Every year, Hamilton releases one wild, limited edition watch to generate buzz, show what they can do and, I honestly think, to have some fun. Last year’s Face 2 Face is a good example of the latter. Not really a watch (or watches, to be correct) that I imagine anyone would wear, but a great conversation piece for the brand. The year before that, they made their great hand wound Khaki Navy Marine, which came with a gimbaled deck box. We reviewed the open edition of that, the Khaki Navy Pioneer Automatic, which is still one of our favorites from the brand.
Last Basel, they announced the Khaki Takeoff Automatic Chronograph, which when I, and I think most others, first saw, really got our attention. Sure, their 2014 line had plenty of nice pieces, but this one stood out. It was bold and aggressive, with a bullhead design, black case and yellow highlights. Frankly, it didn’t look quite like a Hamilton at first, though the flavors of their aviation watches do come through. The watch also had a feature that related it to their Marine LE, a modular design that allowed it to detached from the strap and plug into a cockpit instrument panel module. This convertible design sealed the deal that this would be a very talked about piece.
As with their other limited editions, the Takeoff comes at a premium, with a price tag of $3,295. As one would expect, it’s outfitted with a good movement, the 60hr H-31 automatic chronograph and a sapphire crystal. Naturally a portion of the price is in the modular design and the small, for a large Swiss brand, run. Whether this watch makes your want-list or not, it’s a cool piece that is a lot of fun to look at and, as I can say from experience, a good bit of fun to wear. So let’s get into it.
Hamilton Khaki Takeoff Review
Case: PVD Stainless Steel
Movement: Hamilton/ETA H-31
Dial: Matte Black
Water Res.: 50m
Dimensions: 46.25 x 50 mm
Thickness: 16.5 mm
Lug Width: 22 mm
Warranty: 2 years
The case of the Takeoff has a brutal and aggressive design. It’s a black PVD bullhead with shocks of yellow, faux-screw details and angled grips abound. It’s meant to look both like a machine of war and a functional piece of instrumentation… and it’s successful at both. It’s very large, which makes sense for the concept, coming in at 46.25 x 50 x 16.5mm. The bullhead design tempers the size on your wrist though, keeping the crown from jabbing your arm. The heigh is a bit alarming at first, but it is a consequence of the modular concept. Essentially, there is a whole chronograph that already is quite tall mounting on to a plate that adds a few millimeters.
From above, the watch almost looks dangerous with sharp lugs and a lot of texture. The bezel in particular really stands out. It’s tall and features coining that goes straight up and angles over. Surprisingly, and perhaps my favorite aspect of the watch as a whole, the outer bezel rotates the inner bezel. Rather than having another crown do the job, they have a curious system where you turn the outer bezel and it actually turns the sapphire and the internal bezel, which is bi-directional and friction fit. It has a great feeling to it, rotating smoothly, but with nice resistance.
Along the side of the case are various grips and graphics. You’ll find “LOCK” in bright yellow followed by arrow shapes, indicating the direction you turn the case to engage with either the strap or panel modules. The mechanism for doing so works very well and is akin to how a camera lens mounts on a body. One simply twists the case counter clockwise with some force and it will disengage and pop out. There are a series of four bearings that act as a guide/lock and then a couple of flanges that actually keep the watch in place.
At 12 is a great set of pushers and a large screw-down crown. The pusher and the crown all flare out to a wide diameter, creating very nice areas to push on or turn. On the outer surface of the pushers there is also an angled texture, adding some grip and a visually aggressive detail.
With the watch module out, you can flip it over and see the H-31 automatic chronograph through the display window. It’s a cool looking movement, as all chronos are, though it’s lacking elaborate decoration. There is a plate under the rotor that has an interweaving “H” pattern, adding some texture, but no Cote De Geneve, Perlage or the other usual suspects.
The dial of the Takeoff riffs on modern aviator/pilot chronographs, keeping the attitude of the case, but also referring to military designs. The main surface is matte black and features various indexes and sub-dials. The primary index consists of bold, white lumed numerals, skipping three, six and twelve. At three there is a date window with black text on a white surface, which works as it is taking the place of the 3. There is a second index of white dashes and minute numerals at increments of 5 on the outside of the primary index. Between these two, you have a very easy to read dial.
Stepping out further, the dial angles up before meeting the internal bezel. Here you have an index for the chrono seconds, with diamonds at intervals of five, long white marks per second and a smaller marks for the sub seconds. The use of the diamond shape was unexpected, but smart. It points in towards the hand and out towards the internal bezel. The bezel is in a count-down format, running opposite of what you typically expect, with white numerals for all but the first fifteen, which are bright yellow, separated by angled hash marks that coordinate with the individual minutes. The use of color here is very effective, drawing in the eye, adding an overtly aggressive element and referring to a “warning” vocabulary one would associate with aircraft.
The sub-dials are nice and large, dominating their halves of the dial. At 12 is a 30-minute counter and at 6 is the active seconds. The seconds index is particularly dense, with heavy white markers and numerals for every 5 seconds. Though not particularly useful, it does balance out the upper half of the dial and case, which when including the bullhead crown and pushers has a lot of visual weight.
