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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.