I come from a family with a strong LL Bean tradition. Elsewhere in this blog I've described my memories of ordering out of the catalog with a paper order form and sending it with a check through the mail for the purchase. Although I love shopping with a few clicks of the mouse now, I do miss the helpful interaction with the friendly Bean phone operators and product specialists. Hearing their Maine accents on the phone was always a strangely exotic thrill and enhanced the anticipation of good stuff to come.
There are some things that LL Bean sold that remain uniquely iconic. Maine Hunting Shoes, of course, but also their Blucher and Camp Moccasins, and the Baxter State Parka. I have a Camp Knife that dates from the 40's or 50's that was handed down to me from my grandmother. One thing I was always interested in looking at whenever the new LL Bean catalog arrived in the mail was their Field Watch. The description of the watch being built to military standards by the Hamilton Watch Co. always hooked me. I couldn't afford to buy one new out of the catalog as a kid, and by the time I could the mechanical watches had given way to the quartz models.
My own family members today are still big LL Bean shoppers. And as a watch enthusiast and LL Bean fan, I harbor a small, eccentric passion in searching out and obtaining the most interesting wristwatches that LL Bean sold over the years. There is only one on my list that I have yet to commit to, but there's a reason for that that I'll explain a little later on. Also, keep in mind that this article is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every watch LL Bean has ever sold or put its name on. Nor is it guaranteed to be 100% factually correct. I'm just an enthusiast, after all, not LL Bean's archivist (yes, they have one). It's meant to be a story about the LL Bean watches I find most interesting -- most are mechanical but a few are even quartz. And why not draw some comparisons to James Bond while we're at it?
The Hamilton 9219 LL Bean Field Watch, The Sean Connery of Bean Watches.
If you are interested in collectible LL Bean watches, the first watch you will likely encounter is the ubiquitous Hamilton 921980, more commonly and simply known as the 9219. Hamilton must have made zillions of the 9219, as Bean seems to have sold a couple million on their own judging by the number you see today. These watches are common and easily found, but this doesn't make them uninteresting. The watch's 33 mm stainless steel case houses a robust and reliable ETA caliber 2750 hand-winding movement, accessed through the screw-on caseback. The lug width is an awkward 11/16 inch (17.4 mm) and the spring bars are captive (they are trapped between the lugs and not removable, but rotate freely and thus different than true fixed strap bars). The 2750 was produced by ETA from 1969 to 1982, but stocks of the movement must have lasted for many years afterwards.
The Hamilton 9219 LL Bean Field Watch is so iconic, if this watch were an actor from the James Bond film canon it would have to be Sean Connery. It is the original, completely genuine, standard-setting watch by which all others to follow are judged. Just like the Sean Connery movies, it may seem a little dated by today's standards, but it is the watch that started it all.
And just like Sean Connery, the tritium lume on the hands and dial of the 9219 are to be found in graceful states of aging, from creamy yellow to graying charcoal. Fortunately, it's relatively easy to find one of these watches in almost new old stock condition today. Paired with an olive drab one-piece nylon strap, this is a classic addition to your collection of LL Bean watches.
The Hamilton 9219 Blue Anchor-Dialed Field Watch, The George Lazenby of Bean watches.
Perhaps one of the rarest, and definitely one of my most favorite watches from LL Bean, is the blue anchor-dialed 9219. These appear only rarely, but are otherwise identical to their black-dialed 9219 siblings. I have no idea for how long LL Bean sold these, but I have seen the same watch in Hamilton livery and sold as the Hamilton Khaki Mate. The deep blue color of the dial is really pretty in certain light, although difficult to capture in pictures.
And like George Lazenby, who famously played James Bond only once, we could have used more of these little watches. What if they had stuck around for another year or two? We can only speculate today, but just like George in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, these watches are a rare pleasure. And tell me Diana Rigg's Tracy Bond wasn't one of the best Bond characters of all time. Alas, neither the blue anchor-dialed watch nor Tracy Bond were destined to remain with us.
The Hamilton 9415 LL Bean Field Watch, The Other Sean Connery of Bean watches.
