Hamilton Watch Co. donated a collection of watches to the National Watch & Clock Museum. Among these watches, the Hamilton Jazzmaster Regulator was reviewed by Adam Harris, guest wristwatch curator and NAWCC instructor. Another watch in the collection, the Khaki Pilot Automatic Chronograph, is now reviewed.
In their austerity efforts in the 1970s the British military allowed commercially available movements to be applied to their pilot’s watches. Hamilton, which the Swatch Group had recently purchased, was one of the companies contracted. Mechanical watches were produced for more than ten years until the 1980s when the military opted for even less expensive and more reliable quartz movements created by Seiko1.
The original military watches have a unique and sturdy asymmetrical design and are sought after by collectors. Hamilton is not the only company to honor the original RAF chronographs with modern-day interpretations, but it was one of the original commercial producers in the ’70s.
The watch’s brushed stainless steel case give it a Spartan and utilitarian appearance. It can take a beating but also is attractive enough for a dress watch. It is comfortable on the wrist and the NATO strap looks and feels austere and adds to its militaristic/nostalgic allure.
The watch keeps good time and the unique H-31 in-house movement is based on the original ETA Valjoux 7750 movement used in the ’70s. It has a 60-hour power reserve and the rotor spins easily even with the slightest wrist movement. The dial numbers are easy to read with enlarged numbers at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock. True to the original watches, the 60 second and 30 minute counter dials are in the 9 and 3 positions. Another curious addition is the date display between 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock.
Its asymmetric design is unique with the case thicker on the right side, engineered to help protect the watch from bumps. The improved ETA Valjoux 7750 movement beckons to the vintage collector and history buff.
Reviewing the Hamilton Khaki Pioneer opened the doors to learn about the history and craft behind the watch. I now understand why Hamilton recreated it and its appeal to a specific audience.
Although a price tag of $1,845 USD may seem steep, it’s actually a great price. The typical mechanical chronograph price range is between $4,500 and $10,000. The ETA Valjoux 7750 movement is well loved and has been modified with an increased power reserve from 42 hours to 60 hours, making it a special in-house movement unique to Hamilton.
This watch is perfect for the military watch enthusiast who doesn’t want to go hunting for an original vintage piece. Although having an original Hamilton Khaki Pioneer may seem ideal, the truth is the vintage market is flooded with fakes, frankens (watches assembled with other watches), and false claims.
If the price of the automatic is a sticking point, Hamilton does offer a quartz version of the watch for $595 USD. Although the seconds subdial and date display differs from the automatic, the appearance is basically the same.
The Hamilton Khaki Pioneer Pilot Automatic Chronograph is a cool watch and a pleasure to wear. I had the opportunity to wear it to an event at the Watch & Clock Museum and I found it interesting to combine the watch with dress. This watch would typically be considered a men’s watch but given that most industrialized nations worldwide now accept women a fighter pilots I believe it can appeal to women as well.
1Cripps, Brandon, “Time Spec: 1070s British Military Asymmetrical Chronographs,” Worn & Wound, October 7, 2013; Knirim, Konrad, “Chronograph Wrist Watches of the Royal Air Force,” British Military Timepieces (Berlin, Germany: Verlag, 2009), 621-624.