Story of my 24h Hamilton Chronograph
Even though Hamilton watches are recognized by watchmaking enthusiasts, watches and collectors do not arouse extreme emotions. Every once in a while it happens differently.That was my case. When I saw this watch in March 2018, I knew I had to have it. After some light negotiations, I was able to buy it. The watch charmed me with its character – simple, utilitarian design, great dimensions, solid workmanship and the iconic Lemania movement – a classic example of a well-enforced „purpose build” approach.Those who collect watches have known for a long time that history is an equally important element of our passion. The history of a specific watch or the history of the model. I must admit that before buying I totally ignored these aspects. I have never seen or heard of a similar model before and it was a sufficient excuse to buy this watch. It doesn’t change the fact that I was still intrigued by his story.At such times, the Internet is always an irreplaceable source of knowledge, but this time it was different. Page by page – zero useful information. Only after some time I did find mention of these watches on one of the major online forums. In the end it was a dead end. I decided to write an email directly to Hamilton. After a few days of waiting and sending a few more precise photos along with the photos of the movement, I received the answer. I admit that it was a bittersweet answer. On the one hand, Hamilton was not able to provide any useful information about the history of this model on the other confirmed the originality and offered to buy the watch in order to place it as an exhibit in his museum.This answer was enough for me to know that this is not an ordinary Hamilton. Armed with a good word and enthusiasm, I started looking for more information. It was a kind of adventure. I felt a little bit like Sherlock Holmes and treasure hunter. Week after week, month after month I was looking for a point of reference. I looked at offers for similar watches to be able to contact the sellers. For almost a year of searching, I found only 3 offers that could result in obtaining valuable information. Unfortunately, none of the watches was identical. One of the watches, shared the same movement – Lemania 1877. The other two were equipped with automatic movements, one was based on Valjoux 7750, the other one has an automatic movement Lemania LWO 283 (I mention this, because this is an important detail in this story). Unfortunately, this alley also turned out to be a dead end.Based on my own experience, I put forward several hypotheses. It was time to verify them. Based on my knowledge, I knew that many manufactures produced short series strictly for the Italian market (’Seiko Italian Tuna’ or 'Omega Chronostop’ for example) I assumed it could be similar case. The next assumption was based on the history of the Hamilton brand.
The company Hamilton was founded in 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the USA – from the very beginning the focus was on quality and accuracy, as evidenced by the company’s milestones.In 1914, Hamilton became the official supplier of watches for the US Armed Forces. This in turn heralded the transition from the production of pocket watches to wristwatches. Four years later, Hamilton presented his first aviation watch that became the official watch of the first American Postmen fliers who regularly transported correspondence on the New York – Washington route.Another milestone in Hamilton’s history was in 1926, when Admiral Richard E. Byrd used a Hamilton watch during his pioneering flight over the North Pole. The flight lasted 15h and 57min. Admiral Byrd was the first aviator to reach the pole, circling him for 13 minutes before returning to his base.In 1927, the US Navy and the army made their first attempts to fly to Hawaii. Finally, on April 29, Lieutenant Lester Maitland and Alfred Hegenberger made their first nonstop flight from the coast of California. The flight to Honolulu lasted 25 hours and 50 minutes and the distance was 2407 miles. During the flight, navigation methods developed by Philip Van Horn Weems were used, in which time measurement played a key role – here again the Hamilton watch confirmed its reliability and accuracy.The 1930s marked the beginning of the development of commercial air connections between the East and West coasts of the United States. Well-known Hamilton watches were chosen by the largest American commercial airlines of the time – TWA, Eastern, United and Northwest.As a result of the outbreak of World War II, Hamilton accepted a huge order from the US Armed Forces, producing over a million watches. Due to such high demand, it was not possible to produce civilian models. In addition to wrist watches, Hamilton began supplying the American government with marine chronometers and cockpit clocks. Air clocks had an 8-day power reserve, a chronograph and the hour was read using a 24-hour dial – typical for military watches (Zulu Time). Hamilton for the production of its watches received the prestigious Army-Navy „E” Award – which was granted for outstanding achievements and the highest quality of production.In the 1960s, a consortium of Heuer-Leonidas, Breitling, Buren-Hamilton and Dubois Dépraz competed with Zenith and Seiko in the race for the title of the world’s first automatic chronograph. The consortium carried out its design work under the code name „Project 99”. The effect of this work was the Caliber 11 movement. Each of the companies decided to equip them with their best-selling portfolio watches. Hamilton decided to refresh the chronograph model from the 1960s which was produced by Heuer and used Valjoux 7730 manual movement. As a result of this marriage, the Hamilton Chrono-Matic with the legendary panda dial was created. A few years ago, the watch lived to see its reissue, which is slightly different from its original.Looking at key moments in Hamilton’s history, it is hard to notice that from the very beginning of its operation Hamilton has been producing specialized watches. Watches willingly used by the Army and aviation precursors. Looking at the design of the watch, which I own , the associations were unambiguous – I am dealing with a watch of military-aviation nature. This was another starting point or rather another hypothesis that I wanted to confirm.Taking both assumptions, I was looking for information about a military or aviation watch intended for the Italian market. Of course, these were only assumptions, but the small number of productions, the aforementioned proposal from Hamilton’s Central and the lack of information in the archives could testify to the truthfulness of my assumptions. I tried to contact people who ate teeth on this topic. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dead end once again. People either confirmed the probability of my hypotheses or simply didn’t. I was still at a standstill. I decided to take a break in the search.After a few months, I returned to the topic. Once again I contacted Hamilton Central. After almost a year, they managed to collect some information, but they were still not accurate. What pleased me was the fact that they confirmed that the watches from this line were actually only produced for the Italian market and production began in 1987.So I narrowed my search to watches produced only for the Italian market. I found some interesting information, but not necessarily in relation to the subject of the search. The name of an Italian company appeared on the radar, as it turned out later it was a bull’s-eye!
