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Hamilton 992B
Railroad Pocket Watch (1940-1968)
© 2014 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

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Hamilton 992B

Hamilton 992B with Montgomery Dial in a Wadsworth bar-over-crown (BOC) 10k gold-filled case (21 jewels, factory adjusted for 6 positions, lever set, 16 size, 3.410 oz./96.7g, about $200 used). enlarge. I'd get it at this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay).

This free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere. I'm not NPR; I get no government hand-outs and run no pledge drives to support my research, so please always use any of these links for the best prices and service whenever you get anything. Thanks for helping me help you! Ken.

February 2014    watch & clock reviews    all reviews

Hamilton 992B

Hamilton 992B movement. enlarge.

 

Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

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The Hamilton 992B Railway Special is a high-quality railroad pocket watch. It has 21 jewels, 16 size, is factory adjusted to keep accurate time in all 6 positions and is lever-set. it is among the highest quality consumer items ever made in the USA.

The 992B is all about accuracy. How accurate is it? The sample seen here has gained only 1.4 seconds from when I set it to standard time on 03 November 2013 to when I'm writing this three months later on 05 February 2014. It's varied a little over the months, but has never been more than ±15 seconds different from WWV.

Its regulator is adjusted not with a simple "F - S" lever, but with a zero-backlash (spring loaded) micrometer screw that adjusts the regulator far more precisely.

None of my quartz watches run within a second per month; this is more accurate than my Casio Atomic watch, if neither is reset and has to free-run for a month. (My Casio free-runs 1/3 of a second per day fast (+10 seconds per month) if it doesn't reset itself each night.)

I run my 992B in ideal conditions, usually sitting on my desk all day and left in a different position at night depending on if it's a little fast or slow, but any 992B in proper operating condition should run within a few seconds per day.

"Railway Special" was registered as a trademark on 24 December 1939. At introduction in late 1940, it was advertised boldly as "America's finest and most accurate railroad watch." It was also the last railroad watch, made and certified after others went out of production in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The Hamilton 992 and 992B may be the most popular railroad watches ever made.

The 992B is the movement. Hamilton sold the same movement with your choice of many different cases and many different hands and faces. The original 992 (1902-1931) was often sold uncased and you then purchased a case at the same time from your jeweler, while the 992B seen here was usually sold as a complete cased watch.

The 992B (1940-1968) had different internal engraving as the years rolled on. The earlier versions had flowery script, while the very recent version shown here has much plainer lettering.

 

 

History

1800s

As railroads became more popular, trains started crashing into one another as the tracks got too crowded. If one train was running early and another was running late, instead of passing each other in the opposite directions as intended, they might be on the same track at the same time running in opposite directions. Whoops!

Men realized that accurate timing was critical to keep trains in the right place at the right time. An inaccurate watch could put one train in the same place in the other direction as another train.

Each railroad adopted different standards, but generally they required watches that kept time to within 30 seconds per week. Each railroad had a "Watch Inspector" or inspectors who were in charge of setting and maintaining the fleet of watches carried by the men. Typically the men brought their watches to the watch inspector every other week to be checked, and set if necessary. The man would receive a "watch card," or a certificate that his watch was inspected on a certain day, and would need to produce a current certificate if challenged by a manager.

The watch inspector kept his reference time with a pendulum clock in his office. From about the 1950s, the pendulum clock was set to WWV.

 

1900-1928 (Hamilton 940)

Hamilton's first railroad watch was the model 940, with 21 jewels in 18 size.

They made about 200,000 of these.

 

1903-1931 (the original Hamilton 992)

The original Hamilton 992 was their most popular pocket watch. Most are 16 size (made until 1931), and other sizes were made until 1957.

The 992 is lever-set and has 21 jewels, a double roller escapement and is adjusted to five positions.

Hamilton made over a million of these!

 

1931-1940 (the Hamilton 992E)

The 992E is a 992 with an Elinvar hairspring.

Elinvar was invented by the same Frenchman in the late 1800s who also invented Invar.

Invar doesn't expand as heated and is used as a standard of length. Elinvar, a different alloy as used in the 992E, doesn't change its springiness as heated. Keeping the same springiness lets the 992E keep the same time regardless of temperature.

