Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff Automatic Chronograph Limited Edition Reference H76786733 - All the right combinations for that evergreen look, A Review (plus Video)

"Hamilton is taking its close cooperation with Air Zermatt, the Swiss mountain rescue service, to new heights with the Khaki Takeoff Auto Chrono Limited Edition. This pilot watch, which simultaneously acts as a wrist-, cockpit- and table watch, has been created to meet the needs of the rescue team. True to its cockpit instrument inspiration, the contemporary pilots’ timepiece has a bi-directional turning flange, driven by the bezel, which has the capacity to record a countdown. Limited edition of 1,999 pieces."

Above is the official description of the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff Automatic Chronograph Limited Edition Reference H76786733 (from now onwards I shall refer to it as the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff) as seen on the Company's website. Honestly, although I have never heard of Air Zermatt, I respect Hamilton for making the effort of recognising the contribution of the rescue organisation. Nevertheless, the focus of my interest only lies in the concept of the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff as it has all the design cues that I find exciting, bold and quirky.

The design was shown to the world during Baselworld 2014. I was immediately hooked, as many others were too. Visually aggressive, it stood out from the rest of the pack. Incorporating an aircraft instrument styling with bold ‘bullhead’ pushers and crown, the watch exudes sportiness. Couple with the flexibility of detaching the watch casing from the lugs using a simple yet secure locking system and converting it into a clock via a separate cockpit instrument panel module gives it a uniqueness that seems quirky but in a positive way. In theory, this makes it a flexible timepiece with lots of possibilities.

This duality in usage is not alien to Hamilton. Prior to the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff, Hamilton issued the limited edition Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer which can be detached from the lugs and mounted on a gimbaled deck box. Another notable release by Hamilton was the limited edition Hamilton Jazzmaster Face 2 Face timepiece. This one does not detached but can turn back-to-front (as vice versa) to show two different watch faces in a side-by-side configuration (some may argue that the concept is comparable to a JLC Reverso Duoface but then again the JLC has a back-to-back configuration instead).

From a design philosophy point of view, Hamilton is not like the Azimuth Watch Company where strange and funky designs are common occurrences instead of the exception. Hamilton is more of a contemporary watch company with more common styling. It is delightful to note that the brand does allow, once in a while, its designers to think out-of-the-box to come out with something unusual and refreshing.

The Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff is a concept that crossed the threshold that defines Hamilton's design philosophy but does not stray far from the Company core DNA; a whiff of American ruggedness. This factor makes the Company's models, however strange, to be practical and capable to do what it is designed for without exception. I personally think the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff is an excellent tool watch that has a lot of positives.

The Watch Casing

Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff is a sizeable watch. It has a face diameter of 46.3 mm (excluding the crown and pushers). Its lug-to-lug length is 50.0 mm with a height of 16.5 mm. Lug width is 22.0 mm. Made out of stainless steel, the watch surface is PVD black. First impression suggest an oversized watch but there are compelling and technical reasons for the said dimensions. Instead of a fashion statement or just to 'overwhelm' competitors, size is necessary to incorporate the various design specifications for this watch.

The watch is an automatic chronograph with a movable bezel. It also includes a modular mechanism where the watch casing can be easily detached from the lugs and strap plate section. The watch also must look rugged with angled surfaces and military styling. When used as a clock, it should be large enough to be seen. These specifications all points to a taller and wider watch to fit them all together.

There are some detractors that are against the size. Yes, it is possible to make it thinner by swapping the automatic movement with a quartz engine but by doing so would effectively destroy the essence of the original design. For me, the combination of size, military specification styling and modularity of usage is perfectly balanced. It does limit its usability to more sporty or casual events but then again it was never intended to be 'beater' watch anyway.

