Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto Chrono — hands-on review
Earlier this year, I was invited by Hamilton to a pre-Basel event, to go over their 2015 lineup with their CEO, Sylvain Dolla. We had less than an hour to see all the models and hear their story, directly from the main man. It was quite overwhelming, as Hamilton had many things to show and a lot of information to convey. It felt like visiting an exhibition, with many works of art and when you leave, among all the painting and sculptors, there are only a few that stay with you, that you remember, that makes you want to go back and see them again.
The same way, the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto Chrono, was a model that I felt, I need to go back to and have a closer look. I could not explain why… Was it the history behind? Does it had to do with the design? Thanks to Hamilton Canada, I got to spend a couple of weeks with it, to see if I could pinpoint, what was it that struck a chord with me.
A bit a history
The Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto Chrono has quite an interesting origin, as it is based on a chronograph that had a huge impact on the outcome of the Second World War.
During the 1930’s, Hamilton was one of the most popular watch brands in America, thanks to its beautiful models, such as the rectangular Bentley, or the cushion shaped Brooke. All this came to an end after the Pearl Harbour attack, when Hamilton was forced to stop making watches for civilians and focus all its energy on the war effort.
During the next years, Hamilton had to adapt to the enormous demand, they were supplying watches and other precision instruments for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, as well as other allied military forces. How to deliver all the watches, while maintaining the highest standard? These were timekeeping instruments at the heart of life-and-death missions, cutting corners was out of question.
One of such instruments was the Marine Chronometer, made for the US Navy. Chronometers were essential instruments, in navigating a ship timekeeping precision was key, as just a second of error could have caused the ship to be miles off course. At that time, chronometers were only produced in Europe, and this put the US Navy in a difficult situation. Making business with the Germans was inconceivable, while the Swiss and the British did not produce enough to cover their demand.
Hamilton took the order and from 1941 they started working on a new chronometer based on the Ulysse Nardin while adding their expertise. The final prototype was presented to the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) in Washington on February 27, 1942. To the amazement of USNO officials, the Hamilton prototype was more accurate than any other known chronometer. Properly maintained, it would keep time to within half-second per day, surpassing the Navy’s requirements of 1.55 seconds per day.
By the end of the war, Hamilton delivered more than 10,000 of these chronometers and in 1945, Hamilton was the first watch company to receive the prestigious Army-Navy “E” Award. Commodore Hellweg, the USNO superintendent, during his visit in Pennsylvania declared: “During the past two critical years,” the U.S. Navy had “carried more Hamiltons than any other make in the world [and] Hamilton’s instruments vitally aided the prosecution of war. Without Hamilton’s wholehearted assistance, I don’t know what we would have done.”
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of winning the war and receiving the “E” Award, the Khaki Navy Pilot Pioneer Automatic Chronograph is directly inspired by this legendary naval instrument.
For more details about Hamilton’s involvement in the war effort, check out How Hamilton Watch Co. Won World War II on the JCK website.
Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto Chrono at a glance
Reference number: H77706553
Diameter: 44 mm
Height: 14.8 mm
Lug to lug:
Lug width: 22 mm
Case: Stainless steel
Hands: Flamed blue
Crystal: Sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating
Calibre: H-21 automatic calibre with 60 hours of power reserve, centred hours, minutes, seconds and date.
Water resistance: 10 bar (100 m)
MSRP: CAD $2,295
The silver dial of the Khaki Navy Pioneer Chronograph follows the same aesthetics of other pieces from the Khaki Navy Pioneer collection that was inspired by the original Navy Chronometer.
Just under the sapphire crystal, in a steep angle, the chapter ring features the numerals of the minutes, followed by a rail track, with minutes and quarter of minutes. At every five minutes is marked by an inverted small triangle. The hours are using the same font as the minutes on the chapter ring. While the classic bold serif font is very close to the original typeface used by Hamilton on the Navy Chronometer, they look a bit more squeezed, more compact, giving them a more contemporary allure.
The Khaki Navy Pioneer Chronograph features a classic bi-compax layout, with the 30-minute counter at 12 o’clock and the 12-hour counter at six. Unlike the rest of the dial, which is satin finished, the sub-dials are decorated with a very subtle concentrical guilloché pattern, creating a sunburst effect.
The date window at three o’clock is balanced out with the HAMILTON Automatic inscription at nine.
The blued poires hands are also taken from the original Marine Chronometer and it further emphasizes the classic, dressy appeal of the watch. Overall, the dial is well balanced, very elegant and really easy to read.
With a diameter of 44 mm and especially with a height of almost 15 mm, this is far from being a small watch. Some might even complain that it won’t slip easily under their cuff; I had no such problems, anyway the beauty of this piece made me just want it to be visible, so that I can stare at it and go through all its details.
The clous de Paris decoration around the bezel, almost invites you turn it, like a diver watch, of course this has only aesthetic function as it sits on top of several layers of different textures. At the center the surface is brushed which especially visible on the side opposite to the crown and pushers. Apart the fact that it looks good, it also gives the impression of a better grip for your thumb when using the push buttons.
The lugs are offering an interesting solution. At the first glance, they give the impression of being wire lugs and if you already changed a strap on a watch with wire lugs, you know that it can be a pain because you have to be very careful not to lose those tiny screws. There are no screws to worry about here, Hamilton kept things simple by using regular spring bars and if you want to try your piece with a different strap, it will be easy to swap it.
While this is not a diver watch, the case is guaranteed to be water resistant to a depth of 100 m.
The beating heart of the Khaki Navy Chronograph is the H-21 automatic calibre, based on the Valjoux 7750 chronograph, modified by Hamilton to increase its accuracy and power reserve. The 60 hours of juice, when fully wound, will let you leave it on your desk the entire weekend and find it just as happily ticking on Monday morning.
The sapphire crystal protected see-through back of the watch will let you admire this little mechanical marvel. At a closer look, you will discover the H pattern decoration of the bridge and the subtle embellishments of the rotor.
The thick dark brown leather strap with white stitching complements nicely this little instrument. The brushed stainless steel buckle is decorated with the Hamilton logo.
The proportions of this chronograph and overall aesthetics of it are a constant reminder of the origin of this piece, a navigation instrument. Every time, I would look at my wrist, I could not help imagining the feeling of mission accomplished of all those captains that on VE Day, would use a Hamilton to navigate their ship back to their base.
Unlike other tool watches and chronographs that have a more sporty look, the Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Chronograph is mostly a dress watch. Probably because of the size of the dial and the lugs, it has a serious wrist presence without being cumbersome. Even as I have small wrist, I was not bothered by the size of this watch and it was comfortable to wear.
Besides the good looks, the H-21 calibre delivers the power it promises. During the past two weeks, on several occasions, I would leave it on my desk, without wearing it for days in a row and all this time, I wound it only once, when I received it.
At CAD $2,295, with the Khaki Navy Pioneer Chronograph, Hamilton is offering a great value at an affordable price.