Unrelated to LL Bean's business, the Hamilton 9219 evolved into the almost indistinguishable 9415 sometime in the 1980's. From the front dial view, the watches are, in fact, indistinguishable, but when viewed from the side or back, minor differences can be discerned. The mid-case is slightly thinner on the 9415, the lugs are drilled all the way through for easier strap changes, and the lug width is a true 18 mm. Inside, the caliber 2750 yields to the slightly more modern 2801-2. I have only ever seen one LL Bean Field Watch that is a Hamilton 9415, and I own it. LL Bean must have only sold it for a short time before updating their product offering to the larger quartz watches that were to be the staple offering from the latter 1980's and through the 1990's. If you find one, consider yourself lucky. If you find a watch with a 9415 caseback but its other features (lug width, non-drilled-thru lugs, caliber 2750 movement) indicate it's a 9219, it's probably had its caseback inadvertently swapped out during a service by Hamilton. I have seen one such example on MWR.
And remember Never Say Never Again? When Sean Connery came back for one more reprise of the role in a remake of Thunderball? That's what we have here in the 9415. One last shot at greatness, and it is an awesome contribution, but essentially the same Bond as the 9219. A must-have for the complete collection of Bean watches, but there are others I'd bother with first.
The Hamilton 9219 LL Bean Quartz Field Watch, the Peaceful Fountains of Desire of Bean watches.
At some point in the mid-to-late 1980's, the mechanical field watch from Hamilton disappeared from LL Bean's catalog. It was replaced and possibly overlapped by the identical 33 mm watch, and eventually a more modern 36 mm watch, but both with quartz movements. In fact, Hamilton's case reference for this 33 mm watch is 921980, so don't assume that this reference number automatically indicates a mechanical watch. The 33 mm quartz-powered 9219 is relatively rare, but still easily attainable by the focused collector. The two most obvious differences between it and its mechanical forebear are the almost-comically large circular counterweight on the seconds hand and the "quartz" print on the dial just above six o'clock. Confusingly, Hamilton also made the 33 mm quartz-powered 9219 with a date feature, but I've never seen one with an LL Bean dial. Bean's competitor, Eddie Bauer, did sell this watch, but you'll have to find some Eddie Bauer freak's blog for details on that watch. ;-)
As attractive but deadly Bond babe-villains go, you probably don't even remember Peaceful Fountains of Desire. She had a very brief scene in Die Another Day, Pearce Brosnan's last appearance as James Bond. And kinda like the quartz 9219 she just didn't seem to fit. If James Bond had slept with her at some point and still gotten the better of her and her Chinese Intelligence boss, this would have felt familiar and right. But just like the 9219 with a quartz movement, humiliating her and her boss before bedding her just doesn't fit the mold and isn't what we're expecting. As a collector of Bean watches, you'll only want this one if you already have the true classics first.
The Hamilton 9445 LL Bean Quartz Field Watch, The Roger Moore of Bean watches.
Just like Peaceful Fountains of Desire in Die Another Day, the 33 mm quartz-powered 9219 didn't stick around in the Bean catalog for very long, because by the late 1980's the 36 mm reference 9445 was the men's Field Watch in the Bean catalog. Comparing the two, this watch is easily distinguished from the 9219 quartz watch in pictures that otherwise offer no size context by the presence of protective crown shoulders and a date feature. The LL Bean Field Watch was finally catching up to modern tastes and technologies, and the ETA caliber 955.112 quartz movement was a reliable one capable of giving decades of service. Even after it quits for good, it is still available and easily replaced by any pro or hobbyist watchmaker. The large circular counterweight on the seconds hand carries over from the quartz 9219, but looks at home on the larger dial and case of the 9445. The crown shoulders on this watch are a practical safety feature and no doubt contribute to its water resistance (although the case does not state a definite WR rating, just "water resistant").
