Hamilton's New Chronograph Is a Stylish—and Unexpected—Blast From the Past

The brand has updated a lesser-known pilot's watch originally created for the British Royal Air Force.

We love a well-priced watch here at Esquire—especially if it has a cool story. We may, like everyone else, yearn for the big Swiss brands and their iconic pieces, but sub-$3,000, there's precious little to get your teeth into. However Hamilton, which has a history of accessible and effective watches dating back to World War 2, just launched a brand-new old watch in its Khaki Pioneer collection that's an interesting departure from its storied U.S. military watches.

While the U.S. military used Hamiltons in both World War 2 and Vietnam, the Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph is based on watches the brand created for Britain’s Royal Air Force pilots for more than a decade starting in the 1970s. Hamilton was one of four brands to answer the Royal Air Force’s call for a new chronograph with double pushers to update its previous reliance on monopushers by the likes of Lemania. Along with Hamilton, similar chronographs were made for the RAF by CWC, Precista, and Newmark, collectively— and collectably—known as “the Fab Four”.

The Hamilton RAF watch was reinterpreted as a three-hand, military-style field watch—to much enthusiasm—in 2019. As well as subtle dial details specific to the RAF (which echo the famous “Dirty Dozen” field watches), it came with a distinctive tonneau case squared off between the lugs. The new watch, beyond the obvious addition of chronograph sub-dials, differs from its recent predecessor in its rounded case shape with a noticeable asymmetrical profile that is identical to the original chronos.


Khaki Aviation Pioneer Mechanical Chrono


Powered by Hamilton’s H-51-Si hand-wound movement, the 40mm steel case (2mm bigger than the original) and dial have a vintage look that would have felt a little retro even the 1970s. The markings have a suitably sandy (rather than white) look about them, which only adds to the vibe. In another nod to the past, the Hamilton logo on the dial is italicized in this watch as it was in the originals.

One major detail (or minor, depending who you are) is that the Ministry Of Defence’s identifying “broad arrow” marker—used on everything from standard issue rifles to underpants—does not appear on these new watches. It was used as early as the 15th century to remind users that whatever it was, it was not yours, it was the property of the British government. It is unclear how strict the Ministry was on underpants, but watches were expected to be returned after service. Not all were, of course, and occasionally this lovely looking watch in its original 38mm size appears on the market for around $3,000. Which makes the larger—yet largely identical—new version a snip at just $2,045.

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About The Author
Nick Sullivan
Nick Sullivan is Creative Director at Esquire, where he served as Fashion Director from 2004 until 2019. Prior to that, he relocated from London with his young family to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He has styled and art directed countless fashion and cover stories for both Esquire and Big Black Book (which he helped found in 2006) in exotic, uncomfortable, and occasionally unfeasibly cold locations. He also writes extensively about men's style, accessories, and watches. He describes his style as elegantly disheveled.
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