Like many United States-based watch enthusiasts, Hamilton has long held a soft spot in my heart. Founded in Pennsylvania in 1892, Hamilton has symbolized American excellence from its start as a railroad companion through its prominent appearance in every war up to the 1980s. It’s a brand that has become so synonymous with American watchmaking that it is almost a given any US watch startup will produce an homage to a Hamilton piece, with some brands like RGM even setting up shop in Hamilton’s original Lancaster County home in the Pennsylvania wilderness to channel this rich history.
Today, the brand is located in Switzerland as a subsidiary of the Swatch Group, yet American appreciation for the brand — among myself and many other collectors — doesn’t seem to fade. This is a fact known to Hamilton and, as such, every so often they will release a new homage piece honoring the American heritage that made Hamilton what it is today. Most recently, the brand released the Intra-Matic 68 Autochrono and an updated take on the classic Ventura. This trend continued when we recevied another pre-Baselworld teaser — to go alongside the Hamilton X-Wind Autochrono — the Khaki Field Mechanical 38 mm.
This new model is based on a timepiece produced for the military from 1969 to the 1980s that were noteworthy for including a hacking seconds feature, a mechanism common to mid-20th-century military watches. The original watch is more commonly known among collectors as either the FAPD 5101, Type 1 Navigator, or simply as the “GI,” each name for what is essentially the same watch going to different military personnel (vintage picture above via Analog/Shift).
The modern watch uses a utilitarian 38-mm sandblasted steel case with a prominent thick crown, strapped on a forest green “Nato” strap with calfskin loops. The black dial is a slightly modernized version of the historical piece with an outer minute ring, faux-patina accented triangles for the hour markers, large Arabic numerals displaying the hours one through twelve beneath these, and smaller Arabic numerals displaying thirteen through twenty-four beneath those. Towards the center of the dial is the modern Hamilton logo, with syringe style hour and minute hands sweeping over the face alongside an arrow-tipped and lollipop counterweight seconds hand. Hidden behind a solid case back and powering the watch is the manually-wound ETA 2801-2. This is a workhorse movement capable of a 42-hour reserve and, as expected, features a hacking mechanism. This new addition to the Khaki collection is currently priced by the brand at the highly-accessible price of $475
The differences between the modern homage and the vintage original are few and far between, with even the slight tweaks remaining faithful to the military codes of the historical design. Of these changes, the original watch, in its many forms, was most often 34 or 36 mm, while this new watch is 38 mm — a change likely having to do with the practicality of using the traditional Khaki case available for production. The crown on this case is also slightly larger than the original, and the choice of sandblasting — while giving the watch a rugged appearance — does further refine the modern watch compared to its unapologetically unrefined forbearer. The style of the dial is virtually untouched, although the seconds hand is somewhat enlarged, and the use of faux-patina SuperLuminova is a modern addition, as is the use of the Hamilton logo to what was historically an unbranded face.
Hamilton has taken obvious efforts to retain the original ethos of the military piece. Besides the maintenance of the general design in the case shape and dial configuration, Hamilton also chose to use a manually-wound movement — a rarity for the brand — along with a solid case back. The dial, now including a corporate logo, is absent an intruding date window, and the addition of SuperLuminova faux-patina gives the watch its strong vintage appeal and modern functionality. Even the sandblasted case, larger crown, and choice of strap provide the watch with a stronger military style — if not exactly historically accurate — so it’s unlikely to draw much criticism.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Hanhart Pioneer One LE to its historical predecessor, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.