A Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers!
Sometimes, albeit rarely, I’m pleasantly surprised when I open a package containing a watch I’ve bought online. More often than not, it’s the condition that is enlightening, but every once in awhile, it’s the overall build quality and design of the piece. Today’s #TBT highlights such a case where I really thought I was adding an “also-ran” to my horde, but the result was far more positive. The fact that the watch is a Hamilton makes it even more pleasurable. Why? Well, I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the brand because they were American and also because I’ve spent so much time in the central Pennsylvania area near to where they were originally founded. Today’s subject is actually Swiss, but I still like the connection. Value returns in a big way today on #TBT as we discuss the Hamilton Chrono-Diver chronograph.
The Hamilton Chrono-Diver is one of those watches that was quite prevalent (I say was because everything older with pushers seems to be flying off the shelves in the current climate) on eBay and always led me to pass it by in favor of what I felt were more desirable or rare specimens. So, it was with a high level of ambivalence that I hit the buy-it-now button on eBay about four months ago in order to add the piece to my collection. I honestly wasn’t expecting much and while I’m not a seller, I figured that this one would see highly infrequent wrist time. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve had the watch in my hands for less than a week, but if early signs are telling, this watch could find itself in my regular rotation.
The Hamilton Chrono-Diver…a.k.a. the “Big Eye”
The Hamilton Chrono-Diver, also known as the “Big Eye” is so called due to its largish dual sub registers, is a typical early 70’s chronograph equipped with a near bulletproof, cam operated Valjoux 7733 (named the Hamilton 647 here). Introduced in 1970, it’s a full stainless steel model with a rotating diver’s style bezel. The watch comes in at roughly 38mm and has some wonderfully versatile 20mm lugs. Aside from the addition of a rotating bezel, the watch sounds a lot like many other chronographs on offer during that period. In fact, even in this form, the Hamilton shares a case, bezel and movement with another popular brand of the era: Bulova. The Bulova Deep Sea, in its many forms, is attractive as well, but lacks the distinctive large sub dials found on the Hamilton. That being said, this link shows the Hamilton with small registers as well…perhaps this inconsistency is a product of the early 1970’s when all sorts of parts sharing was runnign rampant? Getting back to it, yes, the description of the Hamilton is pretty basic, but as in most cases, the attraction is fostered via the details.
I own a lot of 1960’s – 1970’s chronographs and I enjoy them all, but I do find that some are executed far better than others. At times, this isn’t obvious online or even at a distance of, say, across the table. I’ve also come to realize that there’s often a disconnect in value, in terms of money, and quality. This is where the Hamilton Chrono-Diver fits in because there’s so much good going on here that comes together to form a really attractive watch. If we start with the most obvious detail, the registers, their boldness is what truly defines the piece. However, and I’m sure you’d agree, designing in some large diameter functionality onto the dial isn’t enough to set this watch apart. No, the other details, primarily related to color, come together harmoniously to make for a very unique piece.
The Hamilton Big Eye contains some great colors
Hamilton chose, unlike so many other watch companies of the day that focused primarily on black and white, red and grey from the palette. Red is actually the font color found on the “big eyes” and is a unique alternative to the oft-used black. Red continues on the minutes track that outlines the dial and is even found at 6:00 showing us “T Swiss Made T”. Sure, it’s not as visible as either white or black, but it is finely applied, very stylish and sporty. It’s capped off with a red central chronometer hand that catches the eye. This red hand is slender and in a nice show of continuity, actually keeps the same needle-like form as the black hands found within each register. When it comes to grey, the Hamilton Chrono-Diver uses the color as its dial base and it’s stunning in the right light. It radiates and is pretty darn impressive for a watch that has cruised well past its 40th birthday.