The hour and minute hands are both pointed Roman sword style with polished steel around a lume filling. The minute hand has a slight modern twist by way of an angled line that cuts through the lume. It’s a subtle, but nice play on the classic shape that updates the design. I was glad to see something a bit different than the flat, all-lume roman hands we typically see on modern pilots and aviators (not that there is anything wrong with them, just a change of pace). The sub-dials both feature cool little polished arrow hands that are easy to see in light. The chrono seconds is then a bright yellow arrow with a dramatic shape on a thin steel stick. Once again, the limited use of color is effective here, making the hand really jump out.
Straps and Wearability
The Takeoff comes mounted on a 22mm black leather strap with nice detailing. Fitting with the aggressive theme, the padding under the leather comes to a point towards the lugs, creating a large arrow pointing in. It’s a cool way to integrate the strap design with the case that works well. There are also bright yellow knots towards the lugs matching the overall color scheme. I was very glad to see that the whole strap didn’t feature bright yellow stitching, as that would have been overkill. The construction is good too, with nice supple leather and an interesting backing material that is synthetic.
On the wrist, the watch wears large, as you’d imagine given its dimensions, but is not unbearable. Yes, it’s larger than I typically would go for by a few millimeters, but it holds on the wrist well and because of the crown arrangement, doesn’t dig in. The height is noticeable, especially as you have the 7750 wobble going on a few millimeters above your wrist. It would certainly also make fitting under a shirt or tight jacket cuff an issue.
That said, it’s a great looking watch. In vein with other modern military/pilot chronos but Hamilton’s own take. The dial has the right amount of straight forward elements and the right amount of aggressive elements. The case is brutal and awesome. Though the yellow paint might be a bit gimmicky, it looks good. Moreover, the heavy texturing on the bezel and along the side is very unique.
Instrument Panel and Packaging
Clearly, one of the cooler features of the Takeoff is that it can be mounted into an accompanying cockpit instrument panel module. One simply detaches the watch from the strap and locks it into the panel for a secure fit. The panel is steel and can be attached to a cockpit via four hex bolts. While I didn’t try mounting into a cockpit myself (plane’s in the shop) at Basel, they did have it mounted to a portion of a Cessna cockpit. If I recall correctly (I can not find documentation of this) the panel attachment is made to ISO standards.
In reality, you would probably do one of two things with this piece. The first would be my preference, which would be to mount it to a wall somewhere at home, likely by a work desk. Leave the watch in there when not worn, wind it manually and use it as a wall clock of sorts. The other option would be to leave it in the elaborate packaging.
As I imagine they do with all of their limited edition pieces, Hamilton went appropriately overboard with the Takeoff’s box. It’s a big solid wood box with silver paint and riveted metal panels. On the sides “No Step” is stenciled along with angled warning stripes in hot orange. Obviously this refers to plane markings, but given the size of the box is also not a bad reminder (j/k). Keeping the box closed is a key on a bright orange nylon pull that reads “Hamilton” on one side and “Remove before flight” on the other. Once removed, one can flip open the box to find another elaborate presentation.
The Takeoff would be mounted in its steel panel module within a faux section of an instrument panel complete with fake instruments. These supply the scene though they are very toy-like and novel. Nevertheless, it’s more about the story than the packaging itself. It’s cute, but I would rather put the instrument module to good use. The strap module would them be stored underneath.
We’ve encountered the H-31 automatic chronograph before in the Khaki Pilot Pioneer. Paraphrased from that review: The H-31 is based on the ETA Valjoux 7753, but has a 60-hour power reserve as well as other improvements. As part of the Swatch group, Hamilton has access to ETA’s goodies, as well as the occasional unique caliber like the H-31. The 60-hour power reserve is very appreciated as that gives you 2.5 days of off wrist time, making for easy rotation. The H-31 is features 27-jewels, chronograph function, hacking seconds, hand winding, date, the aforementioned 60hr reserve and a frequency of 28,800 bph.
In use in the Takeoff, turned on its side, it provides a nice vertical layout. That said, the lack of an hour counter is a bit frustrating in practice. It’s also a bit less compelling price wise in a $3,295 package as it is in the $1,800 Pioneer. That said, Hamilton doesn’t have access to Longines’ column-wheel chronos, so I suppose they are limited.
The Hamilton Khaki Takeoff LE is a very cool looking, badass watch with some interesting features and detailing. I think Hamilton did a good job overall with the watch itself, making a mean and modern pilot’s chronograph. The novelty of the modular design is at once a highlight and a draw back. It’s well implemented and fun, but unnecessary and impractical, adding to the price and mass of the watch. At $3,295 it’s up against stiff competition in the chrono category. As such, while I really liked the Takeoff, I probably wont run out and get one. Frankly, as far as I can tell from their website, it’s sold out anyway.
But, what I would love to see is Hamilton work backwards from this watch to create a great modern and aggressive chrono, no convertible design, with similar styling and that great internal bezel, which came in around the same price as their other chronographs. At under $2k I think this would find a thriving fan base. Frankly, they could use the same aesthetic and bezel in time only and GMT models for a great series of modern pilot watches that could nicely expand on their line (wink wink, nudge nudge, Hamilton).