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

WWII 8 Day A-11 Cockpit Clock

Usually the watches I work on are too small to be able to clearly photograph a restore in a way that actually shows the problems and the work rather than what appears to be some arbitrary pictures of a watch taken apart and put back together. Fortunately this 8 Day Bulova Aircraft 21AE movement was monstrous enough to be able to show the full process and the problems along the way. The picture quality is much lower than typical posts, but that is because I used my camera phone to avoid constantly having to set up light box and use the professional camera.

Before I walk through the restore, Here is a brief background on the significance of this clock:

There were three makers of these particular 8 day clocks: Elgin, Waltham, and Bulova. Far and away the rarest to find are the Bulova ones. I am not sure why this is but observation has shown that they pop up less frequently than the other two. These 12 hour clocks were used in the cockpits of B-17s and B-29s during WWII. Named the A-11 they matched the name of the accompanying wrist watches also used by pilots of the time.

Now on to this clock:

Not only had this clock been through WWII, but also perhaps worse, someone clearly unqualified to service it tried nonetheless. Now I do not consider myself an expert nor do I believe I possess any special skill in the realm of watchmaking (other than a love and respect for the craft), but opening this movement up made me realize that I am at least better than some.

Taking this piece apart it became quickly apparent that this was going to be a dirty movement as the close ups show. The oil had crusted up with some dirt to form a gear-stopping grime wherever it had been applied. Over time dirt and lint had made their way in and caked on to whatever parts they could.

To put the size of this movement in perspective, the first photo is the mainspring barrel of the 21AE (left) next to the barrel of an average wrist watch. This is truly a hybrid between a watch and a clock movement and provides a great format for walking through a restore.

21AE mainspring barrel    21AE Disassembly  21AE zoom 21AE disassembly zoom  21AE filthy escarpement

After giving this entire movement a thorough trip through the ultrasonic cleaner I began the part observation. This is where things got really messy (and annoying.)

21AE Parts Tray

The wheel train bridge (the part that reads Bulova Watch Co.) that holds the escape wheel (the odd looking little wheel in the fifth picture) and the fourth wheel (the normal looking one next to it) had been put on with so much force and with the fourth wheel so far out of alignment that not only had the fourth wheel pivot been badly damaged, but the train itself had been irreversibly damaged. The damage caused the fourth wheel to cock to the side and halt the movement. This unfortunately required the purchase of a new “harvester movement” for the wheel and the train bridge. As the 21AE hasn’t been made for years, I was incredibly lucky to find one.

21AE Main Plate 21AE reassembly 1 21AE reassembly 2 21AE reassembly 3

Finally with the new parts I was able to finish the reassembly and place the balance complete in for that magical moment when the whole thing comes to life.

After finishing up the reassembly, the movement looked much nicer and cleaner and was ready to be reinstalled:

21AE assembled

Finally, once regulated, I fit the dial and hands, and fixed it into its case and for the first time since it arrived it looked and functioned like the amazing piece of military history that it is.

21AE complete

1943 Bulova Air Warden

During the 1940s Bulova manufactured many military inspired designs for American consumers. With the backdrop of the war it was a clever marketing scheme that produced some of the more interesting models of Bulova’s vast collection.

Given the short duration of these releases, they have become coveted Bulova collector’s items. This Air Warden came to me incredibly dirty internally and with a broken mainspring. The mainspring is the power source of the watch so with out it the watch is useless. It’s kind of like a coal-fired power plant with no coal. After replacing the mainspring and cleaning, oiling and regulating, this piece is running wonderfully.

I also replaced the hands to match the watch. Because Bulova watches were designed to be easily interchangeable, it’s quite common to receive pieces with improper hand variations. I also added a strap that was true to the period and matches the ad as seen below.

Although it is way too small to be considered a men’s watch by today’s standards, I feel somewhat attached to it as a piece of Americana.