Other dial niceties exist such as snowy white main hour and minute hands. The lume on these hands combines well with the applied hour indices that contain similar stripes of the formerly glowing material. Simple white paint was used on the Hamilton Chrono-Diver to denote the brand, its logo, and the jewel count (17). In the end, it’s a simple dial but the choice of color combined with high quality execution makes for a really pleasing display. In fact, on the “bargain” front, I’d liken this watch to another favorite of mine: the Vulcain Blue Panda. Visually, this is all capped off with a nice, black rotating bezel. The bezel seems to be a fairly common part used by several makers at the time, but it works well with the watch and features a lume pip at 12:00.
Some other interesting aspects are present on the Hamilton Chrono-Diver. The crystal, for instance, is really very different to any other watch I own from the era. It’s evocative of the Rolex “Top Hat” crystals because it’s extremely tall and has a sharp angle where its sides meet the table. I was unaware of this detail and did some checking and it seems correct. I really like it, as it’s very unique.
Likewise, I noticed that the chronograph pushers are actually “softly triangular” in shape. This seemed strange to me, but was also something that I noticed on enough pieces on the web. So, interesting details indeed! Capping off the unusually high attention to detail is a signed winding crown that is well-sized for functionality.
A hybrid C-case on the Hamilton Chrono-Diver?
Let’s take a minute to discuss the case because it’s another contributor as to why I waited so long to purchase a Hamilton Chrono-Diver. Those who know me know that I really don’t love c-cases and this is especially true when it comes to chronographs. I understand the appeal, but they’re just not “me”. If you take a look at this Hamilton, it’s somewhat of a hybrid. It certainly isn’t a traditionally round cased watch of the 1960’s, but it’s not a real c-case either. For me, the ultimate seller was the fact that the lugs are still fairly prominent. In person, the case is very nicely done with matte finishing. Actually, I find the case design, perhaps aided by the stylistically similar bezel, remarkably close to the recently reviewed Oris Divers Sixty-Five. At certain angles, the case looks chunky and 70’s, but it’s much lighter than that in person.
Wearing the Hamilton Big Eye
Size-wise, at 38mm, I can assure you that the Hamilton Chrono-Diver fits very nicely and should appeal to a wide range of wrist sizes. I think that bold details such as the dial, crystal, bezel and wide lug width help make it wear a bit larger than its size would suggest. The other cool thing about this watch is that because it’s grey, it pairs with just about anything. It’s like that grey suit or pair of trousers that you bring on a luggage space-limited business trip because of the versatility. I’ve paired it with a black strap and a grey leather NATO, but ultimately settled on this tan stingray strap from GLC. I think it works really well with the watch in a “brown shoes-grey suit” kind of way. Like I said, though, almost anything goes and the lug width makes it simple to find great options.
Keeping your “eye” on the Big Eye market…
As I mentioned, the Hamilton Chrono-Diver is fairly plentiful on eBay. The biggest issue is finding one at a reasonable price as I’ve recently seen some “dreamers” out there. Of course, we are in an expensive market now, so I’m sure that I could be challenged. Nonetheless, watch out for normal things such as missing parts and replaced pieces. I’ve seen bad redials with incorrect logos, missing bezels, non-signed crowns, and wrong hands. Regarding the bezel, pieces missing their lume pipes are common, so that wouldn’t be a showstopper in my mind. Missing bezels or changed hands would be, though. The movement, which should be signed, is an easy one as far as repairs, so don’t let a non-runner scare you if you have a decent watchmaker. As far as pricing, these were once $400-650 watches. Full disclosure: I paid in the upper range for this piece. Today, pricing seems to hover in the $600-850 and I still think this is a nice deal for a very solid, wearable watch. The “dreamers” I alluded to are currently listing at roughly $1,000 and while we may get there at some point, that just feels too rich to me.
Great detail, unique colors, a household name, and a robust movement make the Hamilton Chrono-Diver a no-brainer for collectors. Sure, at a distance, the watch turned me off due its case shape and commonality, but the watch is impressive in person and finding one day is certainly more difficult than yesterday. Furthermore, it’s a great example of good value in a market that has less and less of that around anymore. If you happen to own one of these Hamiltons, share your thoughts with us. Until next week…