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.