If you were born before 1970, you grew up in a time when there were only two actors to have ever played James Bond. I can remember family discussions about who was better in the role, my big brother and I disagreeing with my father and his brother. And up to this point in history, there had been only two truly iconic Field Watches from LL Bean, the 2750-powered 9219 (Sean Connery) and the quartz-powered 9445 (Roger Moore). They both have their pros and cons, and their followers and detractors. They were both sold by LL Bean in the same large numbers over many years. You have to decide for yourself which is your favorite. Take my word for it -- just as the Sean Connery or Roger Moore question isn't worth an argument with your family and friends, the 9219 or 9445 question remains a personal choice best left un-debated.
Sometime in the mid-1990's the relationship between Hamilton and LL Bean came to an end and the Swiss-made 9445 was replaced by an identical-looking Field Watch made by some anonymous non-Swiss company. The dials on these newer watches were printed, "French Movt Taiwan Dial." For me anyway, it was the end of an era, and marks the time when my interest in watches sold by LL Bean began to wane. So if you find a nice Hamilton 9445 LL Bean Field Watch, buy it.
I have owned several 9445's and they make great daily wearers or garage beaters today. Their biggest weakness, in my opinion, is the mineral glass crystal. In 1991 I dropped my watch on a tile floor and the glass shattered. I sent it to LL Bean for repair and rather than repair and return it, they replaced the watch. Alas, they had switched to the non-Hamilton model by this point. Twenty years later I gave this watch to my own son when he was in the fourth grade and just starting to get interested in watches. It is still around today, its glass so scratched it's almost opaque.
The Hamilton 8709 Ladies' Field Watch, The Hervé Villechaize of Bean Watches.
There has always been a ladies' version of the Field Watch. Perhaps the strangest and rarest is the Hamilton 870980 (conventionally shortened to 8709). The watch is so small that it is hardly useful, at least as a Field Watch. Housing the ETA caliber 755A, the manually-wound watch is about the size of a dime. The case has fixed strap bars and teeny tiny hands telling the time on a teeny tiny dial. These watches are rare, and are more often to be found in tatty shape. I believe they were also offered in the blue anchor-dialed variety.
Hervé Jean-Pierre Villechaize was the little person who played Nick Nack, a creepily-evil manservant in The Man With the Golden Gun. Hervé was of obviously diminutive proportions, but he was a scene stealer and you couldn't help but sympathize with his character. Ok, I confess I probably spend more time thinking about Britt Ekland's Mary Goodnight character in this movie, but this funny little watch is a scene stealer in any complete collection of LL Bean watches, too.
The Hamilton 9369 LL Bean DeLuxe Field Watch, the Desmond Llewelyn of Bean Watches.
Quick -- think of iconic, recurring characters from the Bond films and then hold the thought. Ready to proceed? Ok, another iconic Bean watch from the 1980's is the DeLuxe Field Watch. Here we have the classic Hamilton field watch dial and handset with a very useful timing bezel, drilled-thru lugs (not all specimens), screw-down crown, and 200 m of water resistance. For the first time a watch from LL Bean has a chapter ring, giving the piece an added depth and more visual impact. The icing on the cake is the use of the Jet Age Hamilton logo. These watches are attractive, useful, and comfortable today. And, as a side note, I just happen to know that an ETA 2804-2 fits in the case, so if you want to build your own mechanical version it is totally possible.
Of course the most memorable, long-serving, and iconic portrayal of Q was Desmond Llewelyn's. And if Q Branch were going to modify a Bean watch for James Bond, I am quite sure he would have started by adding a timing bezel. Of course there would be other features not immediately visible to us, but I can just imagine how the conversation would have gone: "Now pay attention, Double O Seven. An ordinary-looking wristwatch, waterproof naturally..."
The (Probably) Gallet-cased LL Bean Navigator, The Timothy Dalton of Bean Watches.
One of the rarest, most interesting, and most practical of all watches ever sold under the LL Bean name, the Navigator is difficult to find but well worth searching for. The watch dates to the early-to-mid 1990's and is particularly attractive due in part to the case it uses, which is of the same style as the famous Benrus Type I and II Navigator's watches from the 1970s. Gallet made quartz-powered Navigators in the 80's and 90's that were issued to the US Military under the Marathon and Adanac names. Some of these utilized gaseous tritium illumination (which was very new-tech at the time) and some had Maraglo lume on their dials, which was a giant leap forward compared to tritium paint.