Despite the size issue, Hamilton incorporated a few design elements to try help minimise the size effect to the wearer.
  1. First is the bullhead design for the pushers and crown. Instead of the typical East facing position, the pushers and crown are relocated facing North. This bullhead design eliminates the possibility of the pushers and crown pinching skin when flexing your hand. Visually, it also gives a more symmetrical look to the watch with everything (including the sub-dials) on a North-South alignment. 
  2. Second is the short and downward sloping lugs. This has the effect of minimising lug overhang as well as a more comfortable sitting position on the wrist with the lugs hugging the curvature of the wrist. 
  3. Third is the use of a strap instead of bracelet. To balance the size and weight of the watch casing, it would be natural to pair it with a bracelet. However, this would increase the overall weight of the timepiece to point where it would become too cumbersome for most people to wear throughout a normal typical day. Instead, Hamilton decided to pair it with a reinforced leather strap. This pairing reduces the mass of the watch on the wrist and this makes it more comfortable for the wearer (Caution: Wearers must take note of this as one could easily drop the watch in the midst of securing on the wrist due to the unbalanced nature of the whole package). 

The watch has an ice-hockey-puck-like feel when viewed from the top. The bezel edge has angled gear tooth serrations that looks rather sharp. You would also see a number of screws along the sides which are there only to create a visual effect illusion of strength and power. Apart from that, there are a number of textured surfaces added to the body of the watch casing to reinforce the said illusion. Mixed among all that is a yellow printed text; "LOCK" with some arrow graphics to show the way to turn the watch casing when you want to either lock it in place on the lug plate or disengage it off the lug plate.

The system utilised by Hamilton to attach the watch casing to the lug plate is similar to those found on lens for SLR cameras. By pushing down the watch case and twisting it counter-clockwise, it will be unlock for separation. To ensure the locking system will not disengage unintentionally, there are a set of four bearings that act as a friction-lock and then a set of tracks that maintains the watch in place.

One interesting aspect of the watch which I have yet to see in other examples is the design of the movable bezel. Instead of having the bezel scale on the outside of the watch, the bezel scale is located internally i.e. below the dial window. The outer bezel rotates the inner bezel. By engaging the outer bezel, one actually turns the dial window as well. One thing I found curious is that the bezel is bi-directional. As the bezel uses a countdown scale, it would be better to have it only move in one direction. A bi-directional bezel is better suited when it has a compass function. I suspect incorporating a ratcheting system (to make it move only in one direction) instead of the current friction fit system would require a major bezel redesign that may affect the watch specifications.

The set of pushers and crown on the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff have wide flared-out textured surfaces for easy manipulation. The crown is signed with the letter "H". The plunger-like shape of the pushers and the 8.0 mm wide crown protrudes substantially out of the watch casing in the same manner as pushers in traditional mechanical stopwatches. Visually very striking.

Another interesting observation is the use of a screw-down system for the crown but not for the pushers. I am not sure what would be the benefit of having the screw-down system since the watch is not intended to be a diver anyway. Furthermore, the lack of a screw-down system for the pushers negates the protection given to the crown anyway. As it stand, the water rating of the watch is only 5 bars or 50 meters (73 psi or 164 feet). Since the watch can also be used as a desk clock, a simple push-in crown system would be preferable as it will make it much easier to wind the mainspring ever so often without the need to unscrew the crown all the time.

The glass covering the dial (as well as the display case-back) is a flat sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment.

The Dial Arrangement

Hamilton was able to adequately convey the essences of an aircraft's analogue instrumentation panel on the dial of the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff. Coupled with the matte black finish on the dial surface plus a dash of yellow, the watch also takes on a military genre-like look.

The outer most part of the dial is the sloping chapter ring. Incorporating a countdown scale in Arabic numerals in 5 minute intervals, the first 45 minutes are printed in white while the last 15 minutes also has minute markers and printed in yellow. Interestingly, the minute markers are printed at an angle instead of straight. This chapter ring and countdown scale can be turned clockwise or counter-clockwise via the external bezel.

Below this movable sloping chapter ring is another sloping chapter ring but permanently set. On it is a set of micro-minute markers with diamond-shaped markers for every 5 minute intervals. All the markers are printed in white. Curiously, on the right of the 6 o'clock position you can also see the numbers "332" printed in white. Not sure what this is suppose to signify. If anyone knows, please comment below.

