Perhaps the thing we love to see the most in the affordable/accessible price range is mechanical innovation, especially when paired with attractive design. To that end, we found that Hamilton and Tissot, two of Swatch Groups “entry” level brands, have pushed the envelope the farthest with their 2013 novelties. And this makes perfect sense, as they have the R&D and manufacturing capabilities of ETA behind them, hence how new movements can be developed and put in affordable watches.
Nevertheless, it takes good design to implement these movements well, and we think that Hamilton did a particularly great job with this year’s new offerings. Ranging from chronographs to GMTs to skeletons to a very cool regulator, there was a distinct emphasis on mechanism and Hamilton’s own rich history. We’d love to talk about all of it, but for brevities sake, we’ll just focus on the one we were particularly fond of: the Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono.
Based on the RAF issued Hamilton pilot’s chronograph from the 1970’s, the Khaki Pilot Pioneer is a modern update to a cult classic. The 1970’s models are highly sought after collectibles with a distinct military purposefulness that lends to their vintage charm. Notable design cues of the classic are the asymmetrical blasted case design with integrated crown guards, a bi-compax chronograph design and an overall emphasis on simplicity and legibility, as is the case with most mil-watches (here’s a great MWRforum post on the original).
The new Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono takes strong cues from the past, updates the design for a more aestheticized look and gives it a modern automatic chronograph movement that pilot’s of the 70’s probably would have loved to have had. Starting from the inside out, the watch is powered by the relatively new (unveiled in 2011) caliber H-31 automatic chronograph. Based on the Valjoux 7753, the H-31 claims to have increased accuracy and a 60-hr power reserve. Aesthetically and functionally, the H-31 does the job that the original manual Valjoux 7733 did 40 years ago, but with modern components and build. They threw in a display case back on the Khaki Pilot Pioneer for good measure as well.
The design of the watch stays true to the original in many ways, while pushing it into a bit more stylized territory. In doing this they might annoy the purists who want a 1:1 with the original, but make it an overall more accessible and perhaps more wearable watch. The case is almost identical in shape to the original, which given its unique design is very important to the watch’s identity, but is slightly larger at 41mm. All too often, brands “modernize” a classic by making it a jumbo version of the original. 41mm, though slightly larger (the original is teetering on the 39mm to my knowledge), is still a very comfortable and appropriate size.
The dial design has kept the flavor of the original, but with some variation. A bit bolder overall with heavier line weights and a denser seconds index, they managed to update a classic without betraying it. That being said, they did add a circular date window at 4.5, which might be a bit contentious as it breaks up the flow of dial. One other point of variation is the hand design. Rather than simple fence-post style, typical of 70’s mil-watches, they went with a broader roman sword with an elongated tip that is suggestive of an earlier era of watch design, perhaps the 40’s.
The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono is available with a classic black and white dial, or for something very different and fun, a silver dial with black markings and “aged” cream lume. Though the black and white dial version is truer to the original and handsome in its own right, the silver dial variation might be the aesthetic winner. It’s an attractive reimagining of the watch that is a bit more dynamic and fun, while still feeling thoroughly retro military.
The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono will be available with a few strap options, including bracelets and leather, but the ones we saw had a cool modified Hamilton NATO. I call it modified for a few reasons. First off, it looks like a NATO, but doesn’t close the by doubling over on the side. Rather, it closes under the wrist in a more classic fashion. It also has two interesting details, reinforced sizing holes and a metal tip, which give the strap a better build quality than most nylon NATOs. All in all, it has the aesthetic of a nylon pass through military strap, while feeling a bit more like a classic two-piece. The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono should be available soon and will run $1,845.
By Zach Weiss