Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Automatic Review

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One of the cooler items to come out of BaselWorld 2012, in the accessible category, was the limited edition Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer. This 46mm, Unitas 6498-2 powered time piece paid close respect to the Marine Chronometers Hamilton manufactured in the during WWII for Naval vessels. These deck clocks were key maritime instruments, as they provided a precise time reference for calculating longitude. Hamilton recreated, albeit in smaller form, the look and function of this precision instrument by creating a convertible watch, which could be worn on a strap via wire lugs, or mounted in a gimbaled box as a show piece. The Khaki Navy Pioneer was priced at $2,945 and appears to be long gone.

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At the same time, however, Hamilton also released the Khaki Navy Pioneer Automatic, which is an open edition watch that also stays true to the Marine Chronometer design, but made to be much more wearable. This 40mm version is much smaller than the LE as well as most other Marine Chronometer style watches on the market, which tend to be 42 – 44mm, and manual wind. By using the ETA 2895-2 automatic, they were able to reduce the size to one that is much more practical in a business/casual design, yet keep the signature 6 o’clock sub-seconds dial. This version also ditched the convertible design for simple and classic wire lugs.

Despite its smaller size, the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto makes an immediate and lasting impression. The proportions are spot-on for a more practical take on this classic style, the case has some very interesting details and the pale silver dial (also available in blue and black) is simply a thing of beauty. This watch is, essentially, what Hamilton does best. They take an idea from their history, create something new that has close ties to the original, and execute it flawlessly. They also end up with something that is unique in the market, despite being a known style. The Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto has an MSRP of $1,095, which is a fair price for such refined piece.

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$1095

Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Automatic Review

Case
Stainless steel
Movement
ETA 2895-2
Dial
Silver
Lume
No
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Leather
Water Resistance
100m
Dimensions
40 x 46mm
Thickness
10mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
6.5 x 3.5mm
Warranty
yes
Price
$1095

Case

The Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto has an interesting case design that speaks to the larger pieces from which it draws. Measuring 40 x 46 x 10mm, the watch is a very nice medium size, that is simultaneously down played by the wire lugs (wearing more like a 40mm lug less watch) and emphasized by the expansive dial. From overhead, the case is a simple cylinder with thin wire lugs protruding out. Since there is space around the main round case, it really looks like a small clock.

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Looking at the case from the side reveals what’s interesting about the construction. The top of the case is a cylindrical bezel with a knurled edge, which is both decorative, adding texture, and creates a more durable appearing facade. Beneath the bezel, the case steps in, such that the diameter of the bezel and case back are different. This area, which has a slightly convex slope, is then lightly brushed, adding a very well executed and delicate bit of finishing. The case back then screws on from below and has built in flanges, from which the wire lugs protrude. The result is that the watch looks like a small deck clock/pocket watch that has been converted to a wrist watch. I love that the design here actually tells a story, as it hints towards the watch having a previous existence as a marine chronometer.

Off of three is a nicely sized 6.5 x 3.5mm crown, with a toothed edge and a large Hamilton H logo. Though the watch is an automatic, it can be hand wound, so the low and wide crown helps facilitate that. Flipping the watch over, you are presented with a display window that shows off the ETA 2895-2 movement inside. Around the window are various details and small screws holding case back on.

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Though the overall appearance is simple, the construction and geometry of the case is surprisingly complicated, and though we haven’t been disappointed in any of the cases of Hamilton’s we’ve reviewed, this is probably the nicest. The construction is clever, appearing elegant and industrial at once. Plus the finishing is very nice. The knurling stops, then there is a polished line, followed by the lightly brushed sides, then another polished lip. It all comes together for quite a dynamic appearance.

Dial

The dial of the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto is essentially a scaled down version of the one found on the LE, with some minor layout changes. The design, which should be obvious by now, speaks to the marine chronometer by having large, clear numerals, a simple minute track and an emphasized sub-seconds dial at 6. The dial surface of the version we had is a pale, matte silver, that almost looks white, but has a cooler temperature and slight metallic sheen.

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The primary index consists of large Arabic numerals in gloss black. The font used is very elegant, speaking to the early 20th-century with slightly flared serifs. Between the numerals and the edge is a very thin railroad minutes track with small black triangles at intervals of 5. It’s a very slight index that is easy to almost not see, but it helps break up the silver. On the perimeter of the dial is an angle chapter ring that simply has small numerals at intervals of five, adding legibility to the dial.

