I grew up wearing a field watch and have embraced their simple no-frills functionality ever since. Today I can afford to wear almost any watch I could ever want, but I still return again and again to the field watch formula and its close cousin, the pilot watch. And as regular readers will know, I have a soft spot for Hamiltons so when they announced the release of their brilliant new no-date Khaki Mechanical, my heart went pitter patter.
It was only a matter of time until I picked one up, but before I could I had the good fortune to receive one of these watches as a hand-me-down gift from a good friend with whom I frequently exchange Land Rover advice, whiskey recommendations, and watch straps. I knew right then what my next blog post was going to be about. Although I’m obviously very familiar with Hamilton’s field watch offerings from over the years, let me just say that I was taken aback by the charm of this newest member of the Hamilton family. It is a completely delightful watch to own, wear, and use, and will prove a great addition to both the experienced collector’s watch box as well as the neophyte’s wrist. The low price of admission will no doubt make it popular as younger folks look to make their first foray into mechanical watch ownership.
Notably, this Hamilton lacks several features that would make it a good One Watch candidate, like a date feature and some way to measure elapsed time, but what I found over the course of wearing it was that it was exactly these feature deficits that made the watch so charming and fun to wear in other ways. Just as an academic exercise, let’s review the Rover Haven One Watch criteria to see how it measures up.
Reasonable size. For me this is about 40-42 mm, although I'm flexible since one number never tells a watch's whole story. The Hamilton is a very moderate 38 mm in diameter with 20 mm lug width. It’s quite thin and it wears great on my wrist. In fact, I would say it's perfectly proportioned, but I could see some people taking issue with its length.
Good water resistance. A One Watch watch needs to have at least 100 m of water resistance. Just the other night I was at a birthday party for a friend and an unexpected swimming-off-the-dock opportunity presented itself. Since I was wearing a chronograph with 3 m of WR, off it came and in my shoe it went. The Hamilton has a rated WR of 50 m, so although it doesn’t meet this One Watch criterion, the fact is that it would certainly survive a swim, as long as you didn’t inadvertently bump the crown loose.
Strap flexibility. I'm not much of a bracelet guy and I'm not really into rubber straps either, so for me a watch has to wear well on nylon straps and leather straps. If a watch isn't strap-friendly, this is a deal killer for consideration as a One Watch watch. Happily, the Hamilton wears very nicely on Rover Haven Arts & Crafts straps, one-piece pull-thru shell cordovan straps, and nylon NATO straps.
Better than average lume. The ability to read my watch upon waking up in the middle of the night is a key characteristic for me. The Hamilton is just barely adequate in this regard, but I will say that it’s much better than any of the dozen or so other Hamilton field watches I’ve owned over the years.
Strong legibility. I've had some really cool watches, but I've learned that if a watch isn't easily read at a glance, it just won't last with me. The Hamilton gets full marks for legibility, which when you think about it should be a field watch’s primary design goal.
Rotating bezel. A good One Watch watch will have some means of quickly and easily measuring short intervals of time. For me, this is a count-up or count-down bezel, notably absent on the Hamilton. Zero marks here.
Date. A good One Watch watch must have a date indicator to be considered for admission into the One Watch Club. I don't really care where it is, as long as it isn't Sore Thumb Ugly. Again, date indication is notably absent on the Hamilton, so zero marks here too.
Drilled lugs. Bing bing bing! We have a winner in the drilled lugs competition at last. The first thing I did when I got the watch was change out the flanged spring bars for so-called shoulderless strap bars. I love the way they look and the security they offer.
So as I expected, the Hamilton is hardly hitting a One Watch home run here. But having said that, putting a rotating bezel or date indicator on it would ruin this watch for what it is. It would be kind of like saying, “You know, this old Land Rover would be perfect if it had 500 bhp and got 48 mpg on the highway. Oh, and airbags and Bluetooth would be really nice too.” And obviously, everybody has their own One Watch criteria anyway, so what doesn’t work for me might be just fine for you. If you never go swimming because you live at McMurdo Station, you use your iPhone for measuring elapsed time, and you have a good grasp on the date and don’t need to be reminded 48 times a day like I do, then I think this watch would make a dandy One Watch for you.
Ignore its affordability for the moment. If the Hamilton’s arguments for being a One Watch are, well, less than robust, what is it exactly that I and so many other people find so compelling about this Hamilton? Quite simply, it is its archetypical American field watch design language. This Hamilton has been perfectly translated to a timelessly wearable size, and lacks pretty much everything else that you don’t strictly need on a watch. Hamilton just really nailed this watch’s look and feel. Even if you aren’t a student of classic mid-century American field watch design, this watch feels immediately familiar, balanced, and right. Combined with its very affordable price of $475, the ownership proposition is quite difficult to resist.
To put this in slightly different terms, do this thought experiment. Imagine (or recall) your dream vintage car, whatever it is. Now imagine (or recall) all the headaches that often accompany vintage car ownership. If you don’t know much about old crappy cars but have at least dabbled in vintage watches, imagine your worst experience with a vintage watch and multiply times 100. It’s this reality that causes vintage car owners to think from time to time, “Wouldn’t it be great if (fill in car manufacturer here) made my vehicle again?” The opportunity to own your old vintage car from new… Just imagine it: the charm of the old design, but freshly manufactured at a modern factory. Forget bringing it up to date technologically; in this thought experiment your new-old car is simply put together correctly, and is completely free of corrosion, has zero hard-to-find parts issues, no mystery oil leaks, and electrical gremlins haven’t been invented yet. It is a dream for a lot of car folks.
Well, this is essentially what Hamilton has done with the Khaki Field no-date. This watch is your chance to travel back in time and bring back with you a brand new MIL-W-46374, GG-W-113, or FAPD-5101 (or other similar watches, like a Benrus DTU-2A). Except, wait a minute, your new watch brought back from the golden age lacks the poor-to-nonexistent water resistance, crappy time-keeping, flaking radioactive lume, damaged dial, low frequency movement, dime-sized case, and incorrect crown that the Dreaded Previous Owner put on your watch because NOS units are made out of unobtainium.
I have but one niggle with my new watch, and that’s that Hamilton chose to use the Art Deco logo on the dial. Had I designed the watch, I would not have been able to resist the Jet Age italicized logo, which comes from the same time period as the dial and handset on their field watches. But it’s a small thing, and the Art Deco logo is also a handsome one. I do give credit to Hamilton for resisting the urge to put anything else on the dial of this watch. It is simplicity itself.
Other folks will lament the use of “fauxtina” lume compound on the hands and indices. To my eye, it’s perfectly executed here, but even if I didn’t like it in this instance my view of fauxtina in general is that it’s just another detail. Like the finish of the stainless steel case or the size of the crown, you either like it or you don’t. We’re all free to vote with our dollars, so if you just really don’t like the color of the luminescent paint, don’t buy the watch.
Thank you for reading my blog. I welcome your comments and factual corrections, and always enjoy hearing from other collectors and enthusiasts.