Although I don't think anybody knows for sure, my hunch is that these watches were built from spare Gallet cases, and sold under a few names in addition to Bean's. My LL Bean specimen features tritium gas tubes, the luminescence of which has long since faded away. But imagine this watch when new -- a reliable and robust quartz movement, classic Navigator good looks, very modern and wearable case size, 100 m water resistance, and lume bright enough to read by.
Unfortunately for us the Bean Navigator didn't stick around very long, kind of like Timothy Dalton in the James Bond films. His portrayal of the character was robust and interesting, his style unique and different than what we were used to. Mr. Dalton made two appearances as James Bond, and, just like this Gallet Navigator watch, left us wanting more of his performance.
The Hamilton 9446 LL Bean Sportsman's Chronograph, The Donald Pleasence of Bean Watches.
In the introduction, I alluded to one Bean watch that even I don't own, the Hamilton 9446 Sportsman's Chronograph. It has a lot of features I like in a watch, and I have had plenty of opportunities to pick one up at a decent price, but I just can't seem to bring myself to do it for one simple reason. The watch is really ugly. Like Donald-Pleasance-As-Blofeld ugly.
Edit: I ran across a good deal on this watch and finally broke down and bought one. I am happy to report that the design is growing on me and this watch shows and wears much better in person than it does in pictures.
I enjoy a few Hamilton chronographs from the same era, some of which share some design characteristics with this watch, but there is just something about the particular combination of features and colors on this watch that I just can't bring myself to like, much less love. For every plus, there's a minus with this watch. Let's start with the brand logos used on the dial. The italicized Jet Age Hamilton logo is my favorite, but the faux-signature LL Bean logo has to be their worst of all time. The timing bezel may not be the most practical, lacking any numbers as it does, but I know from other Hamiltons I have that it has good clicking action, and having any timing bezel is more useful than not having a timing bezel. However, the gold ring that it rides on is just so two-tone, and I mean that in a bad way. Finally, the drilled-thru lugs are a feature I always appreciate, but the gold color of the registers is just ugly.
In Donald Pleasence's portrayal of Blofeld, we are drawn to his sinister ugliness. We want to know how he got that scar, and why he is so ruthless. I know this because I've seen You Only Live Twice about 257 times in my life, and it's sure not the Japanese wedding scene that keeps bringing me back. So I suppose it is unfair of me to judge this watch so harshly before owning one. It must have some feature to commend it to the Bean watch collector. When I finally pick one up, I'll let you know what that is.
The Hamilton 9165 LL Bean Pocket Watch, the Sir Frederick Gray of Bean Watches.
One of the more obscure, but not entirely rare, watches from Bean's historic offerings was this 2750-powered reference 916580 pocket watch. I suspect it dates to the same era as the 921980 wristwatch, and just like that watch, it was also available as a quartz model for some short time as well. Although if you haunt eBay long enough one of these will eventually turn up, what is not likely to turn up with it is the leather fob that originally came on the watch. Practical and attractive, one can just imagine the older-fashioned folks this watch must have appealed to in the 1970's.
And like those conservative folks, the only character I ever noticed still using a pocket watch in the earliest James Bond novels was Sir Frederick Gray, the Minister of Defence. This watch certainly has a place in any complete collection of The Most Interesting Bean Watches, and perhaps also as a novelty in a more serious collection of pocket watches. But otherwise I must confess that it lacks the charm of its wrist-worn cousin, the 9219. It kind of reminds me of Sir Frederick Gray's character, and how he always stiffened up the scene when M was also present. As such, it can be skipped by all but the most serious (i.e., obsessed) Bean watch collectors.
The Hamilton 9721 RAF Limited Edition automatic, the Daniel Craig of Bean Watches.