On the edge of the dial surface itself is a third scale consisting of minute markers and Arabic numerals printed in white. On this scale as well, the words "SWISS MADE" straddle the 30 minute marker. Next to it are the hour markers (apart from 3, 6 and 12) in Arabic numerals and painted with Super-LumiNova photoluminescent paint.

The two sub-dials are large and located on a North-South alignment. The bottom sub-dial is the active seconds indicator with the words "SECONDS" and with white minute markers and Arabic numerals for every 5 seconds. The top sub-dial is a 30-minute counter with the word "MINUTES" and with  white minute markers and Arabic numerals for every 5 seconds. Both sub-dials uses a broad arrowhead shaped hands in polished steel finish with the shaft painted black. This creates an illusion of the arrowheads floating around the sub-dials.

Next to the 9 o'clock position are three lines of text, "HAMILTON", "KHAKI" and "AUTOMATIC" printed in white. Across the dial at the 3 o'clock position is the date aperture framed in white. The date wheel has a black on white background to provide some form of consistency with the rest of the hour markers. Personally, I would have preferred Hamilton to maintain the number "3" on that location and move the date somewhere else with a smaller aperture. This is be a better way of maintaining symmetry for the dial.

The hour and minute hands are both pointed Roman sword style with Super-LumiNova paint in the center and framed with polished steel. Unique to the minute hand only, there is an angle line of polished metal that splits the luminous part into two. Meanwhile, the chronograph seconds hand is a bright yellow broad-head arrow on a thin steel polished bar.

I find the level of night illumination on the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff to be poor. This is one of its key weaknesses that Hamilton should have attended before delivering the product. A simple solution of just piling on more Super-LumiNova paint would just do the trick.

The Strap and Lug Plate

The lugs on the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff is 22.0 mm and comes standard with a black leather strap with a spine. This strap has the reference number of H600.767.100. There are four yellow knots near the lugs to provide some form of visual cue. The back side of the strap is made out of carbon fiber-like material which should provide some form of barrier against sweat stains. The strap is well made and understated.

The buckle is shaped like the letter "H" which is a nice touch.

On close inspection, the strap is attached to rather thin curved lugs. I suspect this was a compromise as the lug plate where the watch casing module sits is also equally thin. Increasing the size of the lugs would mean an increase in the thickness of the lug plate which would then increase the overall height of the timepiece. I have no doubt the lugs is strong as it is but people's perception from just looking at it may be different. Allaying irrational concerns is important for maintaining a brand's franchise value. Sometimes it is better to over-engineer a part and suffer some weight and dimension penalties then give an opportunity for people to start questioning safety concerns on a product.

At the back of the lug plate is the host of information regarding the watch. The limited edition number is also printed. The model I have is #878 out of 1,999 examples.

The Movement

Hamilton used its H-31 chronograph automatic movement to power up the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff. The H-31 is based on the ETA Valjoux 7753 with modifications. The H-31 variant of the 7753 features a custom designed H pattern on the bridge and engineered for increased accuracy. Power reserve has been increased to 60 hours instead of 42 hours. The movement features a 27 jewel construction, chronograph function, hacking seconds, hand winding and date complication. It operates at a frequency of 28,800 BPH or 4 Hertz.

This caliber has a unique quick-set date adjustment mechanism. A small button located at the 7 o’clock position is where you can change the date with each press (more about this later). Apart from this method, one can continuously adjust the time manually until the correct date is shown (similar to a non-quick set date movement).

The movement can only be viewed with the watch casing taken out of its housing via a display case-back. There is a plate under the rotor that has an interweaving “H” pattern, adding some texture but apart from that the H-31 does not have any other elaborate decoration.

The Watch Box

The watch box for the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff is substantial in size and weight. It is approximately 260 mm wide, 160 mm long and 110 mm tall. Made out of wood, the box is painted silver with riveted metal panels. On the sides the words “NO STEP” is printed in orange with warning stripes at the sides. The top of the box has the word "HAMILTON" and on the front of the box, just above a small keyhole are the words "PULL TO OPEN". The top cover of the box open upwards and is secured with a hinge at the back.

