Hanhart Pilot Primus Desert Sand Review
When we last reviewed a replica watch by Hanhart, we took a look at a model that spoke directly to the history of the brand. Named the Pioneer Monocontrol, it was a mono-pusher chronograph that was a slightly modernized version of the famous pilot’s chronographs the brand made in the 1930s. Still one of the most memorable replica watches we’ve reviewed, it was immaculately made, featured a unique mono-pusher movement that was developed with La Joux Perret and a price tag that while not low, was value-driven.
Today, we’re going to take a look at a replica watch that speaks less to where Hanhart came from and more to the present/future of the brand. The Hanhart Primus Pilot Desert Sand is an altogether unique replica watch with a design that is as aggressive as it is intriguing. Part of their Primus line, which also include Racer and Diver varieties, the Pilot is a large chronograph with a distinct case design. Available in a variety of colors, the Desert Sand is particularly interesting due to its atypical khaki dial, giving it a more earthy and military feel.
With the new design details, one will also find a few classic Hanhart cues throughout. As with the Pioneer Monocontrol, the Primus Pilot is powered by a La Joux Perret modified Valjoux 7750, giving it a very high quality and signature heart. Hanhart really is a brand for chronograph and stop replica watch enthusiasts (they still make their own mechanical stopwatches in house), and this hearty replica watch is no exception.
There is rugged and then there’s the case of the Hanhart Primus Pilot. Though a pilot’s chronograph by definition or title, when I look at this beast I think of boxy off-road vehicles, like the Land Rover Defender 90, or some sort of light tank. It looks more like machinery than an accessory, and while wrist mounted, would also make sense bolted to an instrument panel. Not only is the case uniquely shaped with a certain brutal flair, it also features articulating lugs giving the case itself a sense of motion and function.
Measuring 44mm in diameter with a 15mm height, the replica watch is large and chunky as one would expect from my previous description. The lug-to-lug isn’t a single number, as the lugs themselves can move in and out to better fit the wrist, ranging from 47.6 – 53.5mm. This actually goes a long way when on your wrist to temper the overall size of the replica watch.
Looking at the design, it’s quite complex, with a handful of shapes colliding together. From above you first see the cylindrical bezel, which is notched all around its perimeter giving it a tough look. It also has a red anodized aluminum inlay at 12. It is worth noting that despite the grips, the bezel is fixed. Next you see the lugs, which are straight, connected by a large bolted on tube and actually come out farther than bezel towards the bottom of the case. These sorts of details, where the lug juts out of the side creating an odd corner, give the case a machine-like bluntness; the function follows the form.
From the side, the complexity of the case geometry is more apparent. The central case is fully tapered, getting wider towards the bezel, which then steps out to 44mm and stands 4.3mm tall. The articulating lugs, which sort of float apart from the mid-case, have a cam shape. The lugs have been milled out, creating an indentation that is used to hide the hex-bolt head that is presumably part of the axis that allows the lug to move. It’s a lot of detail in a small area, giving it some nice texture.
The entire case is rendered in a bead blasted matte finish. It works very well with the design of the replica watch as well as the specific palette of this model. The metal becomes a darker, almost titanium color, which compliments the sandy dial. It also feels more industrial, less beautified, than brushed or polished would have, keeping that machine story going.
On the right side of the case you have two oversized pushers and an equally oversized crown. The pushers have a great design. They feature wide, tapering platforms that measure about 6.9mm at their widest point and have domed outer surfaces. The pusher at two is matte steel, but the reset pusher at 4 is anodized red. Red pushers are a historical signature of the Hanhart brand, which you will also find on the Pioneer Monocontrol we previously reviewed. The screw-down crown measures a whopping 8.5 x 5mm, and has a shape that mimics the pushers. It’s a beautifully machined piece, with coining that reflects that of the bezel, a raised and beveled area on the outer surface with a Hanhart “h” machined in as well.
Flipping the replica watch over, you can see the display case back that is held on with several screws. There are a few details about the replica watch around the window, and then of course a nice view of the movement, which has a gorgeous skeletonized rotor. It’s interesting to see how the pushers and crown connect to the mid case. Because of the tapering case design, they have very long stems that meet cylinders that extend out.
The dial of the Primus Pilot Desert Sand is equally as aggressive as the case, mixing texture and color with bold markers. Consisting of two main areas, a lower dial and a broad chapter ring, the dial is wide and deep. As the name of the replica watch suggests, the dial surface is all a light khaki/sand color. It’s matte, but with a slight sheen that helps some of the textural elements stand out more. On the lower dial the main index consists of black lume squares per hour, skipping 3 and 9 to make room for a raised feature, and a large 12 numeral. To balance the large 12 there is a date window at 6 showing a white numeral on a black surface. The contrast works here as black compliments the sand color nicely.
The chapter ring is very wide with a shallow angle. The minute/chrono-seconds index here consists of large black lume rectangles at intervals of 5 and black lines for the individual minutes/seconds. At 12 is a triangle with dots on either side of its tip, which is a classic pilot’s replica watch symbol. In fact, it’s really the most “pilot” detail on the replica watch.
In the center of the lower dial is a raised area that contains oversized sub-dials. This area is very interesting, playing off of the machine-like/automotive qualities of the case. It sort of breaks through the rest of the dial, cutting off some markers and even creating small indents in the chapter ring, which is a detail I like, as though it were installed after. It’s a wide slot shape with flanges towards twelve and six to hold the brand logo and applied screw details respectively. The screws reinforce the idea that this element was added on after the fact. I honestly think they could go further with this and add a contrasting color here to really make it pop.