Above the 6 marker is a sub-seconds dial in a contrasting silver. They added a concentric circle graining to the small area, which darkens it and gives it a metallic sunburst effect. The result is a focal point that appears like an instrument within the instrument. The index then mimics the larger dial, but is much denser given its size, appearing more complex. On the larger LE, the sub seconds actually cuts into the 6 marker, which is more typical of these designs. Due to the movement’s design, the sub-seconds on the 2895-2 is relatively close to the center axis so it sits between. Since the watch, in the end of the day, is a refined take on the chronometer, I think the cleanliness of the execution works out.

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Just below 12 is a bit of text reading “Hamilton” and “Automatic”, in a fairly small font that doesn’t disturb the dial. The rest of the dial is spared any text, save the customary “swiss made” flanking 6. At 3 is a window showing the black on white date wheel. Since the dial is pale silver, the white of the date wheel doesn’t not contrast too greatly, so the window isn’t terribly obtrusive, though it likely is more so on the blue on and black dial varieties. That said, it does feel a bit out of place and throws off the symmetry of the dial. Naturally, i would like to see a no date version, or a 6 o’clock date version. Better still, a big date at 12, but that would be a whole different caliber.

The hands of the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto are Poire style, and made of heat blued steel. This is a very classic style that is appropriate to a Marine watch and simply looks great. The hour hand runs to about the midpoint of the numerals, and has a flared, spade shaped tip. The minute hand more resembles a roman sword style, and is longer, ending over the minute track. The seconds hand is a thin stick, with a small spade shaped counter weight, which gives it more visual presence. The blue steel works very well on the matte silver, glinting blue in light and black in shadow. It adds to the overall handsomeness of the watch.

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Movement

Inside of the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto is the ETA 2895-2 movement. This 27-jewel automatic features manual winding, hacking seconds, date, small seconds, and a frequency of 28,800 bph. This is essentially the 2892, which is we’ve seen several times before, with a sub-seconds dial. As such, the movement is fairly thin for an automatic, allowing for an overall thin case. Looking at the movement through the case back, you can see it’s fairly undecorated, save a Hamilton logo, in black, on the rotor. Some perlage or cote de Geneve would have really upped the ante here.

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The 2895-2 is certainly a quality movement, as we expect from ETA. During my time with the watch is showed no issues with accuracy or power reserve. Since this watch has a frequency of 28,800, the small seconds motion is incredibly smooth. Smaller hands are always a bit smoother, as there is less vibration, and in this circumstance, there is almost no perceivable ticking.

One thing that would have been nice, apart from more decoration, would have been a COSC certified version. Given the history and styling of the watch, having “chronometer” on the dial would have been exceptionally cool, as would the certified accuracy. Of course, that would have upped the cost of the watch some.

Straps and Wearability

The Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto comes mounted on a gorgeous 20mm dark brown leather strap. From a distance, this might not seem like a special strap in any way, but the second you feel it, you can tell it’s different. The leather is very stiff and rigid. At first, almost too much, but it breaks in quickly, and ends up forming to your wrist, creating a very comfortable, rugged and durable strap. Unlike a lot of thick leather straps, this does not have padding, rather it’s a solid piece of hard, likely bridal, leather.

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It’s a dark chocolate brown with cream stitching that is backed with a soft natural/pink leather, which compliments the watch perfectly. The brown plays off both the blue hands and pale silver dial, for a great harmony. The heavy style is also at once simple and refined, enough to give the watch a formal presence, yet masculine and tough, speaking to a more casual and sporty potential.

On the wrist, the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto wears incredibly well. The 40mm case sits perfectly on the wrist, having enough mass to seem sturdy, yet still feel classic and formal. It’s also pleasantly thin at 10mm tall, hugging the wrist and slipping under a shirt easily. Due to the wire lugs, the watch feels more like a lug less design, so the lug-to-lug is relatively insignificant in how it feels. That said, it’s better than a lug less design, as there is some space around the watch, which emphasizes the dial. And the dial on this is big. It’s not quite edge-to-edge, but it reads like it’s larger than 40mm, but only for the sake of good wrist presence.

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Aesthetically, this watch is spot-on if you like the marine look, which you should, cause it’s a damn handsome look. It rides the line between dress and casual, making for a very versatile design. Since the style is abstracted from deck clocks, which do have Naval function, there is something bolder and more utilitarian about it than a dress watch. To me, this makes it look at home with work boots, denim, dress attire…anything really. The palette of silver, black, blue and brown also compliments just about everything, whether you’re wearing a white oxford under a blue sport coat or a plaid flannel. It’s a watch you can put on before you get dressed and not have to worry about it. And should you be a stickler for matching leathers, this will absolutely take to a black strap, a blue strap or a lighter honey brown… you just can’t go wrong.

