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A lot of people's first "nice" watch was or will be a Hamilton. With mechanical watch prices starting at $495, the Swiss brand with American roots makes a clear effort to offer strong value that longtime collectors continue to appreciate. Broad-ranging variety for largely under $2k — and plenty even under the $1k mark — makes Hamilton approachable and fun, while offering solid quality and even a brand name brimming with history.
Many watch enthusiasts perhaps continue to think of Hamilton as an American brand in some sense, even though they know that it's been Swiss-owned for decades — almost no other surviving company better represents the era when the United States was a major force in the watch industry. Incorporated in 1892, Hamilton succeeded several companies that were producing watches in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the firm would be based until 1969 and where the original administrative and production structures still stand.
Producing its own movements, Hamilton built fine pocket watches meeting the stringent requirements of the railroads and later supplied the military with the likes of marine chronometers, field watches and even "canteen watches" for early navy divers. Other landmark timepieces included innovative models such as the first electric watch (Ventura) and first LED watch (Pulsar). The brand also became entrenched in Hollywood, with its watches appearing in over 500 films to date.
Though the company ended US production in 1969 and today exists under the Swatch Group's umbrella of brands, its modern catalog draws on its American background — and not merely with reissues and vintage-inspired looks, but with a design philosophy that often seems informed by American Art Deco. (The tag line "American spirit, Swiss precision" sums up the company's personality well.) Benefitting from Swatch Group resources, Hamilton watches are powered by reliable, mass-produced ETA movements, including those with the latest tech such as silicon parts and extended power reserves. Premium features such as sapphire crystal are also typical of Hamilton watches even at the lower price ranges.
Large brands with vast catalogs like Hamilton can be sliced and diced various ways. Broadly, however, about half of Hamilton's most notable offerings have a military theme and fall within one of three Khaki collections: Field (land), Navy (sea) and Aviation (air). The remaining four have either a contemporary or fashion-oriented motif: the Jazzmaster and Broadway collections are more elegant, while the American Classics is very much what it sounds like, with reissues and vintage-inspired references abounding. The avant-garde Ventura line is quite its own thing.
There's just about every kind of watch for just about every kind of person in Hamilton's catalog. Expect strong value and a healthy dose of personality in the brand's catalog, which we've broken down below.
The Khaki Field is a varied but cohesive collection. The mens line currently features over 70 models ranging from quartz movements to handwound and automatic mechanical ones. Easily the collection's most notable model is the Gear Patrol-approved affordable favorite and absolute classic, the Khaki Field Mechanical.
Its big brother, the Khaki Field Auto, is also an easy recommendation: it offers some relatively premium features like automatic winding and a more refined design — it's perhaps even more attractive in lightweight titanium versions. Another standout model is the Murph, originally created as a prop for the film Interstellar before becoming available for purchase. Finally, sometimes overlooked but offering a day-date feature and pragmatic look is the Khaki Field King — a solid everyday option.
Configurations: Time only; time and date; day of the week and date; chronograph
Price Range: $325-$1,795
The Khaki Navy collection is where you'll find Hamilton's dive watches like the Scuba and Frogman, but also other maritime-themed options such as the classically styled Pioneer, which is based on the look of marine chronometers. The Navy Scuba is a favorite for daily wear, with approachable sizing and some great color options — including one made especially for Gear Patrol.
The Frogman is modern and boldly sized, with a prominent crown-guard locking mechanism that references Hamilton's historical canteen watches. If the Frogman is bold and quirky, though, the thousand-meter-water-resistant Below Zero outdoes it with a 46mm case featuring four large screws and an all-black design.
Configurations: Time only; time and date; center seconds; small seconds; GMT; chronograph
Price Range: $695-$2,945
A large and wide-ranging collection, Khaki Aviation encompasses everything from technical-looking chronographs to classic flieger styles and vintage reissues — but certain long and similar-sounding model names can cause some confusion. For example, you might be surprised that the "Pilot," "Pioneer" and "Pilot Pioneer" are all quite different watches — add "Auto" or "Auto Chrono" to any of those, and the variety grows. (At least the names are descriptive.) One of our favorite recent affordable watch releases is called the Pilot Pioneer Mechanical, but we prefer to just call it the "W10" after the vintage model it's based on.
