Saturday, 11 August 2018

The Advent of the Electric Watch

Aren't watches all made the same? Electric, mechanical what is it all about?

I have typically collected traditional mechanical watches (the ones you wind up) with the exception of some Bulova Accutron watches I recently purchased. I blogged about the Bulova Accutron's in "Another Diversion".  Now among my collection is yet another "type" of watch, the Hamilton Electric.

catalog picture courtesy of

Mechanical watches, their source of power coming from a spring that you wind up manually by turning on a crown (or an "automatic" where a pendulum swings with the movement of your arm to wind the spring) versus watches that use a battery as their source of power like the Bulova Accutrons I blogged about last or my latest, an electric - a 1964 Hamilton Gemini II. (An aside, quartz watches also use a battery for their source of power but I won't be referencing them). 

The advent of the electric watch was part innovation, part marketing and part desire to use the emerging battery technology to power a watch and eliminate the need to have to wind it. Seems hot on the heels of Hamilton introducing the electric watch (among other makers), Bulova soon introduced the Accutron tuning fork to the world of watch movements.
1964 Hamilton Gemini II

The Hamilton Gemini I just received is rather unique with its offset crown. Add the unique case shape and the electric movement, and this is a cool watch.

The offset crown with the Hamilton logo

The electric watches now in my collection use electrical contacts like the Hamilton or a transistor like the Bulova Accutron. What is common with a mechanical watch and a Hamilton Electric is that they both use a balance wheel to regulate the movement and the Bulova Accutron uses a tuning fork (well, sort of). You could perhaps say that the Hamilton Electric is a hybrid of the traditional mechanical movement. I've taken a few shots of the three movement variants below so you can start to see the differences (and similarities).

Hamilton Electric 505 Movement for the Gemini II
I'm hopeful the battery corrosion seen in the 505 above does not pose a major problem on refurbishing this watch movement. The previous owner not only had the incorrect battery type it it, but obviously had left it in the watch for a while. I guess understandably as you need to remove the movement from the watch case through the crystal opening; for the novice, not as easy as it sounds.

Bulova Accutron 2181 Movement

Bulova Mechanical Movement (I know, it needs a cleaning)

So, a start of a well-rounded assortment of movement types. The quartz movement is yet another beast and admittedly I own a few but they are not centre to my watch collection.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Another Diversion

I blogged about adding a new mechanical watch maker in my blog "Welcome to the Family" and blogged about being distracted by pocket watches in "Squirrel". Well, I've done it again as I've been distracted with Bulova's electronic watch the "Accutron".

An electronic watch? A new technology introduced by Bulova around 1960 that utilized a 360-herz tuning fork, powered by a one-transistor electronic oscillator, to drive the timekeeping functions rather than a traditional balance wheel. This watch doesn't tick, it hums!

This is the watch that went to the moon and even appeared on the television show Mad Men (season 7, episode 1). They even marketed this as "not" being a watch. This was a revolutionary watch that even predated quartz movements.

So, back to why this is a diversion, well, I purchased my first Accutron and loved the look, the movement, how the second hand advances so I bought another and another. Not quite a collection, but a diversion from my focus of mechanical watches.

Two of my "new" Bulova Accutrons

You can see in the picture of my two Accutrons above that the tuning fork symbol appears on both dials and the seconds hand on the watch to the right. This symbol became a major part of Bulova's marketing. Interestingly, the tuning fork appears on some 60s mechanical watches and it survives today with Bulova's modern watches. Perhaps its use today is an ode to the 1960s and Bulova's history. Or, maybe it's just a cool symbol.

Tuning fork symbol on the watch crowns
The electronics are very different from the mechanical watches I collect and require a different set of spare parts (not to mention batteries). These watches I suspect will go to someone else to service as I am not prepared (yet) to add more parts and donor movements to my collection at this time. As for being battery operated, I no longer have to wind my watch.

Accutron 2181 Movement

Apologies that the tuning fork is not visible in the photo above. It is hidden below the gold plate you see. While I could have taken the plate off, I'm not about to tinker with these watches right now especially without any spare parts should I inadvertently go oops. The diagram below from the service manual shows the tuning fork though.

Not a bad diversion from my focus of collecting and I will likely find another Accutron in my collection one day. Perhaps a 1960s "Spaceview" or a re-issue Spaceview like the one Bulova released in 2010 on the 50th anniversary of the original.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The "Art" of Collecting

When my first retro/vintage watch arrived (a Hamilton Putnam, a gift from my wife) it opened up a new adventure of discovery, admiration, dreaming, tinkering and collecting. My first few years of watch discovery had no rhyme or reason. As a matter of fact, after that first watch it became an insatiable pursuit to find new watches of all shapes and sizes.

My 1933 Hamilton "Putnam"

Seems I found and bought just about anything those first few years. Different vintages, styles, price points; they were all of course, mechanical watches. I suppose in the early years most of my collecting was playing to an emotional satisfaction. Does that mean my watch collecting satisfies some other reasons now? Aesthetic? Intellectual? Preservation? Social? Not sure what my physiological motivation is but likely many.