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Conclusion

As should always be the case, the real test of the Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto is how enjoyable it is to wear. It really satisfies an itch for marine watch, while also providing a lot more to be into. This isn’t simple Hamilton’s version of X; they went above an beyond to create something very interesting and visually appealing. Looking at it now, on my wrist as I type, I’m drawn in by the subtle complexity of the case, the rigorously simple and legible dial, the flecks of blue coming from the hands. This is the kind of watch you will find yourself wearing more than others.

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So, if you’re looking for a marine chronometer, a versatile and very mature piece, something with early 20th century styling that doesn’t seem out-of-context today, the Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto is a very strong contender. The silver dial really did it for me, though the black and blue dial variations also appear to be very handsome, albeit more of a departure from the source material. Overall, there is little I would change, the most significant would have been a different approach to the date window, followed by a more decorated movement. That said, at $1,095, I think this is a hell of a watch (and one that could likely be found for less) that is worth the money, because of what a pleasure it is on the wrist.

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Zach is the co-founder and Executive Editor of worn&wound. Before diving head first into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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  • I’ve been hovering over this watch for quite sometime and this review doesn’t help me from getting trouble with my wife. Even more amazing seeing the video, great review guys. Off I go!

  • This is a lovely piece.
    The simple and clear dial, wonderful blue heated hands, interesting bezel and wire lugs make this one marvelous package.
    If it only had a porcelain (or porcelain-like) dial, a bigger (like the LE) or lower placed second subdial, and possibly a manual movement it would be a perfect watch. This way its “only” very close from being an ideal Marine Chronometer style watch.
    I think that a manual movement like the ETA 2801 could also keep the watch dimensions smaller. It does for example for the 37mm Stowa Partitio. And adds that extra feeling.

  • I really want to love this watch, but the date window ruins it. I have the hand wound version of the Field Pioneer and would love a hand wound marine to go with it.

    • I agree about the date window. The watch would look better without it. However on the silver dial, unlike the blue and black its not so obvious. What ruins it, in my opinion, is the too small or too close to the center subdial. It makes the watch somehow “vertically” unbalanced. Kemmner, Stowa, Steinhart, Dornblueth, Shaumburg….. don’t have this issue.

  • Absolutely beautiful watch.

    I love the detail on the outside of the bezel and the retro H on the crown.

  • This is a great looking watch. On the silver dial, I’m ambivalent towards the date window, but I know I would not like it on the black or blue dials.

    Nice review, Zach.

  • If there was a no date option, it would be on my wrist right now. Date window aside, it is IMO the perfect Marine Chronometer design that is within the affordable realm.

  • Pat

    Beautiful watch.

  • What a nice piece. Amongst my friends (I’m sure many of you get this too), I am often asked “what watch should I buy for a maximum of $xxxx?” This one will be a top recommendation at this price range. Great article, btw.

  • This watch completely k.o.’s all those “I have $2,500-$7,500 to spend on a watch. What should I get?” arguments. The answer is “this one and save the rest for something like car or house payments.” I was taking a break from automatics and now this one shows up!!! It’s proportioned fine (shows you that 40mm is big enough), I don’t mind the date function, and it’s the perfect gentleman’s watch with a nautical theme.

    Count me in.

  • Is it possible to change the strap on this watch? Looks like it might be a pain…

    • Found out it’s just spring bars… Easy enough

  • Wow, what a beautiful, classic watch. I simply love your thorough reviews. Thanks for what you do…. And the stress you put on my pocketbook! So many watches… So few dollars! This one may need to be added to the collection!

  • Cam

    Help! This or the Stowa MO??

  • Any idea how to change the strap on that bad boy?

    Are the wire lugs held captive under the caseback or something?

    • w&w

      Hi Smaug,

      There are spring bars holding the straps on, so nothing out of the ordinary.

      -Zach

  • Beautiful watch.

  • Bill

    I did not know that this Hamilton had heated blue hands. I could not find that information elsewhere, can you confirm that the hands are heated blue steel. If so, this gives the Hamilton more points in my tough decision between it and a Stowa marine automatic.

    • hellion

      I’curious about that too.

  • Pascal Leers

    Going to buy this one next month. It looks so damn nice.

  • Jason

    Is strap swapping possible with the wire lugs on these?

    • Partha

      i”m wondering the same thing and I cant find anything online going through whether strap changes are possible and how to do it

      • yes, absolutely! There is a spring bar between the wires, so it’s as easy to change as any watch.