Confessions of a rebellious WIS - A review of the Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic
The Big Questions
I used to think that since there’s so much variety available today, the weird and whacky world of watches would hold my fascination for a long time. And it has done, ever since I was old enough to get my gooey fingers round my father’s old Omega (which I was gratified to learn, did not contribute to his early demise). However, during a recent archaeological dig through my watch box I wasn’t surprised to find so many mummified corpses. It seems that in the past few years I’ve accumulated rather more watches than I thought. According to the general symptoms of this madness, where prices paid for a watch grow steadily from a few pounds to thinking about having to sell sundry body parts, and hoping the missus doesn’t notice either the missing appendage (doubtful) or the new watch (divorce), the inevitable questions begin to loom large, especially after a few glasses of a favourite alcoholic beverage.
The topic occasionally crops up on watch fora - after owning lots and looking at what must be millions of watches (well, thousands, anyway), I asked myself the questions that most WIS ask themselves after nothing has stirred their loins for months. Where am I going with all this? When am I going to wear this one? or that one? Will I ever wear this one again? Many times I’ve endured the suffering of a disturbing bout of common sense (aka softening of the brain) and had to lay down in a darkened room for an hour, where I hallucinate about selling the whole lot and wearing just one watch till one or the other of us falls to pieces with old age. Now, I have to say that this idea appeals to me, and goes along with the equally appealing idea that a watch with some personal history attached to it becomes more than just a watch. It becomes a part of who you are.
So yes! Why not? Apart from one or two pieces I’d never part with (my Dracula watches - forever entombed in their boxes and only coming out after dark, if ever - sad, but true), why not dump all the quartz tat along with the rest of the wannabees and get one great watch that you’ll wear with pride, I asked myself. Get that one watch and never look back. When you get the urge to buy something else, you can look at your wrist and ask yourself if you really want to consign it to oblivion in favour of something else. The answer will likely be NO! (This scenario does have a curiously spooky parallel with those other creatures of the night - women, but, of course as we all know, the answer would be different. Still, that’s another story for a another forum...)
If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise - Robert Fritz
The older I get the more I seem to be losing favour with watches that I would have sold my kids for two or three years ago. This time however, I had to have something that’s truly versatile, something rugged but not heavy, uncomplicated but good to look at, not exactly a tool but with just as much cool. Not too much of a tall order, you’d think, but initial nosings around the web and local ADs were disappointing to say the least. Some really nice pieces but nothing jumped off the screen or out of the window, grabbed me by the throat and demanded money with menaces. I wondered if I was getting a little jaded. After gawking at so many watches, everything begins to look curiously the same.
For long term contentment a thing has to resonate with core values and ideals. Many vintage pieces have exactly what I was looking for, mainly bling-free, simple classic designs and smallish cases, which I prefer. Most modern or fashionable things have their own appeal but are often over-hyped, over-complicated, over-designed, over-priced and/or over-size. Oh, that I could go back in time fifty years and press my nose against some jeweller’s window and gaze at all those loverly watches (much as I do now, in fact, but in a different era and with less disappointment).
In the main, vintage watches didn’t draw attention to their owner. They were honest, straightforward and unself-conscious, designed to tell the time with a minimum of fuss. Arguably, the best part of watch buying is the deliberating, pondering and brooding, spending countless hours poring over watch .... (especially as it has the added bonus of giving the brain something constructive to think about in ‘meetings’ at work). It certainly seemed to me that vintage was the way to go. Still, I wasn’t completely sure. Lack of durability and servicing/running costs are the biggest issues – and waiting for the right piece to come along. I’m the kind of guy who has to have things yesterday. I’ve never had the patience to learn to be patient. Besides, there are still a few sensible options for guy like me.
The Bare Necessities (not in any order)
- Price not necessarily a consideration, but I don’t want to go crying to my bank manager if the worst should happen. Nor do I want to spend so much that I’m babying the damn thing – hate that.
- No bigger than 38mm case
- Classic design, preferably with a vintage feel.
- Fit, form and function with no BS.
- Less is definitely more.
- Quality/durability of construction. Fitness for purpose.
- If possible, sapphire crystal is the way to go for a worry free life.
- Stainless steel case.
- At least 50m WR.
