Hamilton Reveals The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Aluminum, A Hands-On With Their First Watch In Aluminum

Hamilton Reveals The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Aluminum, A Hands-On With Their First Watch In Aluminum

Hamilton Reveals The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Aluminum, A Hands On With Their First Watch In Aluminum   hands on

In their latest line comprising four watches and called the Khaki Pilot Pioneer Aluminum, Hamilton announces its first ever pieces cased in this interesting, yet unlikely metal.

Aluminum is a material that is broadly used in numerous high-tech industries, such as car and airplane manufacturers. It's been long-relied upon for its relative lightness, resistance to corrosion and overall durability compared to other, similarly expensive metals. Still, it is a seldom used material in the watchmaking industry, primarily because it is very difficult to craft and also because it requires special surface treatments that render it suitable for daily wear. Aluminum is very soft compared to its counterparts and although it is light, watch brands tend to use different grades of titanium instead.

Hamilton Reveals The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Aluminum, A Hands On With Their First Watch In Aluminum   hands on

As its name suggests, the Khaki Pilot Pioneer couples this new series of aluminum watches with the theme of aviation, a choice that makes sense in a number of ways. First of all, Hamilton has an extensive history in creating aviation-related watches and it is no surprise that they are proud of that heritage, having supplied the Royal Air Force with pilot's watches during the '70s and created a large variety of professionally-used pilot's watches ever since.

Secondly, most racing cars of today are made of carbon fiber and its different iterations, while modern planes still largely rely on aluminum in their construction. Third, its lightweight characteristics make aluminum suit the Khaki Aviation collection far more harmoniously than its other counterparts, dedicated to "field" and "navy" operations. So, once Hamilton pulled the trigger on a new collection in aluminum, the Khaki Pilot Pioneer was the best way to introduce it.

Hamilton Reveals The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Aluminum, A Hands On With Their First Watch In Aluminum   hands on

With that said, let's see what the four pieces of this new-for-2014 collection have to offer to the fans of the brand, aviation, or just a handsome military-styled piece. Above, you see our collage of the four versions, showing the different color combinations in which they will be available. Hamilton, likely utilizing the Swatch group's R&D capabilities to tackle the task, developed a special metal treatment that allows them to manufacture the 41 millimeter wide cases in four different hues all the while also making aluminum harder and more durable.

This brings us to the primary reason behind the aluminum's outcast status within the watch industry: it is a metal that is much too soft compared to its alternatives. What that practically means is that a watch – and especially one with a military theme – is destined to be put through its paces and be subjected to bumps, knocks and other impacts and hence it is more likely to show smaller and larger dents when made of aluminum. Even forces which would have left little to no mark on a case made of a different metal might considerably damage a watch with an untreated aluminum case.

23 comments
Spaceguitar
Spaceguitar

Unless Rolex is your be-all end-all, the spirit of pushing technological boundaries wherever possible should be ingrained in the spirit of horology. Why the pushback on aluminum then? Titanium is lighter than steel and doesn't seem to get as much  hate.

Disclaimer, I do in fact work for an aerospace company that sends stuff up into space for NASA, military and commerical alike. The inner geek in me, blended with my occupation certainly was excited to see this. If weight is your deal, I got nothing. I have light and heavy watches, and like them for different things.

But like someone said below, if a 7075 alloy is used you're basically talking ballpark steel strength. Matched with a Type III hard anodization...seriously. Bring it on world. And if it gets a ding (would take quite a bit, but still), a tiny bit of touch-up chromate conversion and you're good. No corrosion. Or hell, let it oxidize! Yeah, the color might be gone at that ding, but if the whole patina/aged looked thing is the rage, why is it okay there but not here? These aren't dress watches obviously. They seem like dignified, yet everyday watches. I mean, they're on nylon straps fer chrissakes.

Yes, the price is hot. But let's say the material catches and they do well. I expect the price to normalize. They're obviously trying to recoup some investment in new processes here.

I'd rock one.

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

I found the green one to be the most appealing at BaselWorld. The Hamilton reps (ladies) liked the blue best, but hey, there is too much 'blue' still showing up in watches this year. The blue is certainly not bad, but the green has more of a field vibe to it which matches this watch.  