Elinvar and Invar are so important to science that they won their inventor the 1920 Nobel Prize.

 

1940-1968 (this Hamilton 992B)

The 992B reviewed here is a completely new watch. Design and research was started in 1931, the first was built on 27 June 1940, and the first 992Bs shipped to dealers on 05 November 1940.

It was made until no one wanted to buy them anymore in the late 1960s. Regular men's wristwatches became as accurate as pocket watches, so there was no more need to fiddle with a larger pocket watch.

Hamilton made about 525,000 of the 992B.

 

Specifications         top

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Construction

21 friction-set ruby and sapphire jewels. All upper jewel settings are gold.

The center wheel is round arm gold, and the third and fourth wheels are round arm gilt.

The escape wheel is steel.

Factory adjusted to keep accurate time in all 6 positions.

992B has the new Elinvar Extra hairspring. It is white; the older regular Elinvar hairsprings were blue.

Lever set.

 

Accuracy

Static

Factory specifications permitted variations of no more than -0, +5 seconds per 24 hours with the crown up at room temperature, as tested over 5 days before putting in a case.

 

Positional

Additionally, the movements needed to vary by not more than these amounts when stored in these positions:

Additional variation
per 24 hrs.
Dial Up
Dial down
12 up
3 up
9 up
6 up
± 6 seconds
X
X
       
± 10 seconds
X
X
X
     
± 15 seconds
X
X
X
X
X
 
± 20 seconds
X
X
X
X
X
X

 

Temperature

With dial-up, variation was not allowed to be more than 8 seconds per 24 hours at temperatures from 40ºF to 95ºF.

 

Cases, dials, hands and crystals

Collectors fart all over themselves trying to track all the cosmetic variations of both the movement and all the cases and dials and hands with which it could ship. I don't care about this minutiae, but here are some basics.

 

Cases

There was but one 992B movement at any time, but you could order it and today you can stick it in an almost unlimited number of cases.

The case seen here is a Wadsworth bar-over-crown 10k gold-filled case. That case design was introduced 11 March 1926, and was called the "number 2" in catalogs. It was very popular. The rear cover and the crystal unscrew in the model seen here.

 

Dials

This particular dial is the number 537.

There are names for each kind of lettering and a zillion variations in dial materials, numbers and what's shown on the dial.

Note that this dial has every minute marked on the dial, making it easy to read 10:08 for example from the dial in the picture at the top.

 

Quality

Made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA.

 

Size

16 size movement: 1.700 inches or 43.18 mm diameter.

The case of course will be larger.

 

Weight

3.410 oz. (96.7g) as cased and seen here.

 

Quality

Made in USA.

 

Pricing

1949

Adjusted for inflation today in 2013, catalog price for a 10k gold-filled cased 992B was $700 ($71.50 in 1949 dollars).

 

1951

Adjusted for inflation today in 2013, catalog price for a 10k gold-filled cased 992B was $800 ($90 in 1951 dollars). For a solid 14K gold case, it sold for the equivalent of $2,700 ($300 in 1951 dollars, what a professional person earned in a month).

 

1954-1955

Adjusted for inflation today in 2013, catalog price for a 10k gold-filled cased 992B was $780 in 1954 and 1955 ($89.50 in 1955 dollars). For a solid 14K gold case, it sold for the equivalent of $2,400 ($275 in 1955 dollars, what a professional person earned in a month).

 

Today

The prices at eBay (see How to Win at eBay) will vary from about $130 for a very beat-up 992B to about $175 for most of those that sell every day, to about $500 for a really nice one as seen here that shows up every few weeks.

 

Performance         top

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Accuracy

The watch seen here wasn't run for years. I started it up, and it ran exactly 12 seconds per day slow, every day.

I had it regulated, and it now runs to within ±0.5 seconds for the past day. This is as accurate as quartz; I have quartz clocks and watches which are ten times less accurate than this, and others which are more accurate.

One in great running condition ought to run to within a few seconds per day. Remember, the railroad specifications back in the 1800s permitted no more then 30 seconds per week error in the field on steam-powered trains, and the watches got much better as the decades passed. Get a good 992B tuned up and it ought to be much better.