- Versatile – got to look good with jeans or a suit.
- Brand history/heritage a definite plus.
Hamilton - The Definitive Choice
The Khaki Field Automatic, the latest in a long line of military watches from Hamilton (or ‘military style’ if you’re a purist) and shares its roots with those produced during WWII and later, and the British issued 6B, 6BB and GS (General Service, i.e. non-military) watches. (The fact that Hamilton ultimately became a Swatch Group brand is neither here nor there to me.*). The current incarnation is the one that kept drawing me back time and again and fulfilled all of my criteria, including the case dimensions - 38mm excluding the crown. Knowing they’re on to a good thing, Hamilton also make a 42mm version.
- Very highly regarded and ubiquitous ETA 2824-2.
- Beautifully contoured and flawlessly finished case in brushed satin stainless steel with a plain polished steel bezel (nice touch)
- A proper, decent sized, fat, chunky crown - and signed. (I don’t care who makes them - watches with puny crowns should all be consigned to the furnaces of Hades and melted down to make crowns for the Khaki Field).
- Numerals are nicely proportioned, neither too big or too small. There is no serif on the ‘1’ and no hook on the ‘7’ giving the dial a cleaner look, in my opinion. I just prefer them this way.
- Hands are very much in keeping with the vintage heritage of the Khaki and the pointer for the minute hand reaches into the minute track as it should.
- Nicely designed second hand with a good long tail and a dark red tip that adds a very eye-catching spot of colour to an otherwise monochrome dial. Lifts the whole look of the watch.
- The numerals and hands are lumed (Superluminova C1?) and in daylight are brilliant white, as opposed to the pale yellow/green of Superluminova C3. Lume is good on the hands, readable well into the night without prior exposure to a bright light source.
- Black dial. Not just any black, mind you. Not really dark grey masquerading as black. This one is as black as a black hole, and flawlessly printed, providing an excellent contrast with the pure white numerals, indices and hands.
- The date window in the 38mm case is in the correct position relative to the dial. In the larger version of necessity the date window is pulled further towards the centre.
- The numerals are printed on a part of the dial etched with very fine grooves (like a gramophone record if you’re old enough to remember them. If not, ask your dad). This diffuses the light and makes the dial easy to read in any position as the uncoated sapphire crystal would normally be too reflective. The grooves are so fine they aren’t always visible, but I think they add a nice contrasting texture to an otherwise plain dial.
- Slightly domed sapphire crystal should eliminate scratches. Something less to worry about. Also helps minimise reflections. There has never been a circumstance when I haven’t been able to read the time. The dial is always readable even in bright light which is perpendicular to the dial.
- 100m WR so no worries about getting it wet.
- Highest quality leather used for the strap.
- Lume on the numerals is not as strong as on the hands
- Dial could be considered to be cluttered. Could live without the 24 hour markers and don’t understand why they’re obligatory on military watches these days. Small enough not to be intrusive.
- Could live without the display back. Nice ‘Hamilton’ engraved rotor, though
- No coating on the sapphire crystal, especially on the underside. Could be argued that there’s none to wear off either, and also alleviated by design factors above
- Minute hand lags behind the hour hand by about 2 minutes. I can live with this. Many watches have this fault for some reason (manufacturing processes, no doubt).
The watch I received has Incabloc shock protection, identified by its unique lyre-shaped spring on the balance wheel. According to ETA’s own charts (don’t know how old these are – though they were posted recently on a watch forum but I can’t find them on ETA’s web site), only the Top and Chronometer grades of the 2824-2 have Incabloc whereas the Standard and Elabore grades have ETA’s own Etachocs. They also have different mainsprings and hairsprings – Nivaflex NO + Nivarox 2 for the Standard and Elabore and Nivaflex NM + Anachron for the Top and Chronometer grades. However, I have read reports that Standard 2824’s are also produced with Incabloc, so it’s difficult to know for certain what movement grade Hamilton have used for the Khaki Field. Erring on the side of caution, I suspect it’s Standard.
