Hands-On: A Totally Unique And Transparent Vintage Pocket Watch From Hamilton

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Hamilton's film What Makes a Fine Watch Fine opens with a shot of a transparent watch, its gear train seemingly floating in air. Today we are used to seeing brands advertise their new watches with computer rendered animations that show the mechanics of a watch movement in amazing clarity. The absolutely crazy thing about that film, and the watch that it shows, is that it was shot in 1947.

The watch is a unique version of Hamilton's model 992, with plates and bridges made from lucite. It comes from the collection of René Rondeau, a watchmaker, dealer and historian specializing in Hamilton watches. Seeing this watch in person is insane. Mr. Rondeau wrote an article about the watch in the May 2007 Horological Times, and the title really sums it up: The Ultimate Skeleton Watch. The watch was acquired from John Gelson, president of Hamilton in the 1980's. (John Gelson was in fact Hamilton's last president.)

While the watch itself is clear (pun intended), its history is not. There are no official records of when it was made or first sold. In the 1930s the Hamilton Watch Company began experimenting with the use of lucite in their retail displays. The earliest known mentions of the watch are from 1946 and 1947; Hamilton’s company magazine published two articles that referenced it being used for displays at trade shows. As mentioned earlier, the watch was featured in the 1947 film What Makes a Fine Watch Fine and was also shown in the 1949 film How a Watch Works.

While the watch is mostly identical to the model 992E, the winding and setting works have been reinforced with steel plates to act as bearing surfaces. In a normal movement, the winding and setting works rotate and move directly on the surface of the mainplate. If reinforcement wasn’t added, the watch would have had issues early on in its life.

I’m going to be totally honest with you, I really didn’t want to write this article! You may be familiar with the HODINKEE effect by now; watch auctions that are featured on the site often see a huge increase in traffic and prices. I would love to own this watch, but I know that the bidding may be intense after this article is published.

The Hamilton lucite pocket watch represents an important point in time for American watchmaking history. It will be open for bids on October 29, 2015 at Heritage Auctions. I am looking forward to seeing how it does!