Keeping the box closed is a key on a bright orange nylon pull that reads “HAMILTON” on one side and “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” on the other. Once removed, one can flip open the box to find a steel panel module where the watch casing can be mounted if you want to use it as a clock. The measurement of the steel panel module is ISO standard i.e. you can install it on any aircraft's instrument panel by using the set screws provided. I find it cute that Hamilton created a model instrument panel filled with fake flight instruments to provide a visual explanation on how you can mount the steel panel module. What would make it even more interesting if Hamilton used actual working instruments instead. For example, a compass or a barometer. This would make it even cooler.

Under this panel is the strap module housing as well as a very interesting tool. What do you think this is? I was searching the manual and nothing was mentioned about this tool and what it suppose to do. It does come with a nice micro pouch. If anyone of you knows what is it, please leave a comment below.

Hamilton Watch Company contacted me to explain the purpose of this tool. This tool is used to adjust the date on the H-31 movement. This caliber has a unique way to adjust the date. Instead of using the crown like most mechanical movement, there is a small button located on sidewall of the watch casing at the 7 o’clock position. Using the pointy end of the tool, adjusting the date is by pushing the small button.  The date changes at each press.

The main watch box is protected by a dark blue cardboard box with the Hamilton brand printed in silver. Inside this box are slots for the manuals and guarantee documents.

The Buying Experience

This is my first purchase with Hang Thai Watch, Bangsar Village, Kuala Lumpur. I've entered the shop many times but never had the opportunity to get a piece from them. I actually noticed the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff in the shop a few years ago. Back then, the asking price was RM16,000+ (if I recalled correctly). To me, it was a bit too ridiculously priced. Recently, while surfing Hamilton's Malaysian website (with prices of watches in local currency), I noticed the MSRP for the watch to be RM11,800. On checking the price with Hang Thai Watch, that's the price that is now listed for the watch. After discount, I got it for RM8,850.

Officially, it is priced at USD3,295 in USA.

The limited edition model I got was number 878 out of 1,999. Really nice number and rather happy about it.

Apart from the watch, I also was given a porcelain mug by Hamilton.

The Wearing Experience

As expected, the watch covers a substantial amount of wrist real-estate with weight to boot. I do love to wear tool watches and the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff does not feel alien on my wrist. The short curved lugs does help in keeping the watch firmly on the wrist.

The height is also obvious. Couple with the fact that it is a handsome watch, the wrist presence is very apparent which gets the attention of a lot of people.

The bullhead arrangement does protect your hands from being pinched if you flex your hand upwards. It also looks cleaner with the pushers and crown arranged in the same North-South alignment.

One design problem I see is the lug design. Both the North and South facing lugs are of the same design and dimension. However, by virtue of the large crown, the clearance between it and the strap is too close. This has the effect of making it difficult to manipulate the crown. In some of the more better designed bullhead watches (see: Omega Seamaster Bullhead Chronograph, Seiko 5 Sports 50th Anniversary Unicorn, Seiko Prospex Landmaster and Laco 1925 Squad Atacama) you can see that the lug section where the crown is located is made differently to facilitate better access to the crown. This is an area that Hamilton designers should have focused on when making the watch.

I also recommend that Hamilton shipped the watch with a deployant clasp instead of a simple buckle system with the strap. Due to the top heavy nature of the timepiece, the likelihood of a wearer dropping the watch whilst fumbling to buckle the strap is much higher. Keeping together both ends of the leather strap will help reduce the risk significantly.

Below is a video of the watch on my wrist.

Apart from those two issues, the rest of the watch was done properly. The dial has the right amount of "clutter" - not to many, not too little. Its has all the right combinations for that evergreen look - it would still be impressive decades from now.

The Brand Experience

This watch is my third Hamilton (see: My Hamilton). I was also surprised to note that this is also my third Khaki series in the collection. This goes to show my affinity to military inspired watches.


Overall, I am very satisfied with the total package. Very pleased to be able to get my hands on one. If I'm lucky, it will be a collectors item in the near future.

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