In one catalog only, the spring 1991 edition, LL Bean offered their version of the Hamilton 9721. It is without question my favorite Bean watch. Clearly inspired by their classic 6B navigator's wristwatch issued to RAF personnel in the mid-1960's, Hamilton designed the watch with some very iconic design cues. The shape of the hands, the railroad track dial, the gently domed crystal, and the profile of the lovely case are all very clearly suggested by the earlier 6B. In LL Bean livery this watch is difficult to find, but fortunately its Hamilton-branded sibling is easier to find and is every bit as charming.
Other than the name on the dial, the only differences are the dial color, the numeral font, and the casebacks (the Hamilton's being see-thru and the Bean's solid). The Hamilton version has a deep, reflective black dial where the Bean version is a matte gray. I actually find the Hamilton to be a little more handsome, but I can imagine the Bean catalog describing the watch as being a limited edition unique to LL Bean. They are both powered by an ETA 2824-2 and come in a very wearable 36 mm case. The crystals are domed mineral glass, but are also easily replaced by a sapphire should you decide to replace yours. While I normally don't like it when watch companies release new versions of classic designs and ruin it with a date display, it actually seems to work on this particular watch.
To me, this watch is the Daniel Craig of Bean watches because just like Mr. Craig's portrayal of the character, it is the pinnacle of The Most Interesting Bean Watches. And just like Daniel Craig's James Bond will be as soon as his fifth film wraps up, it is now gone. My recommendation to any collector of interesting Hamiltons or Bean watches from the 1990's is that they pick one of these up without hesitation. I know if LL Bean sold a mechanical Hamilton watch today with their brand on the dial, it would be an instant collectible.
The LL Bean Automatic Field Watch by Telux, the Pierce Brosnan of Bean Watches.
Several years ago I started noticing what appeared to be Hamilton 9721 Bean-branded knockoffs on eBay. I resisted the urge to pick one up on numerous occasions because, frankly, I thought they were fake. But new information has come to light (see the reader comments to this post below). It turns out that when LL Bean and Hamilton ended their relationship after 1991, there was apparently still some demand for an automatic field watch. The International Chronometrics Group stepped in and supplied a watch produced by Telux in Taiwan. The watch is a 9721 lookalike, and uses a Swiss Made ETA 2846 movement. I think LL Bean sold this watch in 1992 and 1993. I was fortunate enough to be offered my specimen by its original owner, who still had the original box and owner's manual, thus proving the legitimacy and provenance of these Bean watches. The watch had served him for decades and accompanied him on many adventures, like a good field watch should.
In my observation, any person's vote for Best Actor to Play James Bond seems to depend on that person's generation relative to when they started watching the films. Ask someone who came of James Bond age in the early 2000's and they will probably say their favorite is Pierce Brosnan. Ask someone over the age of 50 and they will probably say Sean Connery. Ask someone in their 20's and they will probably say, "People other than Daniel Craig have played James Bond?"
And so it is with the Telux and Pierce Brosnan. The Telux watches appear on eBay with some regularity, but wearing one just somehow doesn't feel as satisfying as wearing a real 9721. Although indispensable for any complete collection of Bean watches, for me they just aren't a Daniel Craig watch. The plastic crystal, chromey hands, and spearmint gum lume color conspire together to cheapen the feel of the watch. And frankly, it reminds me of Pierce Brosnan's portrayal of our hero. Looking back at the movies, ask yourself these questions. Who wore a quartz watch? A: Brosnan. Who's clothing is more likely to go out of date any minute and not come back any time soon? A: Brosnan. Who had the hairiest chest? A: Ok, this is a draw between Connery and Brosnan, but you get my point. Finally, recall that Spectre had apparently taken a leave of absence during the Brosnan films. So which name sounds more like a super-criminal organization that might have passed for a plot device in a Brosnan film, "Hamilton" or "The International Chronometrics Group?" Uh-huh. See what I mean?
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you know something about Bean watches that I don't, or are inspired by the James Bond characters in an insightful way, please share your thoughts. Thanks for reading my blog.
PS, there's one watch in the family photo above that isn't described in this post. Can you spot it?