Within the raised area are the active seconds and elapsed minutes counter at 9 and 3 respectively. Both feature numerals at their respective thirds (20, 40, 60 and 10, 20, 30) giving the dial nice symmetry. Additionally, they both feature a mix of medium and small sized black lines for greater precision.
A replica watch like the Primus needs bold hands to match the case and dial, and Hanhart delivered. The hour and minute hands are big, skeletonized roman swords with pointed tips. The minute hand is just a bit longer than the hour, but they are easy to tell apart. There is an impressive amount of detail on the hour and minute hands, as well as the rest. The outer half of each is coated in black lume while the inner half is polished, save for a small matte line towards the center of the dial. This is repeated on the sub-dial hands, which are far larger and more substantial than typical. They are thick straight swords in polished steel with a matte line down their center. They also feature a small cutout window and a small area of black lume. The chronograph seconds is then a polished tapering stick with a skeletonized triangle towards its tip, followed by a thin stem. The latter third of the hand is also coated in black lume.
As mentioned, Hanhart went with black lume for the Primus Pilot Desert Sand. Aesthetically, it was the smart choice as the matte black material works well with the sand color. It actually looks almost charcoal gray, or like a faded black, which also brings in the dark matte steel of the case. That said, black lume is not the greatest for luminosity. It glows sort of a teal color, and tends to glow best on the edges of where it is applied. For all practical purposes, it gets the job done, it just isn’t as bright or potent as white, green or blue lumes, but those wouldn’t have looked good on the dial.
Powering the Primus Pilot is the HAN3809 movement, which is a modified Valjoux 7750. As said, Hanhart is really a chronograph fan’s brand, with each of their replica watches featuring some level of modification from monopushers to flybacks. To create these modified calibers, Hanhart works with La Joux-Perret, who are a high-end movement modification and fabrication house. For the Primus Pilot, they took the typically 3 register 7750 (12, 6 and 9) and rearranged it to a 2-register layout at 3 and 9. Additionally, they moved the location of the sub-dials, pushing them farther away from the center to be better sized for the replica watch.
Since it’s based on the 7750, you can expect fairly similar details. It’s a 28-jewel automatic (up from 25) with date, hacking, hand-winding, 42-hr power reserve and a frequency of 28,800 bph. It operates as expected too. To set the date, you put the crown in first position, time in the second. The pusher at 2 starts and stops the chronograph, while the pusher at 4 resets it.
In terms of decoration, the movement is fairly plain looking save the rotor, which is partially plated with a gunmetal finish, and features a skeletonize Hanhart logo. It’s one of the nicest looking custom rotors I’ve seen in some time. Subtle, but attractive and well executed. The only issue is that it does make the movement itself look a bit under dressed. Chronographs are always nice to look at since they are much more complex than typical automatics, but something, perhaps more gunmetal plating, would have been welcome.
Strap and Wearability
The Pilot Primus Desert Sand comes mounted to a 24mm sand/khaki nylon 2-piece strap. It’s basically built like a heavy duty leather strap, with the nylon wrapped around padding, which gets quite thick by the lug. It has folded edges all around, for a clean look, matched stitching and metal eyelets to prevent fraying. It’s also lined with a tan nubuck, keeping the nylon off of your skin. Finishing the strap is a gorgeous deployant buckle. It’s styled to reflect the bezel of the replica watch, with some fluting, a red aluminum inlay and matte finish. When you open it up, you can see that it’s a very rugged, overbuilt piece of hardware with additional branding inside.
On the wrist, the Primus is a beast of a replica watch. It’s big, with boxy details that give it a harsh, tough look. The 44mm diameter is almost all dial, so that makes it look larger, while the articulating lugs help it fit length wise. That said, I found the lugs mostly expanded when I put it on, making it a bit too long for my 7” wrist. This could be due to the strap needing to break in more too. Out of the box, the padding in the strap is very stiff, so it doesn’t want to conform to your wrist.
It’s definitely a statement piece, and not one for those who prefer discreet replica watches. It stands tall, with the turret like bezel giving it an almost defiant posture, while the cam-shaped lugs jut out at odd angles, giving the case a life of its own. Meanwhile the dial is striking, with bold markings and a noticeable depth. The palette of sand and matte steel works very well, giving it an overall drab look, speaking to camo. As one would expect, this replica watch is best suited for casual and sport attire.
The Hanhart Primus Pilot Desert Sand is a very intriguing replica watch that really looks like no other. As a contrast to their Pioneer line, the Primus replica watches provide Hanhart with something thoroughly modern and overtly aggressive. Certainly more divisive too, as designs that are so striking tend not to be for everyone. What I liked about it was the brutal geometry and play with the idea of a replica watch as a fixed object. There is something kinetic about the replica watch from the angles and articulating lugs. As I said, it doesn’t necessarily seem like something that wants to be strapped to a wrist, so much as attached to a dash, or to just stand alone.
For $2,820, the Primus Pilot isn’t inexpensive, but the price is warranted given the complexity of the case, overall build and the La Joux-Perret modified movement. This, like all Hanharts, isn’t a replica watch that should be compared with less expensive automatic chronographs, but rather ones in the $5k+ range. When put in context against Bell & Ross’, Bremonts, Breitlings, etc… the value is pretty clear. Additionally, while it’s not for everyone, there really aren’t other replica watches that look quite like the Primus.