We live in a time when the Swiss wristwatch, among fine watches, dominates the world. As some collectors know, there were once American companies esteemed among the greats. Not the least of these was the Hamilton Watch Co. of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The Hamilton Rutledge was released in 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Not as well know as the Piping Rock or Spur, the Rutledge is nevertheless a quintessential American watch and quintessentially Hamilton.

Like all American watches, Hamiltons were produced almost exclusively in 14 karat gold or gold-fill. Signed 18 karat and platinum cases from American companies are extremely rare. 

According to Faber and Unger (American Wristwatches: Five Decades of Style and Design), “fewer than 10 examples [of 18K or platinum cases] exist of different models by Hamilton, Elgin, Gruen, and Waltham.”

The Rutledge illustrated here is a signed platinum case. The dial applications and hands are 18K white gold. The watch is entirely original, with crown, and original dial and hands. Given the age, the case shows only minimal refinishing, still maintaining many sharp edges.



As indicated on the outside of the back, the platinum (900 or 90 percent) is alloyed with 10 percent iridium. L&W is the contract case maker, usually acknowledged on the cases of American watches.


Like most wristwatches of the period, the Rutledge is constructed with a two piece case. The combination “dust cap” and back (1) holds and protects the movement (2), and snaps into the bezel (3) from the rear. Assembled, the case measures a dimuitive and elegant 29 by 21.5 millimeters (36 millimeters lug-to-lug). It is 7.5 millimeters thick to the top of it compound-convex glass crystal.







Note the use of male strap lugs. These are used with double-female springbars.



The Rutledge was provided with one of Hamilton’s finest form movements, the 19-jewel caliber 982. Cap jewels are provided for both pivots of the escape wheel. The movement also provides finer top-plate finishing than the related 17-jewel caliber 980. A monometallic screwed balance with overcoil spring and curb-pin regulator is used. Construction quality, throughout, is excellent.










The bottom plate is not as elaborately finished as the top plate, but exhibits very good craftsmanship. Much of the finishing is clearly done by hand. The removable lower escape wheel cap jewel (1); lower balance wheel cap jewel (2); and banking pin adjustments (3) are visible.













Compared to Swiss watches, the 982 keyless works (the winding and hand setting mechanism) is massively constructed. The robust parts provide reliability against mishandling of the crown that would damage many watches.

Vintage watches generally provide very poor case sealing and must therefore be used carefully to protect them from water. The entry of fine dust during cooling of the watch also dramatically reduces service intervals. In the days of the Rutledge, the corner watchmaker serviced ones watch at least annually. The Rutledge, however, has a fortuitous combination of case and crown shapes, and allows the retrofit of a rubber O-ring (left) for sealing of the crown. (This is not visible from the front of the watch.) Along with Silcon-7 (a high temperature, high pressure grease) on the case, the Rutledge will actually pass a 3.0 bar immersion test for an hour.

The Hamilton Rutledge offers the opportunity to own a piece of American horological history at a very decent price. Made at a time when the Swiss were rightly concerned about competing with American watch companies, the Rutledge offers excellent quality in a pragmatic, American iteration, and undeniable style. It is a grand watch in a dimuitive, quiet way, and it is something unavailable from any European company.