My favorite new Hamilton watch for 2013 is the Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono. This is a mechanical version of last year’s quartz-base Khaki Pilot Pioneer, and offers a much more appealing version of this slightly retro-styled aviator chronograph timepiece. Swatch Group’s Hamilton is not the most expensively priced brand in the group, but at least once a year they offer a watch that mixes a fair price and fantastic detailing in a watch that is really hard to resist.
Anyone familiar with Hamilton’s Khaki collection will immediately recognize the Pilot Pioneer Auto Chronograph. The black or silvered dials are distinctively Hamilton in their design, and the overall retro military theme is very much what the Khaki collection is all about. However, details such as the shape of the case and minute markers help this piece stand out from – for example – their field watches. Both dials are quite good looking and the Hamilton is offering the Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono on three separate strap/bracelet choices.
One of the more interesting case details is its asymmetric design. This is a style borrowed from a watch Hamilton apparently produced for the British Royal Air Force in the 1970s. It gives the case a thicker side to the right which acts as a crown and pusher guard. The funny thing is that for many people, unless this fact is pointed out they would not notice it. If you are going to have a lopsided case then I guess it is great to have it be not very noticeable. Perhaps you feel differently. Did the uneven case design jump out at you right away?
Sized at 41mm wide, the watch nevertheless feels sizable thanks to a thick case and relatively thin bezel for a watch in this genre. We are big fans of sandblasted cases, especially in tool or military watches. The finishing on the steel case is excellent, offering beautiful views from all angles. The “H” for Hamilton on the crown is actually polished which is an appreciated detail. In addition to the NATO strap, Hamilton offers the Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono on a leather pilot strap or an attractive steel metal bracelet.
Small rings around the sub dials on the main dial add some depth and, legibility is very good despite a lack of lume for the chronograph (aside from the second hand) for night viewing. There are SuperLumiNova lume points around the dial, which may be more difficult to view than the hands and the 12 and 6 o’clock hour indicators, in the dark. Though we haven’t tested it in poor light.
Overall we like the dial a lot, whether in the sunburst silver with aged-style lume or the black and white dial. We feel that the detailing for the date window and disc could have been a bit better. Hamilton merely cuts a small hole for the date window, which is in a white tone that doesn’t match anything else on the dial. A simple frame or matching date disc would have helped this good dial look even better.
We checked out the version of the Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono on the NATO-style strap, and boy does it have some appreciated details. There are a lot of cheap NATO straps out there, and with their fashionable popularity, a lot of people are seeking them out. Hamilton went a bit above and beyond offering a strap that looks good and is built for extra longevity. A strip where the buckle holes are is added to prevent too much wear in that area, and a metal end piece is placed on the end of the strap to prevent fray. The strap rings come in a matching bead-blasted finish and are thicker than you’d expect.
Inside of the watch is the Swiss ETA produced Hamilton exclusive caliber H-31 automatic chronograph movement. I believe this movement first appeared in the Hamilton Pan Europ (a version of which made our top Baselworld 2012 watch list). I believe the H-31 is a reworked Valjoux 7750 automatic, made to be a bi-compax 30 minute chronograph and fitted with a larger mainspring that gives it a 60 hour power reserve. It is possible that ETA slowed down the 4Hz movement to 3Hz to offer the longer power reserve. Hamilton fits the Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono with a sapphire crystal and the case has 100 meters of water resistance. Price for these beauties, when they are available soon, will be $1,845. hamiltonwatch.com