Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical Review
By: Dave Hardman
Hamilton announced the release of the Khaki Field Mechanical 38mm back in November, a remake of their American military field watch from the 1960s. Initially only available in Japan, the Khaki Field Mechanical came stateside earlier this year. As with most watch releases, I came across photos while scrolling through Instagram and it stopped me dead in my tracks. This military reissue wasn’t on my radar, but I was intrigued! At the time, I was only familiar with Hamilton’s Intramatic, so I had to embark on a crash course in Hamilton khaki history.
Hamilton Watches was founded in 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and long served as a reminder of the heyday in US watchmaking. Over the years, they became an esteemed supplier to the US Armed Forces while also still maintaining a long-standing relationship with Hollywood, which dates back to Elvis Presley.
As the story goes, Hamilton was sold to SSIH (Swatch Group) in 1974 and the factories were relocated to Switzerland in 2003. As such, the proverbial nail was hammered into the American watchmaking coffin. Fast forward to today, Hamilton sticks to 7 core lines: Jazzmaster, American Classic, Ventura, Broadway, Khaki Field, Khaki Aviation, and Khaki Navy.
The Khaki Field Mechanical, as you probably guessed, resides in the Khaki Field collection. The collection consists of military inspired watches that offer slight tweaks to the MIL-W-3818B specification. As a whole, the Khaki Field collection consists of 14 watches ranging in complications (day, date, chronograph) and aesthetics (dial colors and case sizes); not quite to Tudor Black Bay ridiculousness, but they are a bronze and tourbillion away from matching their SKU output. Pricing for the different models range between $395 and $1,795, with most falling under the 1k mark.
After fully acquainting myself with Hamilton and the Khaki Field lineup, I was certain the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical fit the bill. Shortly after stalking the watch on Instagram, I made the purchase directly through the Hamilton online store. A few short days after clicking “Buy”, the box appeared on my doorstep, ready for its initial unveiling. It was a little anticlimactic at first. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taken aback by the small size of the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical’s 38mm case.
I’m used to big, bulky dive watches that range in size from 42-44mm. If you also prefer chunky dive watches, the smaller size may surprise you too. So naturally, when I first strapped the watch to my wrist, I had a little buyer’s remorse. The 38mm Khaki Field case just seemed a bit dainty. So, I decided to place the watch on my desk to periodically contemplate and admire from afar. After a few weeks, I mustered up the courage, removed the stickers, and strapped it to my wrist.
So let’s talk MIL-W-3818B:
The specification was created by the US Department of Defense back in the early 60s. The dial layout, brushed steel case finish, hacking capability, and inscription on the case back served as specs to create an American military field watch. All MIL-W-3818B Military watch requirements served a practical purpose, with special attention to legibility and durability. While a number of brands won the rights to production, the most known are Benrus, Hamilton, and Timex.
What about the Case?
Luckily, Hamilton increased the case size from the original’s unbearable 34mm to a tolerable 38mm for the Khaki Field Mechanical reissue. While the uptick in size may seem substantial, 38mm is still small by today’s standards. The lug to lug is 47mm, which is the same as the Seiko SRP, but the length of the lugs is about 1mm longer on the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical H69429931. The proportions work and create a completely different wear than the aforementioned SRP. It took time, but I grew to appreciate the condensed size.
The lugs are 20mm in width, which is perfect when compared to its predecessor. Most vintage military watches have 18mm lug width or smaller. But you’re in luck, having 20mm lugs means that the Khaki Field Mechanical will fit most of the straps you’ve accumulated over the years. Unless of course, your collection consists primarily of 22mm Seikos.
The Khaki Field Mechanical also has drilled lugs, which allows for quick strap changes. This functionality may go unused, since this watch was built for a nylon strap, but it offers versatility over inferior fixed spring bars. Due to the gap in the case and spring bars, one piece straps look better than their two piece adversaries.
Though the crown is signed with a Hamilton “H”, it doesn’t screw down. The absence of screw down capabilities limits the watch to 5 ATM (50m). Most collectors own a dive watch, which would be more suitable for any underwater activities. This doesn’t limit the usefulness, but I would err on the side of caution when submerging the watch.
The case back bears the Hamilton logo and name, in addition to “Swiss Made”, depth rating, model number, and “35X PSQ HPO”. I would have preferred the mil-spec numbers used on the original. A small quip, since more times than not, a one-piece strap will block my view of the case back anyway.
On to the Dial:
The Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical’s dial closely resembles its predecessor (with the addition of the Hamilton branding below 12 o’clock). The original also had a sterile dial, which provided an uncluttered look. The Hamilton name is noticeable on the current model, but doesn’t take away from the dial layout or its overall balance. Would it have been nice without the name? Absolutely! Does the dial look bad with it? Not at all! That is a matter of preference and possibly my self-proclaimed purist ideals.
This is currently the only available watch in the Khaki Field collection devoid of a date window. The omission creates balance, a clean look, and an overall nod to the original watch. If I had to choose between a sterile dial with date window or this configuration, my money goes to this configuration every time.
