Lucke

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    Dewey,

    A few comments after reading through your document:

    Paragraph 3: You have incorrectly listed the 954 as a bridge movement. You also state that the bridge model design may have been used on the 950, 952, (954) and 994 to "use up stock". I have my doubts on this, given that the bridge design continued to be used for the redesigned 950B. Hamilton, in fact, did consider using the 3/4 plate design on the 950B - but elected to stay with the bridge design.

    Paragraph 5: You refer to the "lowly 974". A minor comment, but in my opinion, the 974 was a worst a mid-grade watch when compared to some of the offering from other large manufacturers. You also refer to the "4974B", which I believe you meant to be the 2974B.

    Paragraph 25: I understand the point you are trying to make, but have you documented and significant differences in how Hamilton administered warranty versus its competitors.

    Paragraph 26: I don't believe Hamilton had any direct involvement in the Non-Retailing Company, which from what I have previously seen was an independent distributor of watches, chains and eye glasses.

    Paragraph 27: You make reference to Hamilton's 30th anniversary in regards to the cased 993 movements. To me, this suggests a link between the anniversary and these cased watches. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no documentation to support any link between the two. Without any documentation to support - I have my doubts.
     
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  13. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Thank you Rhett!
     
  14. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Jim,

    Thank you. Never knew of the thin model. Was it 16s?

    Also, I purposely excluded the Ball and Wheeler; but maybe given how this is evolving I should include a section on Private Labels.

    It is terrible the way things take on a life of their own. But everyone is making this an interesting and hopefully useful exercise.
     
  15. musicguy

    musicguy Moderator
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    When complete I will put a link to this thread here(and any other important ones people want me to add)
    Hamilton Watch Co. threads



    Rob
     
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  16. johnbscott

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    The 992B data pointed to by Robert Sweet clarifies that regulation (for the 992B, at least) should be in the PU position. I assumed DU and I now think I might have been mistaken in that respect. Let's go with PU for regulation.
     
  17. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Thank you all. That it takes this much effort to interpret 11 lines of text is a demonstration that it takes more than a casual reading of these documents to understand what is being conveyed.
     
  18. terry hall

    terry hall Registered User
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    know these are later, but do believe they are mentioned somewhat...and are scans of factory documentation, believe credited on each example

    . 950b1943_Nov_950B_Spec.jpg 992BProductSpecification.jpg
     
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  19. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Terry,

    Thank you. Those rates are terrible. Exigencies of war I hope! I think it does help interpret the earlier specs.

    This is getting to be very fascinating.

    I will credit everyone who has contributed and where. If appropriate, the final article can be loaded on a MB archive. I am suspending revisions for a little while not theleast of which is to see what else falls out of the sky. I will also be inserting pics.

    I definitely want to expand the specs section and include a section on the private labels.
     
  20. terry hall

    terry hall Registered User
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    Dewey,
    If i recall, there are some images of the timing department in some of the early Hamilton advertising films "what makes a fine watch fine' and maybe another...
    the image shows rows and rows of watches on a multi-tiered shelf.
    I don't think i can capture a still image from the film (don't know about some video software... the image though shows hundreds of watches in an image.
    the images though may not reveal the procedures you need.
     
  21. musicguy

    musicguy Moderator
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    Hamilton's What Makes a Fine Watch Fine Internet Archive

    If you pause the video and press the key "Prt Scr" on your keyboard
    you can use Windows Paint to save/edit the screenshot(then you can also crop the photo in Windows Paint).


    Rob
     
  22. terry hall

    terry hall Registered User
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    Thanks... that would have been my first attempt....
     
  23. Robert Sweet

    Robert Sweet Registered User

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    Print Screen examples from "What Makes a Fine Watch Fine "

    Robert

    Fine Watch.jpg
     
  24. Robert Sweet

    Robert Sweet Registered User

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    Hamilton produced an excellent film in 1949 called "How a Watch Works". This film shows all the major parts and how each are used in making a fine watch. As far as adjustments are concerned, this film only shows how a balance wheel is tested for poise . For those that haven't watched this film before, it is really helpful as to how each part is used in making a watch work.

    Robert

    How a watch works (1949) | Hamilton Watch - YouTube



     
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