It's easy to set precisely, and the hands usually read very precisely. The hands lie close to the dial for little parallax error.

 

Legibility

Legibility is excellent.

The thin hands rarely cover the second hand.

 

Power

The watch seen here, from a random stranger who never used it, ran for 53 hours on my first winding.

You should wind it each day, but if you forget, no big deal.

If you let it run down completely, mine takes 32 finger twists (not revolutions) to wind fully. It has a big motor.

 

Sound

In a quiet room a few feet away, you will hear it ticking.

 

Durability

It's a real watch.

It is not shock resistent.

It is not sealed against anything.

 

Life Expectancy

This sample is about 50 years old and runs great.

I see no reason your watchmaker wouldn't be able to service this for another 50 years.

 

Usage         top

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Winding

Turn the crown (the top knob) clockwise.

It takes a while to wind all the way.

Turn it until it suddenly gets firmer at its stop, and force it no further.

Wind it every day at about the same time.

 

Opening the front and back

This sample has a case whose front and back unscrew to remove them.

Hamilton points out on the warranty and care certificates that watch backs should never be opened unless absolutely necessary, because any dirt or dust will make the watch run less accurately. Don't take off the back to show your friends if you want your watch to run well; leave that to your watchmaker.

 

Time setting: Lever Set

In order to keep men on the trains from resetting watches accidentally, which could be fatal, "Lever Set" was invented. Lever set simply means that you have to unscrew the front crystal to uncover a small lever at about the 1 o'clock position. Flip out the lever, and now the hands will move as you turn the crown. Otherwise, the crown only winds the watch, and does not pull-out to set. You pull out the hidden lever, not the crown, to set a lever-set watch.

Push the lever back in when done, and reattach the crystal. If you forget to push the lever back in, the crystal won't thread properly — your hint that you forgot.

 

Setting the seconds

You may be able to turn the crown to set back the hands, which may stop the watch from running to set seconds — or it might keep going.

If you can't set seconds, no problem. Learn if your watch tends to run fast or slow, and set the watch so that it will run towards perfect time. If you know your watch well, you'll be able to calculate the correct time in your head knowing the error that day.

Whenever it becomes 30 seconds off, move the minute hand ahead or behind to the next minute, and you'll always be within 30 seconds.

In its day, no one needed to know time to closer than to a minute. The seconds hand was more of a feature to let you know the watch was running if it was too noisy to hear it ticking, and the seconds hand was used for timing short intervals precisely, like one minute or ten seconds.

 

Regulation

This is done by your watchmaker. Never open the back yourself; you'll let in dirt and dust, and will probably leave marks or worse.

One full turn of the precision regulation screw changes the rate of the 992B by about 20 seconds per day.

 

Service

Back in the day, Hamilton suggested routine service at 12-18 month intervals, even if it was running perfectly. Unlike wrist watches which only need service if they run erratically, pocket watches have such powerful motors that they'll still run fine if internally dirty, and grind themselves to death.

Today with hot-rod synthetic oils, people seem to suggest about a 3-5 year service interval.

I'm still looking for a watchmaker to service mine when it needs it.

 

Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

If you want a nice one, wait. About five of these a day sell at eBay, but to get a nicer one may take a couple weeks of looking.

Look at the big screw heads on the movement: if you see any wear, mangling or "technician tracks" on them, that watch has been serviced by an incompetent who used the wrong screwdrivers. Most watchmakers make their own special screwdrivers that have thin blades, and are wide like these screw heads.

The screw heads ought to look like this:

Hamilton 992B

Hamilton 992B movement. enlarge.

The cases are not waterproof, and not even water resistant.

There are still many places to have these serviced, and parts are plentiful.

Get one, and it will outlast you unless you do something foolish or have an accident with it.

If you've found all the time, effort and expense I put into researching and sharing all this, this free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

 

More Information         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

Official US Time (I use a shortwave radio for the WWV broadcasts at 5, 10 and 15 MC/s for more accuracy)

Hamilton Museum

How a Hamilton Watch Works (1949 instructional short film)

Railroad Watch history

Lists of various approved railroad watches through history

992B disassembly

Hamilton catalogs and documentation

Regulating Hamilton watches

Pocket watch jargon

 

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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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September 2013