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Hemel HFT20 Chronograph Watch Review

Hemel HFT20 Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

I’ll admit that it doesn’t take much to get me excited when it comes to what most would call a typical “pilot’s style” watch. While the archetype itself has indeed taken on many forms throughout history – stretching from the Cartier Santos to the mighty Navitimer – the spirit they share is ultimately the same; whether you’re scrounging for hours in a Skyhawk with a dicey cockpit door, flying long-haul cargo routes, or taking the Gulfstream to Vegas for the weekend. It’s just something I’m drawn to, and there’s no shortage options. Admittedly, like dive watches, the true utility is questionable these days – even though it doesn’t really matter and 90% of the professional pilots I’ve worked with wear quartz Citizen watches anyway. But, there’s always room for something fun along with watches like this Hemel HFT20 Chronograph, which offers a modern, accessible, and low-maintenance adaptation the Type 20 designs rooted in the 1950s.

Hemel HFT20 Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

During Baselworld this year it was crucial for me remain coordinated with our onsite team as well as our family of contributors. Naturally, I took the opportunity to reach for a simple and care-free watch to see if it could go the distance during the week as I drooled over the year’s newest releases from afar. I should also take this opportunity to mention that the Hemel HFT20 Chronograph is available with either a diver’s bezel or a 12-hour bezel for dual time zone tracking. Needless to say, I opted for Type 20-esque option and found that with some quick mental math (just counting, really) and a twist of the bezel, I’d be able to reliably read a secondary time zone without much fuss. Is this anything new? No, not really. But it almost makes me wonder if a 12-hour secondary time zone bezel can at times outpace a dedicated GMT hand in some situations.

Hemel HFT20 Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Case

Perhaps the first thing I noticed when receiving the Hemel HFT20 Chronograph was just how thick the 42mm wide case appeared. In fact, I couldn’t believe that a watch using the Seiko VK64 meca-quartz movement (just 5.10mm in thickness) had a case thickness bordering 16mm – a size typically observed in watches running common 7750 movements. Nevertheless, once I had the watch on wrist the entire package made sense and the proportions are really saved by the attractive 49mm lug-to-lug measurement, which will be a relief for those with smaller wrists. Luckily the watch is also quite light and the flat caseback allows for a nice compact fit along with the curved lugs.

Hemel HFT20 Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

The entire case is machined out of 316L stainless steel and other than the standard brushing, there really isn’t any kind of fancy finishing whatsoever. Really, this is exactly what I wanted out of the Hemel HFT20 Chronograph and I feel that anything else would have seemed out of place. Water resistance is ample at 100m, a signed push/pull diamond crown looks great and makes time setting incredibly easy, and the pump pushers for the chronograph provide a positive, tactile response aided by a grippy tread pattern. I was also surprised to find an AR coated sapphire crystal, something several brands tip-toeing along the sub-$500 range usually skimp out on. Besides that, the stainless steel 12-hour bezel looks just as sharp as the rest of the case and operates with a satisfying degree of grip. The only downside is that it is actually unidirectional, but I can forgive this as it’s something that’s normally decided on as a basic cost-cutting measure.

Hemel HFT20 Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Dial

The Hemel HFT20 Chronograph also shines in the area of legibility and the high contrast approach makes it even easier on the eyes. Its matte black dial features a dual sub-register layout and simple, Arabic numerals for the hour markers with the exception of the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. On this version with the meca-quartz movement the sub-dial at 9 o’clock serves as your 60-minute totalizer while the other sub-dial handles the slightly less useful 24-hour display. There is no running seconds indication and while some might find that to be an issue, I found it liberating to just pick up the watch without worrying if it was set to the exact atomic second. Also, if you hate dial text, there’s nothing to complain about here – ‘Hemel’ and ‘Chronograph’ is all you get.

Hemel HFT20 Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

The sword hands are appropriately sized with a bit of a brushed finish and the central chronograph seconds hand looks striking with its bright orange finish. Speaking of the orange hand, the sweep action is smooth and it also snaps beautifully into place thanks to the instant zero reset function. The printing here is also really crisp with a fully graduated seconds track surrounding the entire dial and sub-registers that feature detailed tracks for their corresponding functions. The only downside here is that the chronograph minutes don’t exactly “jump,” making it difficult to gauge where exactly the small white baton is pointing within the sub-dial. Still, it’s good enough for timing my morning coffee.

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Comments

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  • Drazen B

    Unnecessarily thick and wide.
    Numeral overload.
    The watch that could but won’t.

    • JosephWelke

      I wish it would. 40mm case and 12mm thick and I’d be all over it.

      • John S.

        I have a 6.5″ wrist and was concerned that it would be too big, but it wears great because the lugs are deeply curved and thin.

  • Mikita
    • SuperStrapper

      The movement’s a bit scary but that is a more attractive watch.

      • Mikita

        No need to be scared: a fellow of mine owns the 1963 Seagull reissue since its introduction, so far no single complaint. Based on Venus 175, ST19 is well constructed, just requires to be well-oiled.