Only time will tell how the case holds up to dents and scratches. So if the case were steel, would the commenters here who think the aluminum watch is over-priced be satisfied? Not that $1145 is cheap, but its not bad for what you are getting spec wise. And the case cost differential between steel and aluminum is probably less than $20 to Hamilton/Swatch. So at, say, $1200 in steel would this watch be acceptable?

chadhieb
chadhieb

There are two risks with anodized aluminum. First anodizing is a plating making it impossible to buff out scratches. Second aluminum, depending on the alloy, can dent like gold. If the aluminum is bare it can be burnished or rubbed back into place, sanded and brushed. Once anodized you can't do this simple repair. Let's hope they made these cases from 7075-T6 as, at least in aviation, it is one of the harder alloys. 

trj66
trj66

A combo of the greyish case and the black dial would have been nice, but the price is WAY to high. Kill me for saying this, but to me the models look like sofisticated SWATCHes and should be priced accordingly (don't get me started on Hublot..)

mcv1973a
mcv1973a

I think these pieces look outstanding. Nicely designed cases and a very readable dial. But...

Aluminum. I'm not totally sold on the idea. Yes, I know... I'm not an aerospace engineer, nor on NASA's payroll. But then, I don't need to be. Steel is strong and durable. It has heft. Besides, the price point for me is a little too dear considering the materials involved.

If Hamilton makes this model in steel, I will be the first one lining up at my local jeweler to buy one, but until that day comes, I'm sorry, but no thank you.

Sergio Magos
Sergio Magos

Hamilton watches are very durable. I've had my Khaki for ten years, when I took it in for service, the jeweler/watch repair man said: repairs would not be necessary. These new alluminum Khakis look awesome; can't wait to see them in person.

Chronic
Chronic

What is the case diameter? What is the case thickness and interhorn measurement?  Unless I'm going blind, I don't believe the article included these essential product facts.

SuperStrapper
SuperStrapper

I'm surprisingly in. As Rus mentioned, have them down in the $500 - $600 range and I'd be inclined to pick up both the gold and blue one, I like them both. I would bin those awful straps in a heartbeat, but the watches are actually very well done. 


I'm bnot sure who makes the 'H-10", but this is called doing it right: Swiss automatic, priced on a human scale, I'll wager a proper 4hz rate and 80 hours of reserve. Sounds better to me than some uppity 'Manufacture' movement that only tells the time at 2hz with 43 hours of reserve for $10k+. 

Zzyzx
Zzyzx

Maybe I'm just picky or something, but the "mismatching" on the chapter ring and flange ring bothers me. Look at the two different "20's." One is facing one way, the other is facing the other way. To me, it looks inconsistent. And I wonder if it would even affect legibility if someone is trying to quickly read the time/elapsed time. And, then when you add in the hour markers, it just seems to me to be kind of a mess. 

You have hour markers that are all "upright" for lack of a better term. Then for the next ring of numbers (the middle) you have 21-15 facing in one direction and 16-20 facing in another direction. This "flip" is not to my taste, but lots of watchmakers do that, so okay. But then on the next ring (the outermost) all the numbers are arranged in a consistent direction.


To me that just looks messy, inconsistent and confusing when you look over all three "sets" of numbers. I can't help but feel that it's a poor design choice.

EranR
EranR

What a delicious looking bunch of watches, sand looking like the nicest option of them. I actually have quite good experience with good anodized aluminum even on devices that withstand crowd abuse (like some ATMs). It shouldn't be more scratch prone than gold, and kept safe like one keeps their gold watch, should retain its decent looks - obviously with some "character-building" marks added over time. 

DG Cayse
DG Cayse

Good to see this kind of useful experimentation being done in the 'watch world.'

Kudos to Hamilton for pushing this segment of the envelope.


This type of process has been used for many years in the gunsmith world. Deep, beautiful blued barrels and "antiquing" of frames is a controlled oxidation process. Forms a protective and hardened surface.


Look forward to seeing how this technique will play out in this application.

DangerussArt
DangerussArt

I did that golden hued one a lot. It's unexpectedly nice looking, and perhaps the one that will bear the wear the best. I'm not sure where $1150 comes from. At $550, I'd be all over it. I'm seriously hoping Seiko steals the idea and makes an updated Seiko 5 like this.

