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Vintage Hamilton Fontainebleau Chronomatic Calibre 11 Watch

Hamilton Fontainebleau Chronomatic Calibre 11

Hamilton played an important role in the launch of the famous Chronomatic calibre. The brand’s flagship model at that time was the Fontainebleau – named after a famous French castle. A nice chateau that deserves to be re-visited today.

Collectable Hamilton chronographs today suffer from a communication, at the time of their launch, less striking than the others. On one hand you had Jack Heuer successfully associating his brand and his watches to the world of racing cars and Willy Breitling to the world of aviation. Hamilton however never associated its chronographs to any universe. Hamilton chronographs and in particular the Fontainebleau, today only have their design and technical quality to rely on. And those from the Fontainebleau should be considered.Hamilton Fontainebleau Chronomatic Calibre 11 dialFirst of all, there’s the movement. Equipped at its launch with the Chronomatic calibre 11, the Hamilton Fontainebleau was amongst the first models introduced with this automatic chronograph, in March 1969.

Then, there’s the “squared-cambered” case, waterproof, which links it to the Heuer Monaco, a mythical watch with a squared-shape case, coming from Piquerez S.A in Bassecourt, and being the second waterproof chronograph with this shape of case. The particular case of the Fontainebleau was an original creation of Hamilton, patented in 1968 by Ulrich Nydegger.

The dial also has strong arguments. It shows a “panda” style (a white or silver background with black sub-counters) and it has the advantage to keep the sobriety of 1960s chronographs’ dials. On the contrary of many chronographs equipped with the Chronomatic, prefiguring the design of the 1970s, the dial of the Fontainebleau has nothing showy or exuberant. 3 colours only for the dial and the hands were used: black (in reality a very deep blue for the hands), grey and white. This sobriety highly contrasts with the avant-garde shape of the case, leaving the show on this part only. A shape that actually allows the watch to have, in addition to a usual round dial, a very appealing asymmetrical flange with applied indexes.Side of Hamilton Fontainebleau Chronomatic Calibre 11 There is still a mystery running around the hands of the Hamilton Fontainebleau chronograph. When introduced to the press in March 1969, the prototype had thin hands adorned with a luminous rectangle (named “paddle hands”). However, all the models that can be found nowadays features rather long hands, slightly striated and in an appealing deep blue. Did some models with thin paddle hands exist? Or was it only prototype hands, which were finally never selected, like the early El Primero presented in January 1969?

The generous dimensions and the quality of execution of the Hamilton Fontainebleau chronograph allow a daily wearability. Examples in fine or mint conditions are not rare and prices remain reasonable. Service is rather stress-free and parts for the Chronomatic Calibre can easily be found. The only weak point is the hesalite glass, as its unique shape only allows an exchange with original parts. A quick search on eBay however shows that several Fontainebleau cases are listed. This will be helpful for the collector in a need for spare parts. However, it does demonstrate that the Fontainebleau is usually “dismantled”, because of its Chronomatic movement (used for parts). Indeed, the Hamilton Fontainebleau chronograph has become, year after year, a generous “movement donor” – rather sought after because of its attractive price. This nice collectible watch does deserves better treatment than being dismantled by counterfeiters in a need for parts and easy-money.Side of Hamilton Fontainebleau Chronomatic Calibre 11  02It must be noted that the Hamilton Fontainebleau chronograph was also retailed by other brands, such as Jaquet-Girard and Lanco. It isn’t clear why other brands were able to sell this model under their names. Possibly, Hamilton’s failure and the very short commercialisation period of this model created a huge unsold component stock, which needed to get rid of. This could also explain why so many new-old-stock Hamilton Fontainebleau are still available on the market nowadays. They were most likely assembled and sold far after the end of the official commercialisation of the model.

Finally, for those who find the design of the Hamilton Fontainebleau attractive but who don’t want to wear such a large chronograph, you need to know that, on the contrary to the Heuer Monaco, the Fontainebleau was also produced in several 3-hand editions, both for men and women.