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The Hamilton Watch Company was founded in 1892 with the sole mission of serving the burgeoning American railroad system with accurate timepieces. Before the advent of the quartz movement, mechanical time-pieces were the only way that railroads could maintain accurate schedules. As evidenced by the companies early success, by the turn of the century Hamilton was known as “The Raliroad Timekeeper of America” and served a vital part in America’s westward expansion.
During the first World War, Hamilton produced wrist-mounted field watches for the American forces which quickly became preferred over the larger and more cumbersome “old-fashioned” pocket watches. Continuing its tradition of American military watch production, Hamilton provided marine chronometers for the US Navy in World War II.
In 1957, Hamilton continued it’s horological innovation by producing the world’s first “electric” watch, replacing the mechanical mainspring with a battery powered system. Although today’s Hamilton is swiss-owned under the corporate Swatch umbrella, they continue to produce a plethora of value-oriented military style watches with American soul and swiss precision.
“Field Watches” are a popular style of watch deeply rooted in military and wartime watchmaking. What makes a good field watch? They must be rugged, utilitarian, legible, and reliable. These watches were worn by troops on the ground and had to survive in hellish conditions.
The watch we’re reviewing today is the Hamilton Khaki Field Officer Hand-winding, a watch inspired by vintage field watches of the 1940’s. This watch is one of the smallest and simplest field watches in the Hamilton Khaki line, which includes over 14 mechanical and quartz models.
Design and Wearability
This particular model is the essence of mechanical field watches, evoking design language of early 20th century field watches from Benrus, Waltham, Bulova, Elgin and Hamitlon itself. It’s a simple three-handed 24-hour field watch with a date window inside of a bead-blasted 38mm case. The watch also comes with a durable two-piece leather-lined canvas strap, which is comfortable but doesn’t fit well on my flat 6.5″ inch wrist.
With it’s long open 20mm lugs, this watch begs to be worn on a NATO strap (which is how I wear it), and changing straps is a breeze. I should also mention that although this watch is fairly small at 38mm, it covers the wrist well with it’s total lug height of 48mm. Additionally, since this watch has the hand-winding movement and lacks the rotor assembly, it’s much thinner (9.7mm) than it’s automatic companions. The crystal is slightly domed and helps give the simple dial a bit more character as it distorts the light from different angles.
It should be noted that there are two nearly identical versions of this watch. The one I’m reviewing has the tan canvas strap and black dial, the other available model has an olive strap and dark green dial. Although the olive model is beautiful, my preference is for the versatility of the black dial.
The luminosity of this watch is not a particularly strong suit. The hour and minute hand are sparsely illuminated, and the triangle markers around the edge of the dial also have a small amount of glow. It would have really loved if the numerals themselves had luminous paint, but this is a feature that seems to be reserved for the higher priced automatic models in the collection.
One minor complaint with the design is the date window and it’s surrounding markings. While the date window is a welcome and practical feature, it’s presence ruins an otherwise perfectly symmetrical field dial. The “15” printed on the 24-hour sub-dial is displaced slightly and I feel that the dial would be improved if it were just left out entirely. Other than that, it’s a striking minimalist design that truly has to be appreciated in person.
The Khaki Field Officer houses a bog-standard ETA caliber 2804-2. This is a robust hand-wound movement with 17 jewels, incabloc shock protection, and a heartbeat of 28,800 bph. The watch has a large unprotected crown which is an absolute joy to wind up. If you don’t have a hand-wound in your collection this is a great affordable piece to start with, as there is something sublimely satisfying about winding your watch every morning that makes you feel a bit more connected to the machine.
Because this movement lacks the complexity of an automatic rotor system, it is cheaper to service and has a higher chance of surviving mechanical failure. Winding a watch isn’t for everybody, but it does have a certain vintage charm that really has to be experienced first-hand.
The entire Hamilton Khaki Field line is an excellent introduction to value-priced swiss-made mechanical watches. Although this particular model shares the basic looks of a cheap Seiko 5 Military, the inclusion of a hand-winding movement and Hamilton’s rich history in American military watch making makes this a highly satisfying piece to own.
At less than $300, there aren’t many swiss-made pieces that come even close to this value. I highly recommend this piece for fans of military field watches or those just looking for a simple, no-nonsense weekend watch.