HANDS-ON: The Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph delivers looks, utility and value HANDS-ON: The Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph delivers looks, utility and value

HANDS-ON: The Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph delivers looks, utility and value

D.C. Hannay

Since the beginning of recorded time, man has sought to escape the bounds of earth’s pull for the freedom of the skies above. From the dawn of the 20th century, when man first affixed wings to engine for that brief-yet-monumental flight on the beach in Kitty Hawk, it seemed there was nothing left holding us back. Certainly, there were stumbles along the path of progress, but the route was clear: upward. And the name Hamilton was there from nearly the beginning. The very early days of flight saw pilots affixing pocket watches to straps worn on the outside of their heavy leather coats. In 1918, a Hamilton aeronautical watch was worn when the first US Airmail service began between New York and Washington,D.C., and the brand has been a part of aviation lore ever since. A Hamilton was the first watch flown over the North Pole in 1926, and by the ‘30s, Hamilton was the official timekeeper for America’s four major airlines. Hamilton watches were renowned for their accuracy, a claim to fame since their days as a leading maker of railroad pocket watches, and pilots relied on them when making critical navigational calculations. Many of the world’s armed forces selected Hamilton to supply them, including Britain’s Royal Air Force, and now Hamilton has released a faithful-yet-contemporary chronograph inspired by an RAF-issue watch from the 1970s, the new Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph.

The case

hamilton khaki pilot pioneer

Right from the jump, I have to say: what a handsome, understated watch. It ought to be, since the inspiration for it is the classic Valjoux-powered Hamilton chrono that was issued to RAF pilots. The new chrono gains a slight 1mm in case diameter from its inspiration, clocking in at 40mm with a 22mm lug width, and a case height of 14.35mm, perfectly on brand for a pilot’s chrono… not too big, not too small. Also appropriate for a military tool watch, the stainless-steel case is fully brushed, for a serious, toned-down look. Water resistance is 100 metres, which is a good sight more than a vintage example will offer. Much like its forebear, the Khaki Pilot Mechanical Chrono also features a “bulge” on the right side of the case, designed to protect the crown and pushers in lieu of more conventional crown guards. This asymmetry isn’t unattractive, and makes perfect sense functionally, much like the case on a Speedmaster Professional. Remember, these were tools for their wearers, and the no-nonsense aesthetic is bang-on for a military-inspired timepiece. It’s all function, no flash, and all the better for it.

The dial

hamilton khaki pilot pioneer

The black grained dial has not a hint of gloss anywhere, but a slightly rough texture that looks positively vintage. Like the original, the bicompax layout remains, with a nice concentric circular texture on the subdials for added visual interest. There’s a 30-minute timer at 3, and running seconds at 9, again matching its inspiration. Lacquered white hour, minute, chrono, and subdial hands pop against the muted background, and legibility is excellent. There’s a fair amount of artificial aging going on with the printed dial markers and lume plots, but it looks good, and matches the overall vibe, even though white printing and tritium lume were used in the original watches. Speaking of tritium, the originals sported a circled ‘T’ not found on the modern version, which makes sense, considering modern “aged” Super-LumiNova is employed. Also absent from the dial is the Broad Arrow mark denoting issue from the Ministry of Defense. Again, I’m fine with that since this watch is not military issue, and frankly, modern watches with the mark can smack of stolen valour to some. I don’t feel these omissions detract from the look of the dial at all, and the bold Arabic numerals are true to the original, as is the inclusion of the period-correct Hamilton logo.

The movement

The handwinding H-51-Si, similar to the one used in Hamilton’s lovely Intra-Matic Chronograph, is a fine choice for a vintage-inspired chrono. Since Hamilton is part of the Swatch Group, they have access to their own movement manufacture, ETA, and the H-51-Si is based on the ETA/Valjoux 7753, although manually wound. It features 27 jewels, a rate of 28,800 vph, and a healthy 60 hour power reserve, and should provide reliable service. It’s a handsome, if minimally decorated movement, but no matter, since it’s covered by a wholly appropriate closed steel caseback.

The strap

Again hewing to the retro design brief, the stitched brown leather strap with a lightly aged finish is a perfect match for the vintage look of the dial. The two-piece strap wears closer than a NATO would with that extra thickness of leather under the caseback, and mitigates the added height of the domed sapphire crystal. The strap utilises a standard pin buckle, again a smart choice given the utilitarian nature of the watch.

The verdict

hamilton khaki pilot pioneer

I’ve always loved vintage pilot’s chronos, and the Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph nails the look and feel, without the anxiety of wearing a fragile vintage original beyond the confines of your home office. Although marginally larger than its inspiration, it’s perfectly reasonable for a tool watch, and should fit a fairly wide range of wrists. With its combination of good looks, utility, and value compared to some other Swiss chronographs, Hamilton appears to have a winner on its hands. Or rather, wrists.

Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph pricing and availability:

The Hamilton Khaki Pilor Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph is available now. Price: US$2,045

Brand Hamilton
Model Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph
Case Dimensions 40mm x 14.35mm, 22mm lug width
Case Material Stainless steel
Water Resistance 100 metres
Dial Black grained finish
Crystal Box domed sapphire
Strap Brown leather with pin buckle
Movement H-51-Si, manual winding chronograph with silicon hairspring
Price US$2,045

Time+Tide is an authorised retailer of Hamilton Watches for deliveries within Australia, please visit here.  Should you wish to reserve the Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph, please email