Hamilton Fontainebleau

Hamilton Fontainebleau

Much of our time can be spent extolling the virtues of the "icons" of horology-- wristwatches that evoke a particular sentiment in the minds of enthusiasts. For example, the Speedmaster, with its storied connection to NASA; or the Rolex Submariner, which has adorned the wrist of James Bond. Their rugged, purpose-built nature and their distinctive appearances have set the standard, more or less, for what a chronograph or a dive watch is supposed to look like. And, more than anything, many collectors aspire to own one--at least one, at least once--because of their association with individuals whom many people admire. How many of us wanted to be astronauts or James Bond when we were kids?

But Hamilton, once a giant of American watchmaking, never benefited from a flashy endorsement by NASA, and no Formula 1 drivers posed pensively with a Hamilton chronograph on their wrists, cigarette in hand. Still, in the 1950s and 1960s, the manufacture released a plethora of watches with distinctive designs that are evocative of the period and worth collecting--and this all in the face of financial crisis. 

In the late 1960s, Hamilton 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. But in that time, Hamilton--along with Heuer, Breitling, Dubois-Depraz, and Hamilton subsidiary Buren--hand a hand in the creation of a revolutionary movement: the Chrono-Matic. 

Hamilton had bought Buren in 1966. Though they had developed watches out of both Buren's factory in Switzerland and Hamilton's factory in Lancaster, PA, they closed up the shop in Lancaster in 1969. This allowed Hamilton to concentrate on the collaboration with Heuer, et al, which they dubbed "Project 99."  

Project 99 utilized Buren's "Intra-Matic" micro-rotor in the development of their automatic chronograph movement. The "Intra-Matic" was revolutionary in that it eliminated the external oscillating weight found in most automatic movements, instead integrating it into the body of the movement. It was integral to the construction of the automatic chronograph movement that soon was dubbed the "Chrono-Matic."

The "Chrono-Matic" (or Caliber 11) debuted in March of 1969, ahead of the Movado/Zenith movement, El Primero. One of the models that Hamilton inaugurated the movement with was the Fontainebleau. Named after the chateau in France, the Fontainebleau utilized a distinctive waterproof case whose shape is reminiscent of the Heuer Monaco, released the same year.

But while Heuer used bright, flashy colors for the Monaco, the Fontainebleau is a study in minimalism, in subdued silver, black, and white. The quirky shape of the case is echoed in the chapter ring and the chronograph registers. Its appearance is as revolutionary as the movement inside it, but the Fontainebleau has never enjoyed as much of a collector following as its Chrono-Matic stablemates; however, we hope that will change.

These early movements were quite frankly riddled with problems, prompting Heuer to develop the Cal. 12, which involved a complete re-design of the gear train, escapement, and balance wheel. Servicing these Caliber 11 movements can also be incredibly difficult, so we're happy to report that this one has been fully overhauled and is ready for years of trouble-free wear.

You will be hard pressed to find such a clean and fully- functioning Chrono-Matic Hamilton again, so if you're a fan of the obscure and exceptionally cool, don't miss it!

To learn more about the development of the Caliber 11 movement, check out this article. 


SKU: AS01868

Stainless steel square chamfered case is approximately 47mm (excluding crown and pushers). Hamilton Calibre 11 Movement. Circa 1969.

Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in excellent condition with sharp bevels on the case and only minimal signs of handling. Dial is in likewise excellent condition with crisp printing. Luminescent elements of the hour markers and hands have gained a fine even patina over time. Hamilton crown. Case back is in excellent condition.

Includes one 20mm black leather rally style strap.

Also includes inner and outer box.

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