The Khaki Aviation Pilot Day-Date is a classic: based on the well-known flieger watches of WWII, it comes in quartz and mechanical versions in a 42mm case, offering the date as well as the day of the week fully spelled out at 12 o'clock. Variations of this model might have slightly different names, sizes or features (such as a chronograph), but they all feel very much part of the same family.
The 41mm Pilot Pioneer Auto also has a military look but features an inner rotating bezel, with some versions even available in interesting colors in relatively uncommon but lightweight aluminum. The Air Race (the Khaki Aviation Auto is a very similar model) is simple and classically designed, representing the most affordable mechanical watch in the Aviation collection.
More modern and aggressive looks can be found in the X-Wind models as well as the Takeoff, each of which features its own interpretation of a sleek and technical pilot's watch. The X-Wind automatic chronograph models are toward the high end of the Khaki Aviation collection at over $2,000, but a 46mm all black Takeoff Auto Chrono will run you $3,295.
Configurations: Three-hand; time and date; day-date; GMT; chronograph
Price Range: $545-$3,295
American Classic is where vintage rereleases (of non-military watches) and generally retro-inspired models live — it contains everything from funky, digital LED PSR watches to the Don Draper-handsome Intra-Matic and much more. A well-executed, Sixties-style dress watch with a high-quality movement (ETA 2892), the Intra-Matic Auto is a favorite, and its Chrono version is just as popular with a panda dial.
Offering many of the same useful features and handsome looks, the Valiant, Thin-O-Matic, Railroad and Spirit of Liberty are practical, everyday automatic watches offering compelling bang for buck. Similarly vintage-inspired and formally inclined, there are also the rectangular shaped Boulton and Flintridge watches — the latter of which has an unusual metal dial cover that opens on a hinge.
Diameter: 27mm; 34.5mm;
Configurations: Three-hand; time and date; day-date; GMT; chronograph
Price Range: $445-$3,500
While American Classics models like the Intra-Matic get plenty of deserved attention as great all around dress watches, the Jazzmaster line with its Thinline and Viewmatic are also worth considering. The core of the Jazzmaster line contains simply named models like the Auto and Day Date Auto — more variations include the Jazzmaster Power Reserve, GMT Auto, Regulator Auto and Auto Chrono. Easily Hamilton's largest collection, the Jazzmaster men's line currently contains nearly 150 models.
In addition to the basic Jazzmaster models with their myriad configurations, sub-collections include the Maestro as well as the aforementioned Viewmatic and Thinline. Within each of these ranges are a number of models with Skeleton treatments (where the dial is mostly cut out to reveal the movement beneath) and Open Heart versions (with a partial dial cutout, often in odd shapes).
Configurations: Time only; time and date; day-date;
Price Range: $445-$6,195
The Broadway line is comparatively focused and compact, with a consistent aesthetic across its range of models. Often distinguished by a wide vertical line across its dials, the collection's features and configurations will be familiar from other Hamilton lines, with quartz and automatic models with day-date, GMT and chronograph options.
Configurations: Day-date; GMT; chronograph
Price Range: $625-$1,945
The Ventura is one of the most quirky and distinctive watches you can credibly call "iconic." In 1957, its space age look was meant to emphasize the revolutionary tech inside (it was the first electric watch). From the creative mind of famed industrial designer Richard Arbib, the forward-looking watch got a boost of star power when Elvis Presley wore it on set — and the Ventura went on to form a collection based on its triangular case.
Today, the quartz models feel the closest to the original collection, with a faithful design and sizing — not to mention the appropriateness of a battery-powered movement. There are several choices of dial configurations and colors, as well as chronograph options. Mechanical watch snobs also have options, and the boldly sized Ventura Elvis 80 offers a funky but modern feel.
Configurations: Time only, chronograph
Price Range: $725-$3,895
An exception to Hamilton's approachable, everyman image is the occasional totally out-there model. Though there have been more of these in the past (such as a production model of the watch created for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey), there are currently only a couple models that fit in this category (and they're technically part of collections mentioned above). The totally avant-garde ODC X-03 features three time zones with a dial made to look like the planet Jupiter. The Face 2 Face watch has a reversible 53mm-wide case with two separate movements and a dial on each side, topping out the brand's entire price range at over $6,000.
Configurations: Dual time; triple time zone; chronograph
Price Range: $3,500-$6,195