Now, let’s tackle that elephant in the room… aged lume. Many brands have experimented with faux patina to create vintage appeal. In my opinion, Hamilton found a nice balance and had a little luck on their side for the Khaki H69429931. Only a limited amount was needed on the triangle hour marks, minute and hour hands, and the tip of the seconds hand. The faux patina is noticeable, but the limited usage makes it subtle. A successful reissue requires the balance of a vintage look that also provides modern capabilities. In this case, visibility at night.
The Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical takes on a completely different appeal in the darkness, a detail lacking in most vintage timepieces (as lume has a shelf life and dissipates after decades of use). While in the daylight the dial can be a little crowded with all the numbers and minute track, when the lights go out the lume on the hour markers and hands displays a cleaner, less cluttered look. My only gripe is that the 12 o’clock isn’t differentiated from the other hour markers; an unfortunate hassle for the foggy-eyed dad of a wakeful toddler in the middle of the night.
How’s the Movement?
Powering the Khaki Field Mechanical is an ETA 2801-2. Most people are familiar with the 2824 used in a wide range of watches these days. The main differences between the 2801 and 2824 are the 2801’s lack of a date window and mechanical only movement, both nods to the original. The lack of automatic functionality forces the user to interact with the watch on a daily basis, creating a unique bond that many avid collectors will appreciate.
If you don’t wind the watch, it will stop telling you the time. It’s kind of like feeding a Tamagotchi, except pure negligence doesn’t turn the Khaki Field Mechanical into a paperweight. Rest assured, the crown won’t turn when fully wound, preventing the wearer from over winding and causing damage to the movement.
• 38mm x 47mm x 9.5mm – Unique and refreshing vintage-inspired case shape that may take some getting used to
• Classic military style dial readout prioritizing legible functionality – aged lume can be divisive
• Includes green NATO with leather accents – style may not be for all but case is designed to fit NATOs, so you have strap combo options
• ETA 2801-2 manual wind movement – 42 hour power reserve and averaged +2.7/4.7 seconds per day
In my short time with the Khaki Field Mechanical, it appears that the more frequently the watch is wound, the higher the accuracy. For the week of wear, the watch ran at +0.8 sec/day, well within COSC. The watch ranged from +2.7 to +4.7 seconds daily, with the exception of the day it ran at -8 seconds when I forgot to periodically wind. The 42-hour power reserve provides some breathing room, but I’d recommend winding once in the morning and at night for timing accuracy.
I wouldn’t claim this watch is as simple as a quartz “Grab & Go,” but the lack of date window and big crown make it conceivable that you can set the time quicker than any day/date automatic watch. So if you don’t own a quartz watch, this could offer similar ease on the go.
Hamilton delivered a well-executed military reissue in the Khaki Field Mechanical H69429931. They replicated the vintage charm of the original and re-imagined it to today’s tastes. The final product is a modern field watch ready for daily wear. If I could make a couple minor changes, I would start with a sterile dial and use the military inscription format on the case back – both features that are present on the original. Purists may argue, “at that point do a complete 1:1 reissue,” which is a justified argument.
I just don’t believe this watch would have been as successful in the original 34mm case. The small size would’ve been an immediate deal breaker. Additional changes I might add would include a screw down crown and a way to differentiate the 12 o’clock lume at night. Those issues probably lie with DoD’s original MIL-W-3818B specs, not Hamilton, but I digress. Life is about compromises and I’m fine with trading these minor shortcomings for a Hamilton with a 38mm case and 20mm lugs.
The Khaki Field Mechanical MSRP is $475, which includes a strap (green nato, leather accents, Hamilton buckle) and a soft gray pashmina. The green strap looks great, but I found it irritated my skin; bit of a bummer. The pashmina, on the other hand, is extremely soft and my wife took a liking to it. The overall reception from the #watchfam has been positive, with slight availability issues due to popularity. Hamilton isn’t limiting production; so waiting shouldn’t preclude you from enjoying this watch, which can be purchased through Amazon for under $400).
For the money, you would be hard pressed to find a Swiss Made watch with military ties and as rich a history for less than $500. Watch brands continue to open their archives and tap into their storied pasts. I grit my teeth knowing the Swiss paid for it’s American heritage, but I won’t take this out on the Khaki Field Mechanical. I can put my patriotism aside and appreciate the watch in all its American military glory. I see you Mr. Hamilton III and appreciate your peace offering
(Editor’s Note: the reviewer’s mention of “Mr. Hamtilton III” is in reference to the bizarre predilection and practice we have on the Two Broke Watch Snobs Podcast of attributing fictionally outrageous (but plausible) names to watch brand owners… Mr. Cornelius Squale IV, Sir. Barron von Mido Esq, Rutherford Rado the Impaler, etc.).
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This piece was written and submitted by an incredible member of the Two Broke Watch Snobs fan community! We’re always open to hearing ideas for user submissions – please feel free to contact us if there’s something you want to write about.