At the beginning of the ’80s, Luigi Macaluso opened the Tradema, company which was dealing exclusively on Italian market brands such as Blancpain, Breitling and Hamilton. Luigi Macaluso was an experienced manager working for Omega in the 1970s. His professional experience translated into the rapid success of Tradema. In 1986, the deteriorated Girard-Perregaux joined the Macaluso portfolio, which is important that Macaluso acquired at the same time a 20% stake in GP to become its owner in the following years. Thanks to shares in GP he had a real impact on the development of the brand and its products. Macaluso’s experience made the GP join the noble company of Haute Horology in a short time. Bu,not only GP has gained from cooperation with Mr. Macaluso – throughout his professional life, he has combined managerial skills with a passion for design. Luigi Macaluso was an architect by profession and he used his skills before, working for Omega. We can learn from interviews with Macaluso that he worked closely together for many years with Ernest Schneider, Breitling’s owner for many years, who involved the Macaluso in designing Breitling watches.After establishing these facts, I contacted the author of the text who mentioned Tradema. I wanted to find out where he had information about the fact that my watch (most likely) was created at the request of this company. I didn’t have to wait long for an answer, after only a few hours I got a reply that it was information confirmed by one of Hamilton’s employees at the time.As it turned out in later correspondence, this employee was Roland Murphy! Those who do not know this man must catch up. Ronald G. Murphy is responsible for the creation of one of the most recognizable independent manufactures – RGM Watches. Murphy began his adventure with watchmaking when he was in high school, working part-time in a clock manufacturing company. His interest in watches grew rapidly, and in the early 1980s he enrolled at Bowman Technical School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1986 he continued his training in Switzerland at WOSTEP. After graduating from WOSTEP, he was employed by SMH (current Swatch Group) to work on product development for Hamilton Watch Co. in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After a few years he was promoted to technical manager. He was also responsible for preparing the watch for Robin Williams for the film Dead Poets Society and other films, also under the name RGM Watches.There is no denying that I could not have asked for a better source of information! A real breakthrough. Roland turned out to be a very forgiving, helpful and kind man.It turned out that Mr. Macaluso maintained close relations not only with Breitling or Girard-Perregaux, he was also heavily involved in the development of the Hamilton brand on the Italian market – You probably already guess where it is going, but it is not as obvious as it may seem . Read to the end!Luigi Macaluso made annual visits to Hamilton’s headquarters in Lancaster, where he ordered watches exclusively for the Italian market. Importantly, this was not done by assembling watches from ready components. Macaluso took an active part or was entirely responsible for the design and specification of the watches. They were completely original projects. Hamilton was responsible for technical consultations and partly only for productions! As I wrote at the beginning, watches created on behalf of Tradema were basically equipped with Valjoux or Lemania movement. The former were actually produced by Hamilton in Lancaster, but the history of the latter is slightly different, Lemania was responsible for their production. Hamilton was not physically involved in their production. According to confirmed information, the entire production process was controlled by Lemania, who received an order for the production of these watches by Macaluso. All components, i.e. the case, the dial, the hands and, of course, the movment were made outside of the Hamilton factory! Of course, all this would not be possible were it not for the license granted by the Americans.In my opinion, this is a very unusual situation, very similar to that of the 60s when Heuer produced watches for Hamilton, with the difference that, as far as I know, there was no „middle man”. Of course, all sorts of intricate cooperation between manufactories were commonplace, but I have never come across a situation where the manufacturer basically gave the entire production process to outsiders. I am sure that today the situation would be impossible. I think that the economic situation of the watch market at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s was crucial for the whole matter. If not for the ongoing crisis, I think that such cooperation would not have happened.Macaluso managed to create truly unique watches that still arouse emotions! The watch itself perfectly collects everything I wrote about. The design and functionality of this watch is a kind of altar and a tribute to the history of Hamilton and his DNA. The combination of military-aviation design, a high-class movement that guarantees precision and reliability in extreme conditions mean that none of the early aviation pioneers would be ashamed of this watch.