Review: Hanhart Pioneer One Limited Edition

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Long ago, in a village called Gütenbach in the Black Forest of Germany, farmers used to spend the bitter cold winter months building clocks in their houses. This was moonlighting in the extreme. Today Gütenbach is home to just 1,170 people and just one watch company, Hanhart. Almost stereotypical of German engineering, Hanhart has always set accuracy, legibility, and functionality as the highest priorities for their watches, earning them heaps of cred among die-hard tool watch enthusiasts and collectors.

Some may already know the legend of Hanhart’s signature red pusher chronographs. As the tale goes, the amorous lover of a pilot painted it red with her nail polish to remind him of her while he swerved and spun his plane in jaw-clenching dog fights. The truth is a little less exciting: apparently the pusher is red so that pilots wouldn’t accidentally zero out the watch during a bombing mission. Whether you prefer fact or fiction, there’s a good story to go with your red pusher Hanhart.

But what to make of a Hanhart with no red pushers, or no pushers at all? That’s just what the folks at WatchBuys convinced Hanhart to find out with the three-handed Pioneer One Limited Edition, a series of just 150 units available through WatchBuys.

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$1170

Review: Hanhart Pioneer One Limited Edition

Case
Stainless steel (bead blasted)
Movement
Sellita sw200
Dial
Black
Lume
Super-LumiNova
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Brown distressed leather with rivets
Water Resistance
100 meters
Dimensions
42mm x 49.5mm
Thickness
12mm
Lug Width
22mm
Crown
Push/pull
Warranty
Yes
Price
$1170

The Pioneer One takes its inspiration from the 1950s Hanhart Flyback Chronograph 417. Steve McQueen owned one and wore it in just enough photo shoots to make today’s watch-nerds completely freak out. While other Pioneer series watches include details found on the 417, the Pioneer One borrows most liberally from it—which is ironic given that the Pioneer One is one of the few non-chronographs in the Pioneer series.

McQueen looking ever-so-cool and wearing his Hanhart on a bund.
The inspiration.

Among the recent flurry of sub-40-millimeter tool watches, the Pioneer One is hardly small at 42-millimeters, but for a pilot watch it’s still on the smaller side. It is just 12-millimeters thick with a relatively short 49.5-millimeter lug-to-lug span. Given the mellow lug angle, the Pioneer One will fit predictably for those who know how those dimensions work for them. Because the bezel is pronounced and quite wide, the dial doesn’t present as overly huge.

The fluted bezel rotates in both directions with smooth friction action and the abundant grip makes it a cinch to turn. This bezel design originally accommodated leather pilot’s gloves, so it had to be easy to grab and spin. That performance demand may also explain the enormous knurled crown. While it may be historically accurate, it is just a little too big in this context. Even the 417’s crown extended roughly half as far as the Pioneer One’s. With that said, the crown does sing in tight harmony with the bezel, and their shared fluting ties the watch together.The Limited Edition we have in for review includes no date, a bead-blasted case, and a few dial modifications. The two non-limited versions include a date window, a brushed case, and come in either a black or white dial version.


Click here to read our review of the Hanhart Pioneer Monocontrol chronograph.


Starting with the general issue versions, both are quite attractive and highly legible, though to my eye the white one wins for a few reasons. The sharp black outlines of the numerals add a sharpness lacking on the black version, and the date window gets the same outline, thus better integrating into the dial. Also unique to the white dial are the red minute track numerals, which pick up on the red pip on the bezel and the red tip on the seconds hand. The bright white Super-LumiNova that fills the numerals and hands matches the pure white dial, allowing the black markings to pop.

The two general release models.

The black general issue Pioneer One lacks the crispness of the white one. I attribute that difference to the numerals being rendered in slightly green lume that doesn’t quite match the white paint on the rest of the dial. And perhaps the unframed black-on-black date window is a little too discrete, creating a low-energy zone around 3 o’clock.

And here’s where the limited edition no-date version swoops in to offer perfect dial symmetry and a mellower, more cohesive vibe overall.

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With the Limited Edition Pioneer One, the Super-LumiNova gets a beige tint. I’ve seen so many watches with so-called aged lume by now that it no longer jars me, and I usually side with those who see it as just another color. On the Pioneer One Limited Edition, that color works wonders. The contrast between the bright white hands and their off-white filling amplifies their attractive shape, which was directly lifted from the 417 Chronograph. I tend to tolerate a slight lack of clarity with aged lume—probably because it’s meant to look a little old and beat up—and the painted-on numerals work well on the Limited Edition’s mellow colorway.

Going deeper into the dial, we see that the Limited Edition’s recessed hour track forgoes the gently engraved concentric circle pattern you’ll find on the general issue models. This modification ever-so-slightly mellows the dial, allowing the beige lume to just float there. Add in the lack of date and this dial is placid, symmetrical and elegant. Sometimes tiny details really are everything.

Speaking of which, check out the numerical font, which is loosely based on the one found on the 417 Chronograph. The “5” is charmingly snarled, grumpy, and plump like a little Winston Churchill. And that “4” is poised and handsome, like Churchill’s footman dutifully awaiting his next instruction. On the other hand, the “6” is way out there, loose and free like the Letter G that sponsored Sesame Street back in the 1970s. Flipped over as “9” it’s like a Constructivist ampersand. This font is an excellent lesson in how tiny details can add up to enormous personality.Case finishing on the Limited Edition is stellar, with sharp edges and ultra-smooth bead blasting (recall that the general issue cases are brushed). When bead blasting is done right, as it is here, it transforms stainless steel into a silky and subdued surface that resembles titanium. Perhaps more than any other element, the bead blasting really mellows the Pioneer One Limited Edition.

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The movement is a Sellita SW200, the increasingly popular clone of the trusty ETA-2824, offering a 38-hour power reserve, hacking, and quick-set date. That movement and its logo-bearing rotor are visible through the clear case back of the general issue models, while the Limited Edition sports a handsomely decorated solid back, including individual serial numbers and more of that great bead blasted steel.

No big surprises with the leather strap. It’s 22 millimeters wide, sturdy, thick, stitched, slightly aged and includes a single rivet on each side, The signed pin buckle matches the case perfectly.

Hanhart doesn’t mess around. Their watches are serious tools with a deep and distinguished heritage, and few brands are as committed to such a singular aesthetic. Even when Hanhart modernizes its offerings (as they did with the Primus series), the key signifiers are in place and no one would mistake them for any other brand. The Pioneer One is like a meditation on the essentials of Hanhart, as if the designers were answering the question: How much could you leave out and still call this a Hanhart? The Pioneer One answers that question with understated grace, and the Limited Edition brings additional calm through its various subtle modifications.

As of this writing, the Pioneer Limited Edition is currently in stock over at WatchBuys. The standard issue Pioneer One is $1,070. The limited edition Pioneer One is $1,170. WatchBuys

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.
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