Watch Identifier: Vintage Hilton Watch With “Unbrakable Mainspring”
If you’re thinking the watch industry has become saturated with brands and sellers in the span of 2016-now, just remember there was a time when everyone, even hotel moguls, were making watches. Just kidding! The Hilton on the dial isn’t from Paris Hilton or her family’s hotel.
The caseback of a watch is like a billboard for marketing, but few go as far as the Hilton which was “Cased and timed by precision watchcraftsmen“. They forgot to add an exclamation point to the end of that sentence!
Despite the “Swiss Made” on the dial, upon cracking open the caseback on the example timepiece pictured here, we found it stamped with the following: G.T. Co. Hong Kong.
The following gem of info is from user JimH on watchuseek:
“Hilton was a company based in New York City. Hilton distributed watches usually made with 17 jewel Swiss movements and cases from a variety of sources including Hong Kong. It was a marketing company rather than a manufacturer. Hilton got in trouble with the FTC in the early 60s over misleading pricing and claims for their watches (25 jewel but only 17 functional, marked Swiss Made).”
Yet another vintage watch that proves the smoke and mirrors trickery of the watch industry is not a new phenomenon. The so-called Swiss Made label on watches has been used for decades to sell watches that are not entirely made in Switzerland.
As for the so-called unbreakable (or “unbrakable” as Hilton referred to it) mainspring, here’s another gem:
“Self-winding or automatic watches, introduced widely in the 1950s, use the natural motions of the wrist to keep the mainspring wound. A semicircular weight, pivoted at the center of the watch, rotates with each wrist motion. A winder mechanism uses rotations in both directions to wind the mainspring. In automatic watches, motion of the wrist could continue winding the mainspring until it broke. This is prevented with a slipping clutch device. The outer end of the mainspring, instead of attaching to the barrel, is attached to a circular expansion spring called the bridle that presses against the inner wall of the barrel, which has serrations or notches to hold it. During normal winding the bridle holds by friction to the barrel, allowing the mainspring to wind. When the mainspring reaches its full tension, its pull is stronger than the bridle. Further rotation of the arbor causes the bridle to slip along the barrel, preventing further winding. In watch company terminology, this is often misleadingly referred to as an ‘unbreakable mainspring’.”
What is interesting is the way they spelled Unbrakable on the dial. They were describing a mainspring that wouldn’t break, not a mainspring that wouldn’t brake. So why not Unbreakable? Was is a typo or incorrect translation? It is how they spelled that word back then? We could not find any information related to the etymology of this word, and could not find another example of it being used. Perhaps it was Hilton’s way to invent a term for something how Rolex does today. Or was it a sly way to limit liability… if your mainspring broke, they could say “hey, we said it was an unbrakable mainspring, not UNBREAKABLE!” haha. Please comment below if you have any insight into this.