        • Tempvs Mortvvs

          The venus ST19 is a great movement if you regulate it, and oil it well, as Mikita mentioned. It looks kinda ugly with the stamped “cotes de geneve engraving” and painted blue screws, that’s all. If it were a real “swiss” one, those watches would cost thousands.

      • John S.

        I have both the Hemel HFT20 and the Seagull 1963. The NE88 is far superior. They are not in the same league. I also prefer the two register design which is true to the original/vintage Type 20/21 watches.

    • Stuart MacKenzie

      I once bought a Hummel for my Wancher

    • Marius

      Looks OK, but at first glance the watch seems to be branded wanker. Not ideal…

      • Mikita

        Yes, kinda hilarious, but the watches aren’t bad..

  • Hmmm, 16 mm thick with a 5.10 mm thick movement with only 100 meters of water resistance. $449 watch with a $36 movement, hmmm….

    I like the 12 hour bezel option but if this watch was thinner and cost less it would be the bomb. How much is the NE88 column-wheel chronograph version?

    • IanE

      I wondered that – $999.99. I quite like the design, but, from the pictures, it doesn’t feel like the build quality really justifies the price.

      • And a grand (USD) is a lot for a Japanese chronograph IMO but still I’d be more interested in that model. Cheers.

        • Matthew Rowe

          You think so? I know the ne88 is modular… Do you know what they cost? There was a watch on KS using the ne88 for like $600.

          • The NE 88 mechanical is $425 (or maybe even less) while the VK84 quartz is roughly $36 (movement prices). So $600 isn’t too bad for a Japanese mechanical chronograph watch. Cheers.

          • Lou

            Outside the odd (and questionable Kickstarter), you’ll have a hard time finding an NE88 based watch under a grand. The VK64 is also a good deal at $449. I bought mine with a 10% coupon code at checkout.

      • John S.

        The build quality is extremely high; excellent fit and finish. I’ve shopped for other NE88 based popieces,m and the vast majority are going for more than $1500 USD.

        • IanE

          Hmm, are you an employee of Hemel – this seems to be your only set of comments!?

          • John S.

            Not an employee. Many of the comments are just unfair speculation. I actually own the watch.

          • Playboy Johnny

            Set up alert!
            (Lights and alarms going off?)

          • Berndt Norten

            PlayBILL Johnny?

          • Playboy Johnny

            Who is Bill…..

          • Berndt Norten

            The original user name of a very funny guy. He has had about a dozen names.

    • SuperStrapper

      With that much spare room you’d assume that is a detriment to water resistance. The watch is basically an air bubble looking for an excuse to pop.

      • Except that underwater the reverse is true. But I agree that it might not be a great aviation or mountain climbing watch.

        • SuperStrapper

          Air pockets are certainly a problem underwater as well depending on the level of protection.

  • E Ezel

    Hemel, that is the word Dutch word for heaven.

    • Marius

      Afval in de magnetron, that is the Dutch expression for microwaved garbage.

      • Ross Diljohn

        Ohhh Scheisse!

  • TheChuphta

    The case is probably that thick so it can accommodate the automatic movement, right? Seems like less of a design choice than a simple matter of Hemel needing to save on production costs and making just one case for both movements.

  • Playboy Johnny

    No.

  • John S.

    I couldn’t be happier with mine. The NE88 is so well regulated that it’s been running about +/- 2 seconds per week, and it fits underneath all my shirt cuffs. I am not sure what the water resistance comments are all about. It’s a pilot’s watch in the classic Type 20/21 style. It’s NOT a diver. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/34a07e1b7e886c62d19beb0ee3786933ec83c5830006d6de2241b71b7b19ccb5.jpg

    • Michael Peñate

      Nice shot and thanks for sharing. Good to get some insight on the way your NE88 version has been performing. Looks sharp with the dive bezel too.

  • Travis Cannata

    “because I usually swap leather out for a NATO any chance I get.”

    Blasphemy. Watch and Badge please.

  • Playboy Johnny

    NOTICE: Rubber B is in the house!!!

    • Michael Peñate

      I’d put one on this watch, take you out for a steak dinner, and never call you back.

      • Playboy Johnny

        Deal! : )

    • Stuart MacKenzie

      Rubber B is money! Literally…

      But worth it!

  • Ross Diljohn

    Guess who’s back? Back again…

  • Tom Alaerts

    I have the HFT20 with NE88 and black ceramic diver bezel.
    Nicely made with a good feel and great looking. NE88 keeps very good time as well – it is an interesting alternative to the 7750 though not sure I notice a usability difference with its column wheel in practice.
    Thickness of the case is likely to accommodate the NE88 using the same case instead of separate one for the vk64 variant.
    Lume is not spectacular but sufficient, it reads through the might if you squint.
    Leather strap is rather good quality though I experimented and currently wear it on rubber.
    My one wish be a 12h variant with the black ceramic bezel.
    I understand that the brand owner is of Dutch descent, hence the Hemel (heaven) name.
    I recommend this watch if you like that Type 20 style. Don’t we all?

  • ProJ

    Most importantly, is there any rubber strap that conveniently fits this Hemel? I have been hearing about a company that makes really expensive rubber straps but can’t quite recall the name.