HAMILTON TITAN 500 ELECTRIC 1957
Hamilton launched their first series of Electrics in January 1957 with limited gold editions of the cosmic Ventura and Van Horn models. The Titan pictured here was released just months later as a cheaper goldfilled twin-brother to the solid-gold Van Horn. Early Electrics (usually marked Pat.Pend.) feature the unreliable 500 calibre movement that is truly an advanced prototype (IMO). Marketing of the first electric watch proved to be far more important than technical concerns and in effect many of these movements were returned to the factory....ruining the image and budget of the company. Improved versions (500A, 501, 502) followed soon after in limited quantities until the reliable 505 appeared in 1959. With plenty of funds spent on publicity Hamilton managed to improve their reputation among watchmakers and with their help convince the public that the Electric is a reliable products after all. The Accutron was however already behind the corner :)
The main issue with the 500 movement results from extremely long "contact wires" providing "electricity" to the coil. In the event of heavy external shock these wires are usually bent or jammed causing malfunction. Additionally the simple yet unsafe design of the battery spring causes risk to these wires during battery exchange. As shown below there are a couple of batteries to choose from - the genuine 1957 brass cell is the size of todays 386 however it is better to use a 386 with masking tape. The best and easiest solution is to buy an Accutron 214 cell with plastic spacer 387S (equivalent to 394 without spacer). A thinner battery creates less tension and thus reduces risk of damaging the contact wires when the spring is released.
Repairing the wires is a real pain thus handle every 500 with extreme care (remove the wire plate before doing any work on the balance). Adjusting the wires for perfect connectivity is another challenge. The entire movement has positive polarity except the wires that are insulated with cork and mounted on top of the negative battery contact plate (must be clean!). Once the battery is inserted the longer contact wire has a very short contact with the tip of corresponding gold pin on the balance which closes the electric circuit. This activates the electromagnetic coil that is pushed back by two small permanent platinum-cobalt magnets on the movement. The electric impulse creates a balance rotation which is then countered by the balance hairspring making the balance oscillate back and forth like in a conventional watch.
The action of the shorter "trip" wire seems to be similar but... it is positioned slightly lower and does not make any electrical contact. It is moved by the upper ruby jewel on the balance and is equipped with a so called "box" that surrounds the longer contact wire. With every oscillation and electric contact of the longer wire, the "box" is responsible for withdrawing the longer contact wire thus breaking the electric contact in the proper moment. Usually both the contact wire and the contact pin show black signs of burn-out caused by years of sparking what might additionally result in intensive wear on the gold pin. This problem was solved in the LIP electrics with a tiny diode but in the Hamiltons the only solution is to clean the contacts with a solvent and brush or exchange them to NOS parts.
When storing an Electric it is suggested to remove the battery (to prevent acid leakage) or to pull out the crown to preserve battery life and contacts from wear. This is achieved by a lever that blocks the balance from rotating. If a 500 Electric breaks down you can easily transplant the vital coil from another watch by removing 3 screws on the balance assembly. Additionally a worn out gold contact pin can be replaced by removing the roller jewel table (check picture above). You can also restore a collectable 500 Pacer or Ventura with the later 505 calibre but please note that a different spacer ring will be required. It is easier to retrofit a 500 into a 505 but once the 500 spacer ring is modified or trashed it will be difficult to hold the battery in place without the spacer.
Keywords: hamilton electric, hamilton 500, titan
Market value: 75-350$ (condition, box)