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

I think they look very nice, but the aluminium kills it for me.  You can harden the outside however much you like and anodisation done properly as it is in industry is quite effective (not the inferior method Apple used, resulting in chipped and flaked coatings out of the box), but it presents the same problem as any other case-hardening method (i'm assuming that's what they're trying to achieve with this technique); the outside becomes a hard shell but the inside remains soft.  In other words the metal is weak against crushing and penetrating forces.  This is the lesson we learn when researching Damasko watches, which are uniformly hardened throughout the metal as opposed to merely being hardened on the outside.  Add to that the lightness of aluminium which feels awful (if you've ever been to Japan and handled their change you'll get what I mean) and the price begins to appear ridiculous.  Thanks to Swatch we already know how much an aluminium watch is worth, and it isn't close to $1150.

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

@MarkCarson I love the look of the watch, just hate that metal when used for this purpose.  Steel isn't exactly expensive as you pointed out, and as long as the watch doesn't become anvil-heavy, i'd prefer it.  I suspect though that it's tougher to colour steel in this way whereas the mechanisms for colouring aluminium are numerous and well-established.  

David  Bredan
David Bredan

@Chronic  Thanks for pointing that out. As I was looking into anodization in-depth (a process which Hamilton officially never even mentioned, let alone elaborated on) and in the process I did not include that somewhere in my explanations. It is 41mm and the article has been updated. Thanks.

stefanv
stefanv

@Zzyzx  The outer ring rotates, so the numbers on that one have to all "upside outward".

stefanv
stefanv

@Ulysses31  Lightness feels awful? I guess we can all be glad you're not an aircraft designer.

antjay
antjay

@Ulysses31 Can't remember the last time one of my watches was crushed or penetrated , I did however run over one with a lawn mower once and that did not end well for the watch . I can assure you that even  steel cases and incabloc movements have their limitations.

 I will be interested to see how these stand up to normal wear and tear . I like the design but fear they would become a scratched , horrible mess in short order , even without the intervention of lawn care appliances .

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

@Ulysses31 Yeah, anodizing aluminum with various colors is well established. While with steel you usually go PVD or DLC routes which limits the colors.

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

@stefanv @Ulysses31 What a silly comment.  I don't wear aircraft on my wrist.  Is there a hidden feature of this watch that causes it to sprout wings and take flight?  Unless you have the strength of an anaemic child or are trying to wear an Invicta monstrosity, the weight of a watch is not a physical burden except in extreme cases (like sports).  Objects with a little heft are reassuring since we generally equate mass with strength (and since there is no mention that this watch is made of a high-grade aluminium alloy with equivalent strength of a heavier metal, that's a fair assumption here).  Most people asked would find the feeling of a very light watch cheap and unpleasant.

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

@antjay @Ulysses31 In my experience i've had my watches endure scrapes and knocks against hard objects in the most unexpected situations.  At least with steel you can buff scratches out.  If you don't do anything too strenuous with the watch i'm sure it'll serve well enough but I like the reassurance that something like that is made from a quality piece of metal.

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

@stefanv @Ulysses31 I think it's different with a pen, as a pen requires a fine level of finger tip control.  I'd prefer a pen to be light since I can't stand getting fatigued fingers.  A watch is merely strapped on and (hopefully) stays in place.  I mentioned Invicta as the other end of the extreme - a weight below something ridiculous like that is usually tolerable, but within that tolerable range I don't see much benefit for the ordinary user in making a watch any lighter.  I am fully aware that there are materials out there that are both light and strong, but I think it is partially instinct (or maybe years of cultural programming) that makes me feel more at ease with something that has weight to it.  Not too much mind you, but not too little.  It's the feeling in hand, how sonorous the metal is (aluminium can rattle and feel "hollow" to me), how it presses into your flesh slightly when you handle it etc.  I don't really see the draw for aluminium when steel is strong and durable and watches made with it aren't painful to wear.

stefanv
stefanv

@Ulysses31 @stefanv  No, it's not a silly comment. People have this mistaken idea that weight equates with quality (which you have disproven yourself with the Invicta example). Light weight only feels awful if it makes you think you're wearing an awful watch. To me, a light weight (yet still made of metal) watch indicates quality. It means that someone took the time to engineer it, instead of just carving it out of a hunk of metal.


I run into the same thing among fountain pen enthusiasts, that feel that a pen needs to be heavy if it's a good pen, whereas a lighter pen is actually much easier to write nicely with.

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