Hamilton Pilot Pioneer Auto Aluminum Review

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A couple of years ago, when Hamilton announced the Pilot Pioneer Automatic Chronograph, it got a lot of people, us included, really excited. It was the exact kind of watch from their archives we want to see them bring back. A cool watch with historical significance and a cult status among collectors. To follow up the success of that watch, Hamilton has riffed on the concept to create a series of 3-handers that still speak to the ’70s RAF pilot watches those chronographs were based, while becoming something new for their line-up as well as an having unexpected twist.

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The so called Pilot Pioneer Automatics are dual crown versions of the RAF asymmetrical pilots watches. By adding the dual crown/internal bezel functionality, they did a good job of creating something new that doesn’t just feel like a the chronograph, sans-chrono. But to make things more interesting, they decided to do two versions, one in steel, and then one in aluminum. A material we’re all familiar with yet rarely see in watches, it’s super light and can be treated have interesting colors. It’s not an easy material to work with, nor is it inexpensive, so it’s not something brands often use. But, Hamilton gave it a shot, creating something very interesting an unexpected. Considering the sheer number of pilots watches out there, Hamilton was smart to make something that would stand out. With a price tag of $1,145, these are a bit pricier than many of Hamilton’s other three hand pilots watches, so let’s see if they are worth the premium.

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$1145

Hamilton Pilot Pioneer Auto Aluminum Review

Case
Aluminum
Movement
Hamilton H-10
Dial
Various
Lume
Yes
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Nylon
Water Resistance
100m
Dimensions
41 x 47mm
Thickness
12mm
Lug Width
22mm
Crown
7 x 4.5mm
Warranty
Yes
Price
$1145

Cases

The case of the Pilot Pioneer Auto Aluminum is a modern take on a classic concept. Obviously, the big deal here is the use of aluminum over 316L steel, the most common case material. In fact, Hamilton does make the exact same watch in steel too, but forgetting that for a second, these are some of the few aluminum watches currently available on the market. As for why aluminum? Well, the most obvious benefits are light weight and anodization. Even with a mechanical movement inside, and a fairly robust 41 x 47 x 12mm case, these watches come in at a mere 50g. That’s barely noticeable on the wrist.

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But the other, and frankly more fun, aspect is the anodization, allowing for a range of unexpected colors. Sticking with the military roots of the line, the Pilot Pioneer Aluminum comes in black, blue, khaki and green. The latter three being the most exciting, though the watch looks pretty killer in black. To me, this is really the biggest selling point of the watch, as the aluminum adds cost, but the ability to get something with a really unique case color doesn’t come around too often.

The anodization is likely a necessity too, as “hard anodization” increases the durability of the case’s surface, protecting from light bangs and scratches. Generally speaking, people’s concern with these watches is in regards to durability, and while I didn’t smack it into any walls or accidentally rub them on sand paper, the watches showed no early signs of wear. With that said, I don’t think they are especially resistant to wear (like tegimented or ice-hardened steel) so I’d treat them with the same caution I do any of my watches.

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In terms of design, the case is a follow up of the Pilot Pioneer Auto Chronograph from the previous year, which is to say a spiritual continuation of the asymmetrical pilot watches that were issued in the 1970’s. Rather than having pushers, it has dual crowns at 2 and 4, operation the internal bezel and time respectively. It’s a great design that is aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable to wear, being a balance sized. The dual-crown design is a nice play on the concept that seems right at home, as the bowing right side extends to guard both crowns.

The 7 x 4.5mm non-screwdown crowns have simple designs with toothed edges, and Hamilton “H”s on their outer surface. The internal bezel is relatively easy to turn even with the crown fairly enveloped by the case. The action is really nice on the bezel too; it’s stiff, but smooth. The time setting crown is a bit hard to pull-out, but still doable. Either way, they suit the aesthetic of the watch, in that they are fairly stripped down, and are sized proportionately.

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Flipping the watch over, you have a matching anodized case back with a display window. Through the display window, you can see the Hamilton H-10 movement, which is a 21,600bph, 80-hr version of an ETA 2824. Other than an attractive custom rotor, the movement is without decoration. Having a display window here is quite odd, as the watch comes mounted on a tightly fitting mil-strap, of which the layer against the watch completely covers the window. To actually look in, you have to partially adjust the strap, which just seems counter-intuitive. Of course, if you switched straps that would be a different conversation.

As far as the colors go, all are pretty interesting, though some appeal to me more than others. Though the least exciting, perhaps, the black looks really good. That said, I’d probably go for a DLC steel over an anodized black if I had the choice (which I don’t). The green is very interesting. It’s pale, at times almost looking gray, but still a very different and appealing case color. The blue is fairly deep, not to be mistaken for any other color, and striking as a very uncommon case color. That said, it’s not my favorite as conceptually I feel that earth tones and camo-esque colors make the most sense. Lastly is the khaki, which is perhaps the most surprising. It’s not as drab as you’d like for a military watch, instead coming off as a very pale gold…but it’s great looking. I’m not inclined to wear gold watches, especially military styled ones, but this I actually enjoyed quite a bit.

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Dials

Each case color has a corresponding dial with generally speaking, the same layout and dial elements. That said, some are more successful than others. Starting with the general design, you have an hour index of numerals getting larger and lumed at 12 and 6, and skipping 3 for a date window. Complimenting each numeral is a small lume dot, which also adds a vintage touch to the design. Encircling this area is a minute/seconds index with fines lines per minute/second and smaller lines for 1/4th seconds. This is all on an inner-dial with a single color surface.

