Hands-On: The Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer
Hamilton’s undeniably rich history in military watchmaking is once again brought to our attention. This time, it’s the brand’s Model 23 mil-spec pocket watch that inspires its latest release: the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer. A tough and reliable tool, Hamilton delivered over 27,000 pieces to the US armed forces during WWII. This was in addition to over one million wristwatches, marine chronometers, and a number of other timing devices and mechanical instruments. The Model 23 pocket watch was a staple of military aviation timepieces, featuring a large and extremely legible dial with cathedral hands and a chronograph function. Though the wristwatch which it inspires drops the added functionality, the spirit and aesthetics of the historic pocket watch can be seen reflected in this modern revival.
It’s no wonder that we find ourselves talking about Hamilton watches almost every other week. The brand reaches back into its heritage and is able to take inspiration from some of the brilliant past designs. In some cases bringing them back faithfully, and in others with a modern twist. The Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer is a case of the latter approach. It all starts with Hamilton’s historic Model 23 pocket watch. This stunning pocket chronograph featured elegant Arabic numerals and a stunning matte black dial. These design elements have been incorporated into the Pioneer model. Dropping the chronograph function in favor of a time-only pilot’s tool watch distills the essence down and makes this quite an attractive watch indeed.
Romantic aviation appeal
Sticking to its roots, the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer has plenty of vintage appeal. There’s a certain familiarity to its styling. Unmistakeably Hamilton, large cathedral hands shine over the textured matte dial. Their pleasant tan lume matches the color used for the dial text, indices, marking, and even the hash marks, arrow, and numerals on the bezel. You could call it fauxtina but the uniformity it creates is rather pleasant. I personally see it as more of a choice in terms of color palette, rather than an attempt to force a vintage look. Had Hamilton opted for white lume and markings, the watch would lose a lot of its charm. Plus, in the case of the bronze case version the color works in harmony with the warm tone of the case. More on that later though!
The Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer
Let’s take a closer look at the technical details. What we have here is a fully-brushed 43 × 13mm stainless steel case with 20mm lugs and a 52mm lug-to-lug. It’s a pilot’s watch, so at the end of the day, these dimensions really suit the style. Thanks to the slim case the watch wears extremely well despite being outside of my usual 38-42mm comfort zone. Underneath the double-domed AR-coated sapphire crystal we see the wonderful grainy black dial. A pocket-watch-inspired railroad minute track surrounds the sleek Arabic numerals. The six gives way for an equally railroad-tracked sub-seconds counter. The word “Mechanical” sits below the pinion, and above we have the Hamilton logo and brand name in a matching tan shade. The watch comes on a comfortable dark brown two-stitch leather strap with a signed buckle.
Large cathedral hands filled with the aforementioned tan Super-LumiNova complement the vintage aesthetic. In the case of the steel model, the hands are nickeled, matching the case. A bi-directional countdown bezel adds some functionality to this piece. The knurling is pleasant and grippy. Operating the bezel doesn’t require as much force as a dive bezel would, but is still satisfying. Inside the watch, the mechanical hand-winding ETA caliber 6498-1 beats away, with an impressive 50-hour power reserve. Flipping the watch over reveals the stark and rugged movement inside, visible through an exhibition case back. Winding the movement with the oversized onion crown is a joy, and would be a breeze even with the thickest of gloves on. I’m particularly happy to report that though the crown does not screw down onto the case, the watch still features an adventure-ready 100m of water resistance.
Plenty of options
Even though today my focus is on the 43mm stainless steel model, Hamilton has given us three different models to choose from. The Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer comes in two 43mm models, one in steel and one in bronze. Additionally, an automatic 38mm stainless steel with a central sweeping seconds hand is also available. It really is a difficult choice between the three, but I think that my personal choice would be the 43mm, bronze model. There’s something about Hamilton’s bronze offerings that’s just so special. The Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical in bronze, which I wrote about here, certainly left a positive impression. In the case of the Pioneer, I feel like the bronze case improves the overall aesthetic, working in perfect harmony with the warm tones of the markings on both dial and bezel. Kudos to Hamilton for offering a 38mm option too, this will undoubtedly be the people’s champion!
I’m fully aware that I just categorically stated that the 43mm bronze version would be my pick. However, that’s not entirely true. It’s true insofar as that it would be my pick of the three options available. That being said, I feel that a bronze version of the automatic 38mm Pioneer with central sweep seconds would be the true winner. If you’re listening Hamilton, let’s make it happen! That might just be the watch that tips me over the edge into happy Hamilton ownership. Something which at this point I have simply accepted as an inevitable eventuality.
If you also find yourself teetering over the edge of pulling the trigger on your first (or second, or third…) Hamilton, you’ll be happy to know that these latest offerings are prices as reasonable as ever. The 43mm models come in at €1095 for the stainless steel option, and €1345 for the bronze. Finally, the 38mm Pilot Pioneer is available for €895. All things considered, that’s incredible value for everything these lovely aviation-inspired pieces have to offer. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these new offerings in the comments below. For more details check out the Hamilton website here.