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From its beginnings in 1892, Hamilton has excelled at making good watches cheaply--inexpensively, that is, not cheaply made. Their chronographs from the 1960s and 70s are perhaps the perfect examples of this ability. From the Chronomatic to the Pan-Europ, Hamilton proves that you can still have a solid case and a reliable Swiss movement at a much better bargain than some of the other guys.
In the 1960s, Heuer was the chronograph brand. Formula 1 drivers favored its chronographs, most notably the Carrera, Autavia, and Camaro. But since these watches were the favorites of the pros, they often had a price tag to match the pros' salaries. This gave rise to the so-called “Poor Man’s Heuer,” which resembled Heuers (and, in some cases, were even made by Heuer under contract for other brands). Many of those brands had names lost to history--like Clebar and LeJour--while others endure to the present day, like Hamilton.
In the late 1960s, the American watchmaking giant wasn't doing all that well. Pressure from high-end Swiss manufactures had ramped up continually in the post-war years, and the once-dominant company from Pennsylvania was losing its footing on its own turf. In 1966, Hamilton purchased Swiss company Buren, and operated out of both Hamilton's headquarters in Lancaster, PA and Buren's former factory in Switzerland. But in 1969, finding it too costly to maintain both facilities, Hamilton closed up the shop in Lancaster and moved entirely to Switzerland, in order to concentrate on "Project 99"--the collaboration with Heuer, Breitling, and Dupois-Dupraz to produce an automatic chronograph movement, the Caliber 11.
However, despite the economic hardships that engendered the move to Switzerland, it did result in a fruitful relationship with Heuer. Along with producing watches for Clebar and LeJour, Heuer produced no fewer than six different chronograph models for Hamilton, all powered by reliable Valjoux drivetrains.
Outwardly, this chronograph shares a number of design elements with the earliest version of the Heuer Carrera; a trim 36mm steel case with sharp lugs, barrel pushers, and a symmetric two register dial configuration. Of particular delight, this example features a panda dial with warm tropical patina, a signed case back, box, papers and even its original signed crown--a definite rarity!
Internally, this piece features the robust Valjoux 7730 manual-winding chronograph movement, a workhorse unit used widely by many brands in the 60s and 70s. With values on early Carreras reaching new heights as of late, the value proposition for "Poor Man's" versions continues to gain strength. But aside from all of that--aside from the connection to Heuer, the motorsports pedigree, and the ever-increasing value of vintage sporting chronographs--this is an outright stunning timepiece with an excellent movement, one you can wear with pride, regardless of the cost.
Stainless steel case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown). Valjoux 7730 Manually-Wound Chronograph Movement. Circa 1960s.
Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition throughout, with sharp lugs and no signs of over-polishing. Shows normal signs of wear from age and use. Dial is in good condition showing signs of tropicalization from sun exposure. Luminescent elements on the dial and handset have developed a deep patination. Original case back and signed crown.
Includes one 19mm black leather rally-style strap. Also includes Hamilton box, papers, and service "Passport" booklet.