1942 Bulova One-Button Chronograph Caliber 10AH

When it comes to chronographs, I am unable to think of a single personal instance in which I have needed the function for more than one minute. Clearly the chronograph is not the most useful of complications, but that does not temper my (or the world’s) fascination with them. Until very recently the invention of the chronograph was attributed to Nicolas Rieussec. It was presented to King Louis XVIII in 1821 as a way to time how long the horse races lasted. This year credit was called into question when ancestors of Louis Moinet presented an extraordinary chronograph that is believed to be from 1816. It is definitely a piece worth looking up.

This Bulova One-Button has been on my restore wish list forever. Recently I was lucky enough to snag two of them and this was the first one I got to restore.

This incredibly rare 1942 “One-Button” is a wonderful and elegantly understated chronograph distinguished by its unusual button found on the crown. One can easily pass by this watch thinking it to be time only, but a second glance reveals both a sub-dial second hand and a sweep-second hand. The latter is a sixty-second register controlled by the chronograph gears. It includes a start/stop/reset function all engaged by pressing the button protruding from the crown. This is one of the smallest mechanical production chronographs ever made, and certainly one of the more rare Bulova pieces.

Bulova made this 10AH movement by taking a standard movement and modifying it to add the one-minute recorder. This method of fabrication is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to restoration. If something is wrong with the main works then it is very easy to find replacement parts, but if something is wrong with any of the unique chronograph parts it is near impossible to find replacements (this particular watch had a combination of both.)

I got this watch with a cloudy scratched crystal and in non-running condition. I was incredibly pleased to find that underneath the crystal the dial was in amazing original condition and had not been refinished. A great way to roughly determine a redial is to look very closely at the small numerals. Re-dialers can do amazing things, but even the best ones are often unable to perfectly replicate the fine details of the smallest numbers such as their specific shapes or alignment. This is just one reason that re-dials just never look the same. Look at the two pictures below for a great recent example. The picture on the left is the original dial and the one on the right has been redialed. You will see a world of difference, and a major reason that the refinished watch just sold for considerably less than a full original should.

Bulova 10AH original dial Bulova 10AH Redial

After disassembly I found two major problems: a horribly disfigured hairspring and broken teeth on the cannon pinion (the piece that carries the minute hand.) The first problem was easily solved by going into my parts stock and digging up a “harvester movement” with an interchangeable balance complete. The second problem required a special and discontinued part that I could only find in the UK.

With all the new parts installed, a case polishing, and a new crystal this over 70 year-old watch is back up and running beautifully. It’s always incredibly satisfying to put the balance in and see a watch come to life but it is even more exhilarating to push a button from 1942 and watch a chronograph spring into action.

Bulova 10AH Feature Bulova 10AH Crown Bulova 10AH Movement Bulova 10AH Side

WWII Hamilton Military Caliber 987A

There is a certain amount of pride I get from being able to restore timepieces like this from WWII. This Hamilton Military 987A is a prime example of the durability of a well-designed and solidly built piece.

The more watches I get to restore, the more they seem to cement my personal restoration and vintage watch beliefs. If you are a stickler for a perfect case, then this restore isn’t for you. It is banged up, scratched, and battered, but in many ways that is what is so great about it. It also speaks to the craftsmanship of the case design that this piece went through so much and yet the movement, dial, and hands were nearly untouched. This watch has been through WWII worn on the wrist of a soldier and no re-plating or re-dialing should ever cover up a history like that.

This Hamilton is an early WWII design before the military demanded a few additional complications (See A-11, A-13, etc.) and came up with their own classification system. These specified types included the sweep-second hand rather than the sub-dial, and had a “hack” function meaning that when the crown was pulled out the movement stopped, allowing for precise time coordination. Hamilton did not participate in the manufacturing of the A-11s or any other A-specified military wristwatch but that didn’t stop them from delivering over 110,000 of these to the military.

That being said, I have never come across such a great example. I got this with a crystal so scratched and cloudy that I couldn’t even see through it. After it arrived, I removed the crystal to find gems of a dial and hands. The dial is a matte black with just the slightest hint of the Hamilton name (see the last picture of the dial out of the case.) With watches of this age, it is very rare to find a matching original “lume” meaning that the patina of the hands perfectly matches that of the dial. Over time, the lume paste dries and becomes incredibly brittle and flaky. All it takes is a little knock, or a bit of misplaced force while removing the hands and the paste turns to dust; forever ruining that perfectly matched patina.

The movement is an amazing contrast to the rugged condition of the exterior. As can be seen in the pictures, this movement was finished with the care and beauty that Hamilton was known for, and it is still in unbelievable shape. The 987A movement was perfect except for one thing: the balance was broken. I don’t know if vintage Hamiltons had incredibly weak balance staffs, or if I just happen to buy a ton with broken balances, but this is the most common problem I find when restoring old Hamiltons. After the full cleaning, inspection, assembly, and oiling, I installed a new balance complete and it sprung back to life in that magical way that makes all the labor worth it. A quick regulation to make sure it kept perfect time, and this piece was almost complete.

I feel like a leather band just would not look right on this watch. No one (at least in my mind) wears a fancy leather band on the battlefield, and so I needed to find something more fitting. Luckily I was able to track down one of the canvas bands commonly used at the time. The aesthetics just go together perfectly. The beige/green hue of the band meshes wonderfully with the patina on the hands and the dial.

All together this is a magnificently well-worn piece of WWII history that I was lucky enough to be able to restore.

Hamilton Military Feature Hamilton Military Side Hamilton Military Flat Hamilton Military Back Cover Hamilton Military Movement 2 Hamilton Military Movement Hamilton Military Dial