A box of just about everything

Jump forward a couple years, my experience with a watchmaker friend and honing my "tinkering" skills to today, my obsession for retro/vintage watches has not subsided but what I search for has. I think its only natural progress over time to fine-tune what it is in these watches I see and am looking for. I've read a lot, participated in various online forums, and am paying attention to the experts.

A certain era, a certain style, a certain case type, and a certain maker.  You can find a whole lot of combinations of those. That being said, my current interest includes the 1920s and 30s, deco, two-tone cases and Illinois watches.

1929 Illinois "Townsman" in two-tone

The Illinois watch above, the Townsman, hits both my refined criteria - the era and great deco engraved (or "chased") styling of the case.

As I started looking at my growing collection of watches for a subject to blog about, I noticed an increasing number of 1920s and 1930s watches and a many with two-toned cases. Take for instance the Townsman above, it has a white gold bezel and back and sandwiched between is a yellow gold centre. The examples below also incorporate two tones of gold in their cases. The Apollo, Gladiator and Sky King below all have a white gold case with a yellow gold strip on the front bezel.  Like the Townsman, the Elgin Model E-12 below has a yellow gold centre sandwiched between a white gold back and a white gold bezel.

1929 Bulova "Apollo" in two-tone
1930 Bulova "Gladiator" in two-tone

While there are a number of materials watch cases are made of (solid gold, gold fill, stainless, base metals of all types, etc.) most of my collection consists of gold filled. Given my preferred era of collecting (and although stainless steel cases were around in the 1930s but did not become common place for many years after) its no wonder I have more gold filled watches than any other metal.

1930 Elgin Model E-12 in two-tone
1931 Bulova "Sky King" in two-tone

While my tastes have been refined over the last few years, one thing remains the same - I'm still obsessed with mechanical watches.

BTW, if you like what you read or see in my photography, post a comment. Is there something you'd like to see in my blog, let me know as well.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Rotary Seconds Dial

The rotary seconds dial, the wondering second, the secometer, modern seconds indicator and the jump second are just a few of the names associated with a unique seconds display used in wrist and pocket watches. 

My 1930 Illinois Guardsman with the rotary seconds dial
This is a first for me as I picked up an Illinois "Guardsman" that features a rotary disc that displays the seconds where traditionally you would see a hand; either a sweep seconds hand or a seconds hand positioned at the 6 (or 9 like a number of my other Illinois watches).

Close up of rotory dial on my Guardsman
If you look closely above you can see a dark spot on the "6". That is the pivot from the middle of the seconds disc and it protrudes through the dial. Below you can see the centre of the disc and the raised pivot that goes through the 6 of the dial.

Close up of the Guardsman seconds disc on the watch movment

1930 ad showing the Guardsman bottom middle with its "seconds indicator"

Illinois, Waltham, Bulova, Hamilton and other makers have incorporated this novel way of displaying the seconds. Some with better success than others. I equate the success with the ease with which you can read the seconds. For my Guardsman above, you can easilty read it. On the other hand Waltham's rotorary second on its wristwatch models featuring it were pretty small to see but their pocket watches below were quite readable.

Walthams "Modern Seconds Indicator" pocket watch version ad

Hamilton's 1930 secometer for their pocket watches

The seconds disc did not seem to find a permanent home in watch manufacturing and seems to have disappeared in the pocket and wrist watch in the 30's. I may have found another watch niche for me to collect!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen (well, just ladies)

My wife has a growing collection of incredible retro/vintage ladies watches so I thought I might share some of them with you.

A 1930 Illinois Roslyn in the foreground
There doesn't seem to be as large a group of collectors for ladies watches out there so I find that ladies watches tend to sell much cheaper than mens. Mind you, my wife and I collect retro/vintage watches that are highly accessible (price wise) and we buy our watches to wear, not collect.

What can stretch your pocket book is the cost to have something serviced, especially if it requires hard to come by parts. My wife and I are fortunate that I can generally take apart, clean, oil, adjust and put a watch back together. But I digress.

1928 Bulova Miss America

I've blogged about the 1928 Bulova Miss America above previously; it still remains one of the nicest in my wifes collection given the beautiful original enamal on the bezel.  The Illinois Roslyn in the group above is a close second and is likely a bit rarer than the Bulova.

1930 Gruen

The Gruen above is the latest for my wife, a 2017 Christmas gift. I splurged a bit more than usual as the watch was serviced and ready to wear.  You need to be careful when a watch you buy (especially online) is claimed to have been "serviced" unless you know the source you are buying from.  I have generally been buying from reputable sellers when I am not looking for a project watch.

Speaking of reputable, the Hamilton above has an incorrect dial (the face); the result of me sending the original dial away to be refinished. Most might not know but the font used for "Hamilton" is incorrect for the period of the watch. You live and learn and despite the incorrect refinish, it still is a great looking watch.

The Bulova and Waltham above round out some of the watches in my wife's collection. I have to many ladies project watches that I care to admit, so my wife's collection will continue to grow as I work on them.