One of the cooler items to come out of BaselWorld 2012, in the accessible category, was the limited edition Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer. This 46mm, Unitas 6498-2 powered time piece paid close respect to the Marine Chronometers Hamilton manufactured in the during WWII for Naval vessels. These deck clocks were key maritime instruments, as they provided a precise time reference for calculating longitude. Hamilton recreated, albeit in smaller form, the look and function of this precision instrument by creating a convertible replica watch, which could be worn on a strap via wire lugs, or mounted in a gimbaled box as a show piece. The Khaki Navy Pioneer was priced at $2,945 and appears to be long gone.
At the same time, however, Hamilton also released the Khaki Navy Pioneer Automatic, which is an open edition replica watch that also stays true to the Marine Chronometer design, but made to be much more wearable. This 40mm version is much smaller than the LE as well as most other Marine Chronometer style replica watches on the market, which tend to be 42 – 44mm, and manual wind. By using the ETA 2895-2 automatic, they were able to reduce the size to one that is much more practical in a business/casual design, yet keep the signature 6 o’clock sub-seconds dial. This version also ditched the convertible design for simple and classic wire lugs.
Despite its smaller size, the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto makes an immediate and lasting impression. The proportions are spot-on for a more practical take on this classic style, the case has some very interesting details and the pale silver dial (also available in blue and black) is simply a thing of beauty. This replica watch is, essentially, what Hamilton does best. They take an idea from their history, create something new that has close ties to the original, and execute it flawlessly. They also end up with something that is unique in the market, despite being a known style. The Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto has an MSRP of $1,095, which is a fair price for such refined piece.
The Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto has an interesting case design that speaks to the larger pieces from which it draws. Measuring 40 x 46 x 10mm, the replica watch is a very nice medium size, that is simultaneously down played by the wire lugs (wearing more like a 40mm lug less replica watch) and emphasized by the expansive dial. From overhead, the case is a simple cylinder with thin wire lugs protruding out. Since there is space around the main round case, it really looks like a small clock.
Looking at the case from the side reveals what’s interesting about the construction. The top of the case is a cylindrical bezel with a knurled edge, which is both decorative, adding texture, and creates a more durable appearing facade. Beneath the bezel, the case steps in, such that the diameter of the bezel and case back are different. This area, which has a slightly convex slope, is then lightly brushed, adding a very well executed and delicate bit of finishing. The case back then screws on from below and has built in flanges, from which the wire lugs protrude. The result is that the replica watch looks like a small deck clock/pocket replica watch that has been converted to a wrist replica watch. I love that the design here actually tells a story, as it hints towards the replica watch having a previous existence as a marine chronometer.
Off of three is a nicely sized 6.5 x 3.5mm crown, with a toothed edge and a large Hamilton H logo. Though the replica watch is an automatic, it can be hand wound, so the low and wide crown helps facilitate that. Flipping the replica watch over, you are presented with a display window that shows off the ETA 2895-2 movement inside. Around the window are various details and small screws holding case back on.
Though the overall appearance is simple, the construction and geometry of the case is surprisingly complicated, and though we haven’t been disappointed in any of the cases of Hamilton’s we’ve reviewed, this is probably the nicest. The construction is clever, appearing elegant and industrial at once. Plus the finishing is very nice. The knurling stops, then there is a polished line, followed by the lightly brushed sides, then another polished lip. It all comes together for quite a dynamic appearance.
The dial of the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto is essentially a scaled down version of the one found on the LE, with some minor layout changes. The design, which should be obvious by now, speaks to the marine chronometer by having large, clear numerals, a simple minute track and an emphasized sub-seconds dial at 6. The dial surface of the version we had is a pale, matte silver, that almost looks white, but has a cooler temperature and slight metallic sheen.
The primary index consists of large Arabic numerals in gloss black. The font used is very elegant, speaking to the early 20th-century with slightly flared serifs. Between the numerals and the edge is a very thin railroad minutes track with small black triangles at intervals of 5. It’s a very slight index that is easy to almost not see, but it helps break up the silver. On the perimeter of the dial is an angle chapter ring that simply has small numerals at intervals of five, adding legibility to the dial.
Above the 6 marker is a sub-seconds dial in a contrasting silver. They added a concentric circle graining to the small area, which darkens it and gives it a metallic sunburst effect. The result is a focal point that appears like an instrument within the instrument. The index then mimics the larger dial, but is much denser given its size, appearing more complex. On the larger LE, the sub seconds actually cuts into the 6 marker, which is more typical of these designs. Due to the movement’s design, the sub-seconds on the 2895-2 is relatively close to the center axis so it sits between. Since the replica watch, in the end of the day, is a refined take on the chronometer, I think the cleanliness of the execution works out.