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Outside of this area is a 13-24hr track on a metallic ring with circular graining. Though not particularly classic mil-looking, I like that this areas adds some texture and contrast to the design. One more step out and you have the internal bezel, which features a countdown index in intervals of 5. The execution here is simple, but works. The bezel just looks like a chapter ring, not overweighing the dial. Having a countdown index was a good choice too, as elapsed bezel indexes in pilot watches just seems a bit dull. All of the dials feature roman sword hands with elongated tips, and second hands with a lumed arrow tip.

In terms of color, the dials are based on the cases. So, green with green, blue with blue, etc… But, there are some variations. Both the khaki and green dials have black numerals and contrasting 12 and 6’s, giving those dials different weighting. Obviously, this was done for contrast purposes, but it has a significant effect. The blue and black dials are more legible, with each number having pretty equal presence. The khaki and green dials are more stylized.

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One odd difference is that the green and blue dials have sunburst central surfaces while khaki and black are matte. This also makes a big difference as the matte dials feel more utilitarian, more military. It’s not that the sunburst look bad, they just feel out of place, really making the watches seem like aesthetic pieces rather than functional ones. The last difference is that on the khaki dial, the 13-24hr ring is black rather than silver. This was a smart choice, as the black looks really good here, making the drab khaki surface pop more, and contrasting with the pale-gold case. In the end, my favorite are the khaki and the black. They are the most mil-feeling of the four and the most legible.

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Straps and Wearability

All four watches come mounted on Hamilton’s version of mil-strap, that mixes nylon and leather for a cool look. They measure 22mm and come in black, olive, khaki and navy, each going with the obvious watch. What’s cool about these straps are the details. Rather than metal loops, they have leather ones, and the sizing holes are reinforced with a leather strip. They also feature buckles with matching anodization. My favorite is the olive strap, as the green of the nylon is paired with brown leather, rather than matching leather as on the rest.

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While nice, I have a few issues with them. Yes, they suit the watches just fine, but the tone on tone on tone gets a little boring. I think they could have been a bit more creative with color combinations to emphasize the case colors more, rather than hide them. Perhaps the khaki could have been on black, and black on khaki. Perhaps olive could been on brown and navy could have been on gray. Also, I think a watch with a price tag of over $1,000 should come with more than a mil-strap. So perhaps they could have at least come with the color matching strap and one for contrast…but something leather would have been good too.

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On the wrist, the watches wear very well. They are a comfortable size that is both large enough to be bold, but small enough to wear well. The 41mm diameter gives the watch enough presence, while the 47mm lug-to-lug allows it to sit nicely on the wrist. The 12mm thickness is in proportion too, though the mil-straps do push them off the wrist a bit more. What you wont notice at all is their weight. Despite being medium/large watches, they really weigh nothing thanks to the aluminum cases. This makes them very comfortable for long times on the wrist.

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As far as looks go, they are really interesting watches. Forgetting the colors for a second, they are very attractive military/pilots watches. The cases have a great shape, the dials are well-balanced and have interesting elements. They are a touch vintage, but still very modern watches at heart. They are a great alternative to more classic pilot designs. Now, throw in the colors and you have something very different and unique. All of the colors are fairly neutral, so they should all work with normal casual attire, though one can consider the color more for contrast. For example, like the straps mentioned above, you could try to wear the cases with shirts that would emphasize the color, or conversely, hide them altogether.

Conclusion

With the Pilot Pioneer Automatic Aluminum, Hamilton has made something very cool and different. First, they made really well designed and proportioned 70’s style dual-crown pilot watch. A design that both hints at historical pieces, and is a new and enjoyable concept. Then, they made it out of a while not new, uncommon material, aluminum, making the watches exceptionally light weight, and colored in a way most watches aren’t. While I found some of the design choices a bit odd, between all four you are likely to find one that really interests you.
Throw in a gorgeous boxed sapphire crystal, an 80-hr automatic movement and you have a very compelling series of watches.

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Coming in at an MSRP of $1,145, these are the priced pretty fairly, though you are paying a premium for the aluminum. The steel model has an MSRP of $995, which is even more compelling. That said, you can easily find these watches for a lot less if you know where to look. So, in the end, which one would I get if I had to choose just one? Well… I’d actually go for the steel model, to be honest and boring. I really like the design of these watches. I like the case, the dial layout, the dual crowns… and to me, it doesn’t need anything novel like color. It’s simply a well designed take on a 70’s pilot watch. The steel model also appears to have more in the way of case finishing, with a mix of brushed and polished surfaces, much like the black dial Pilot Pioneer Auto Chrono, which is something I like to see.

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst 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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7 responses to “Hamilton Pilot Pioneer Auto Aluminum Review”

  1. Love the asymmetrical case design.

  2. brodirt says:

    Where is the place to find them for “a lot less?”

  3. Tatsache says:

    1,2k? sorry. the watch look cheap. like a chinese watch for 150.

  4. SJGS says:

    41mm?? Too big!!

  5. somethingnottaken says:

    The green dial isn’t going to be easily readable in poor light, as military style watch should be. As the author states, the sunburst dials don’t fit the theme either. The black is good looking and pragmatic; however, there are many other black watch on the market. So in the end the Khaki is my favourite, with blue in second place. I’d like to see the khaki dial in the green case.