Regular readers will know that I enjoy collecting the humble 33 mm Hamilton hand-winding field watch. From the late 60's through the late 80's they were available in a bewildering variety. For people of a certain generation, this period of time will be associated with mail order retail. There was no Internet yet, and for those of us who didn't enjoy a mall shopping experience the alternative was mail order. Growing up, my household were regular customers of and received catalogs from specialty retailers like LL Bean, Land's End, Eddie Bauer, Early Winters, Vermont Country Store, Banana Republic, J Crew, and several others. Believe it or not Banana Republic used to sell military surplus items from all over the world, and blue jeans from J Crew didn't cost $500. For most of these retailers today, little is left of the original companies other than the name (LL Bean being the obvious exception, of course). I can remember giving my mother my cash in exchange for her hand-written check to include with my paper order form for items out of the Bean catalog. About ten days to two weeks later, your stuff would arrive. When Bean got a toll-free number, we started using that instead of the paper order form and the US Mail.
Many of these catalog companies offered the Hamilton 9219 in their catalogs. Later and more unusually the 9415 was offered, although the only store-branded 9415 I've ever seen is an LL Bean specimen. These two case references comprised Hamilton's ubiquitous field watch, and Hamilton produced it with store-branded dials for a multitude of catalog companies. Some of my previous blog posts have described my Hamilton field watches with dials from LL Bean, Orvis, Brookstone, and of course Hamilton themselves. One such specialty mail order retailer was Avirex, and I was recently lucky enough to find one in almost NOS condition.
The early 1980's store-branded Hamilton 9219 field watch on the wrist is a little smaller than most men are comfortable with these days, but perfect for a lady's wrist. And since case size trends come and go, this hardly matters anyway. Below you can see how nicely this watch wears on a NATO strap on my wrist.
As Confusing Fall Warblers go, the Avirex-branded watch is probably about as rare as the Brookstone. I’ve only seen one other since seriously collecting, and that was a beater specimen on MWR years ago. I didn’t buy it then because I didn’t really know much about the brand and I wasn’t pursuing the CFW’s like I would a few short years later, although I remember considering it and thinking “I already have four of these watches…”
Avirex is a brand started by pilot Jeff Clyman. He went into business in 1975 selling genuine US Government surplus pilot jackets. In 1979 Avirex introduced its first mail order catalog, which had its own name, The Cockpit. When the supply of genuine surplus jackets dried up Avirex went into business producing and selling authentic reproductions manufactured in the USA. They specialized in resurrecting classic designs down to minute detail, such as the WWII-era A-2 goat leather jacket. The USAF officially went back to the A-2 in 1987 and the Avirex jacket is US-issue today (there are a couple other manufacturers as well). The timing and character of this catalog company fits with the reference of Hamilton we’re talking about here, the 9219.
Jeff Clyman sold the Avirex brand in 2005 and in 2006 started a new company called Cockpit USA. The latter company is still very much around and has a huge catalog of authentic USAF-issued jackets and other nostalgic clothing. They have a retail store in NYC and specialize in USA-made products.
The Avirex field watch has all the classic characteristics of the Hamilton 9219. A robust and dependable ETA caliber 2750 movement, a solid little case of 100% stainless steel with screw-on back, tritium indices and hands, and Hamilton's Jet Age logo. The lug width is 11/16's inch, which is about 17.4 mm. I can tell you that an 18 mm shoulderless spring bar will not fit these cases, which is too bad since this would restore the faux-fixed bar look. Examples are found with removable flanged strap bars as well, although it's never been clear to me if Hamilton made them both ways, or if some previous owner was forced to cut the faux-fixed bars out because he wanted to wear the watch on a two-piece strap.
Although I'm not certain, my hypothesis has always been that the 9415 came after the 9219 in part because the 9415 has 18 mm lugs. The last variant of this watch was the 9415A, and I also believe that Hamilton produced the 9415A into the 1990's. At a glance, the 9415 (and 9415A) case references are indistinguishable from the 9219, but there are several key differences. The 9415 (and 9415A) has the 18 mm lug width as already discussed, drilled-thru lugs for easy conversion from one-piece to two-piece straps, and utilizes the caliber 2801-2 instead of the 2750. The caliber 2750 was produced by ETA from 1969 to 1982, and the 2801-2 from 1983 onwards. Given this and the fact that Avirex's first print catalog didn't appear until 1979, it seems a safe bet that this watch dates to somewhere in the early 1980's.
In the photo below the difference between an 11/16" lug width and a true 18 mm lug width can be seen.
As always, I welcome comments or corrections from anyone more knowledgeable than I. Thanks for reading!