Just below 12 is a bit of text reading “Hamilton” and “Automatic”, in a fairly small font that doesn’t disturb the dial. The rest of the dial is spared any text, save the customary “swiss made” flanking 6. At 3 is a window showing the black on white date wheel. Since the dial is pale silver, the white of the date wheel doesn’t not contrast too greatly, so the window isn’t terribly obtrusive, though it likely is more so on the blue on and black dial varieties. That said, it does feel a bit out of place and throws off the symmetry of the dial. Naturally, i would like to see a no date version, or a 6 o’clock date version. Better still, a big date at 12, but that would be a whole different caliber.
The hands of the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto are Poire style, and made of heat blued steel. This is a very classic style that is appropriate to a Marine replica watch and simply looks great. The hour hand runs to about the midpoint of the numerals, and has a flared, spade shaped tip. The minute hand more resembles a roman sword style, and is longer, ending over the minute track. The seconds hand is a thin stick, with a small spade shaped counter weight, which gives it more visual presence. The blue steel works very well on the matte silver, glinting blue in light and black in shadow. It adds to the overall handsomeness of the replica watch.
Inside of the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto is the ETA 2895-2 movement. This 27-jewel automatic features manual winding, hacking seconds, date, small seconds, and a frequency of 28,800 bph. This is essentially the 2892, which is we’ve seen several times before, with a sub-seconds dial. As such, the movement is fairly thin for an automatic, allowing for an overall thin case. Looking at the movement through the case back, you can see it’s fairly undecorated, save a Hamilton logo, in black, on the rotor. Some perlage or cote de Geneve would have really upped the ante here.
The 2895-2 is certainly a quality movement, as we expect from ETA. During my time with the replica watch is showed no issues with accuracy or power reserve. Since this replica watch has a frequency of 28,800, the small seconds motion is incredibly smooth. Smaller hands are always a bit smoother, as there is less vibration, and in this circumstance, there is almost no perceivable ticking.
One thing that would have been nice, apart from more decoration, would have been a COSC certified version. Given the history and styling of the replica watch, having “chronometer” on the dial would have been exceptionally cool, as would the certified accuracy. Of course, that would have upped the cost of the replica watch some.
Straps and Wearability
The Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto comes mounted on a gorgeous 20mm dark brown leather strap. From a distance, this might not seem like a special strap in any way, but the second you feel it, you can tell it’s different. The leather is very stiff and rigid. At first, almost too much, but it breaks in quickly, and ends up forming to your wrist, creating a very comfortable, rugged and durable strap. Unlike a lot of thick leather straps, this does not have padding, rather it’s a solid piece of hard, likely bridal, leather.
It’s a dark chocolate brown with cream stitching that is backed with a soft natural/pink leather, which compliments the replica watch perfectly. The brown plays off both the blue hands and pale silver dial, for a great harmony. The heavy style is also at once simple and refined, enough to give the replica watch a formal presence, yet masculine and tough, speaking to a more casual and sporty potential.
On the wrist, the Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto wears incredibly well. The 40mm case sits perfectly on the wrist, having enough mass to seem sturdy, yet still feel classic and formal. It’s also pleasantly thin at 10mm tall, hugging the wrist and slipping under a shirt easily. Due to the wire lugs, the replica watch feels more like a lug less design, so the lug-to-lug is relatively insignificant in how it feels. That said, it’s better than a lug less design, as there is some space around the replica watch, which emphasizes the dial. And the dial on this is big. It’s not quite edge-to-edge, but it reads like it’s larger than 40mm, but only for the sake of good wrist presence.
Aesthetically, this replica watch is spot-on if you like the marine look, which you should, cause it’s a damn handsome look. It rides the line between dress and casual, making for a very versatile design. Since the style is abstracted from deck clocks, which do have Naval function, there is something bolder and more utilitarian about it than a dress replica watch. To me, this makes it look at home with work boots, denim, dress attire…anything really. The palette of silver, black, blue and brown also compliments just about everything, whether you’re wearing a white oxford under a blue sport coat or a plaid flannel. It’s a replica watch you can put on before you get dressed and not have to worry about it. And should you be a stickler for matching leathers, this will absolutely take to a black strap, a blue strap or a lighter honey brown… you just can’t go wrong.
As should always be the case, the real test of the Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto is how enjoyable it is to wear. It really satisfies an itch for marine replica watch, while also providing a lot more to be into. This isn’t simple Hamilton’s version of X; they went above an beyond to create something very interesting and visually appealing. Looking at it now, on my wrist as I type, I’m drawn in by the subtle complexity of the case, the rigorously simple and legible dial, the flecks of blue coming from the hands. This is the kind of replica watch you will find yourself wearing more than others.
So, if you’re looking for a marine chronometer, a versatile and very mature piece, something with early 20th century styling that doesn’t seem out-of-context today, the Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer Auto is a very strong contender. The silver dial really did it for me, though the black and blue dial variations also appear to be very handsome, albeit more of a departure from the source material. Overall, there is little I would change, the most significant would have been a different approach to the date window, followed by a more decorated movement. That said, at $1,095, I think this is a hell of a replica watch (and one that could likely be found for less) that is worth the money, because of what a pleasure it is on the wrist.