While my personal favorite line from Hamilton are their Jazzmaster watches, their aviation line, the Khaki, is quite popular as well – and for good reason. These are distinctly aviation-inspired watches, with a great brand history, owing to Hamilton’s roots providing watches for actual aviators.
The Pilot Pioneer is no exception to this rule – it’s based on a watch that was issued to the RAF back in the 1970’s. While this new version isn’t an exact replica of the original, you can certainly see the family lineage, especially in the asymmetrical case. (For more on these types of watches, I’d highly recommend this article.
With that, let’s use the case as a launching point. Made of stainless steel, it officially measures in at 41mm wide (16mm thick). I say officially, as that asymmetrical shape actually adds another couple of millimeters to the right side of the case. What this does, however, is creates a built-in protection for the pushers, and especially the crown. In nothing else, you can think of it as an overgrown (and smoothed out) crown guard.
The case itself features a mix of brushed and polished surfaces (if you opt for the silver-dialed model, you’ll have a completely bead-blasted finish). While a matte finish would be more in line with the military roots of the piece, I think the touches of polish allow the black-dialed model to present itself as a bit dressier, should the need arise. Topping the case is an AR-coated sapphire crystal, and it carries a WR rating of 100m.
That leaves us with one case spec – the lugs. These measure in at 22mm, and are fairly squat. With the shorter lugs, that means you’re not really relying on curvature to help snug the watch in – it’s just going to sit how it sits – and at 16mm high, it can be a bit snug to get under a watch cuff. While there is a steel bracelet available to snug into those lugs, our review sample came with a nylon NATO-style strap.
This strap was interesting, as it had some touches I’ve not seen before. First off, it had a metal tip on the end of it, which I suppose helps to keep from fraying. It also means that, should you be the sort to have extra strap you want to tuck in, you’re going to have a harder time of it. That said, it was just about the perfect length for my 7.25″ wrist, requiring no folding. It also features a more standard pin buckle (most NATOs have a buckle that mirror the shape of the rings) that slips in to the reinforced holes on the strap. It all adds up to a NATO that’s a good bit nicer than the one you pick up in the bargain bin.
Inside that chunky case, you’ve got a lovely matte black dial. At the outer edge, you have 1/5 second marks in-between the standard indices, which accomplishes two things. First, it’s a handy bit of accuracy when using the chronograph; second, it helps fill in what would otherwise be empty space. For the two registers on the dial, you’ve got the sub-seconds over at 9 o’clock, and then the chronograph minutes at 3 o’clock. Yes, it only registers 30 minutes (rather than the more common 60 minutes), but I think it’s fine. Frankly, if I’m using a chronograph to time something, if it’s much over 10 minutes or so, I’m more likely than not to forget I’m using the function on the watch.
This all leads to a very symmetrical, and easy to read, layout on the dial, with one unfortunate exception. That being the date display window. While I find date displays to be eminently useful, the implementation here leaves something to be desired. First off, it’s in an odd place (between 4 and 5 o’clock), meaning the symmetry is thrown off. Next, with the choice of a white date wheel, it stands out a lot from the black dial, emphasizing that lack of symmetry it brings. If this were swapped to a black date wheel, or the opening moved over to 6 o’clock, I think we’d have a much nicer layout.
All of these functions are driven by one of Hamilton’s newest movements, the H-31. This starts off as a Valjoux 7753 base movement, which is then tuned up a bit to get us the movement we have here, which includes a 60-hour power reserve. That sort of power reserve is a nice thing if you find yourself swapping between a few different watches in the course of a week, as you can pick it back up a few days later and still have it reading the accurate time and date.
At an asking price of $1,845, no one is going to say that the Pilot Pioneer is an impulse buy sort of a watch. If you consider that other brands offering similar functionality/movements start around another 1k or so higher, then you realize that, in context, this is actually a pretty decent price, especially for someone who’s looking for a pilot watch that isn’t a flieger. Time will tell if this new model picks up the same sort of cult following it’s original inspiration has. hamiltonwatch.com
- Brand & Model: Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer
- Price: $1,845 (NATO or leather), $1,895 (bracelet)
- Who’s it for?: Someone looking for a pilot’s watch that isn’t a flieger and has its roots in actual military-issued models
- Would I wear it?: Yes – I think this is a viable alternative to, say, a diver as a sort of everyday watch. Not a beater, per se, but something that can stand up to activity
- What I’d change: The date window – it really should be color-coordinated to the dial, and/or moved to the 6 o’clock position
- The best thing about it: The classic military styling, updated for a more modern look