The reason I’m boring you with all this is that the accuracy would suggest the Top grade. Over the six weeks I’ve owned it the daily rate has been either zero or +1s in 24 hours on the wrist. As I don’t wear a watch in bed, this includes around 8 hours crown up at night (+/-0s). If I leave the watch crown up for 12 hours the movement will lose 0-1s and 1-2s in 24 hours. All other resting positions result in a gain of 1-2s over 8 hours. In other words, with a bit of judicious ‘resting’ this movement can be made to run as accurately as quartz. Of course, it’s still early days and we’ll see how it goes over the coming months. Nevertheless, this is mightily impressive timekeeping for any movement let alone for a watch powered by the ‘Standard’ grade 2824-2.
Note: the above results were after letting the watch settle down for a week during which the mainspring was left to unwind completely from fully wound (ie worn for a continuous 16 hours) a couple of times. I always do this with new autos. I don’t know why. I think I read somewhere that it’s a good idea. It could make no difference at all – it might be just psychological - but it certainly seems to work.
A word or three about the strap...
Not too keen on bracelets. I find the watch slips round my wrist too much. Besides, I’m a leather lover (for watch straps I mean – come on guys) so I ordered the watch with the brown leather strap which comes with a signed, chunky, brushed steel buckle. I have to say that the quality of the leather is perhaps the most gorgeous of all the leather straps I’ve owned – and I have a few… In fact, I felt that the strap was much too nice to be beaten up by daily wear, so I searched around for another, and, idiot that I am, spent a small fortune. Sadly, not one of them added to the overall look and comfort of the watch in the way that the original leather does.
Nubuck lined with remborde construction, the leather is thick and fine grained in a rich, deep brown with shades of mahogany and walnut. It’s no surprise that a replacement original strap is so expensive, but definitely worth the money. I’d have to insist on replacing the strap when the time comes with an identical Hamilton strap. Luckily, I came across a nearly new one on the bay of fleas for just over half retail price and couldn’t get my credit card out quick enough. Happy to report that the spare, which I’m using, is just as good as the original. Much kudos to Hamilton here for the quality of materials and workmanship when it would have been so easy to save a few dollars on the price of the watch with a merely ‘adequate’ strap. Incidentally, the stitching appears white in photos but is actually a natural, neutral ivory colour.
*I’ve heard it said that since becoming part of the Swatch Group, Hamilton have lost the link with their past, that being just another brand falling within certain price limits in a larger conglomerate means a lack of the individual identity it once enjoyed. Looking at the current line-up and the quality thereof (including the American Classics), I don’t think I can agree with this. No doubt the dispute will continue, but my impression is that Hamilton produce watches that are just as good now (if not better), and in a broader range of products, as they ever were. If that isn’t being true to their heritage, I don’t know what is. To my mind, a few of the current pieces are certainly way too blingy, over-designed and underwhelming, but then I’m just an old fart. People no doubt said the same when the iconic Ventura was launched.
"It's not so much that your planning is to be the best. Your planning is to make wonderful things. And if you make wonderful things in our society, normally they recognise it" - Nicolas G Hayek (Chairman and Delegate of the Board of Directors of the Swatch Group)
Notwithstanding the sweat and toil that went into the choice of the Hamilton, and the fact that I’m still in the ‘honeymoon’ period, my overall impression is that this watch will take some beating, in both senses of the word. Build quality is outstanding, let down only by the slight hand mis-alignment. Still, the fantastic accuracy and the fact that it looks classy and well made and feels great on my wrist more than compensates. Something to be aware of is that it wears slightly smaller than 38mm (more like 36mm) due to the case thickness and smaller dial width. For me, this is a definite plus. The 42mm version, by the same logic, would wear around 40mm.
The Khaki Field (all versions) is the definitive watch in the Khaki line-up and you mess with the fundamental design too much at your certain peril. However, to my mind, Hamilton have done a brilliant job here, keeping the vintage look but adding a few deft touches that freshen up the design. Not an easy thing to accomplish (24hr markers notwithstanding) and there’s no doubt that the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. For my money this watch is just about impossible to beat on many levels. It has everything to be expected in terms of versatility, classic styling, the use of highest quality materials and a specification and performance that puts much higher priced watches using the same movement (or any movement) to shame.
If you’re not prepared to pay a considerable premium for a brand but instead prefer to spend your hard earned cash on style and quality alone, the Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic should definitely be at the top of your list of ‘Probables’ to seriously consider, especially if you’re looking for that ‘do everything’ one watch.