Why Hamilton Makes the Best Field Watch on Earth

The category of ‘military inspired’ watches is about as broad and muddy as the trenches and battlefields in which the original issued watches were used. From digital sports models touting tacti-cool designs (like the G-Shock Rangeman) to vintage inspired reissues, there’s a lot to choose from.

But what most of these watches lack is a genuine connection to military heritage.

Enter the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

Hamilton has been making mechanical timepieces for nearly 130 years. Founded in Lancaster, PA in 1892, their watches were made in the US until the late 1960s. After changing hands a number of times throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the company is currently owned by Swatch Group and, like many mechanical watches, are manufactured in Switzerland. 

From 1964 through the 1980s, Hamilton produced field watches for the US Military in accordance with Mil-w-46374 standards, which dictated things like legibility, shock resistance, hacking seconds — where the seconds hand stops when the crown is pulled out — and case materials.

  • Shop this watch in white with a brown leather strap here
  • or with a cheaper, NATO style strap here.
  • It’s also available in black and a pricier olive.  

Hamilton Khaki Field Watch  

  • 38mm wide, 9.5mm thick
  • Soft, sand blasted finish
  • Sapphire crystal
  • 50m water resistance
  • Available in white, black, and olive
  • Faux patina
  • Usually worn with leather or NATO straps

At 38mm and just 9.5mm thick, the matt stainless steel case of the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical is about as classically proportioned as any new watch you can buy today. The case has a soft, sand blasted finish which is reminiscent of that of original GI watches issued to US troops in WWII and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

It’s a simple yet rugged case that feels natural and unobtrusive on the wrist, sturdy and minimalistic. The watch is topped off with a sapphire crystal and 50 meters of water resistance; you’re not likely to go diving with it, but if you get caught in the rain or fall in a pool, you won’t have to worry too much about your watch.

hamilton khaki field watch side view

The Khaki Field Mechanical is available in 3 dial variations: white, black, and brown. This particular example is the white dial variant. I already had a black dial watch from Tag Heuer and wanted something that would work easily with earth tones. (And I wanted a brand that wasn’t as universally reviled as Tag.)

The layout of the dial is almost identical to its vintage predecessors, with both a 12 hour and 24 scale. The dial is uncluttered and highly legible. Both the triangular luminous plots and handset are filled with a tan Super-Luminova, a non-radioactive luminous material that helps it to glow in the dark if it’s spent enough time in sunlight. 

More often than not, Super-Luminova is white, however in this instance the tan tone is meant to imitate the patina of aged radium or tritium luminous materials which was used on watches up until the late 1990s. 

hamilton khaki field watch on tabletop

Now, reissuing a classic from their history can be a precarious thing for many watch companies. There seems to almost always be an impulse to modernize or spruce things up in order to make a model feel fresh or relevant. This is an all too common pitfall, and almost always derails the elegance andfunction first” designs that made the original watch special in the first place.

Hamilton has navigated this minefield grace and care, having deferred to the design cues of the original. It is clear that great care was taken to not overthink things.

hamilton khaki field watch on side

The white dial with its crisp black numerals is a clean and pleasant update to the austere black dials of yesteryear, though that option is also available for those historical purists.

The faux-patina (or “fauxtina,” as it’s commonly known in the watch world) of the tan luminous material, is likely to be the only controversial design choice to be found here. Some folks will love it because it offers that warm aesthetic of a vintage timepiece without any of the concern for fragility that often accompanies a 50+ year old watch. Others will hate it and decry the detailing as disingenuous. It is pretending to be old, after all.

It’s completely subjective, but is becoming a more and more common design choice as the popularity of vintage watches continues to grow.

Depending on the dial/case variation you choose, the watch comes on either a leather strap or a green nylon NATO-style strap with brown leather accents. In either case, being that this is a field watch in function and design, it is a decidedly casual watch. That’s not to say it couldn’t potentially be dressed up. While it would likely be a bit too casual for a suit tie, if paired with a traditional leather strap the watch would look sharp with dark jeans and a sport coat.   

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Hamilton Khaki Field Watch Movement 

  • Manual H-50 movement
  • 80-hour power reserve
  • Built on ETA 2802-2 3hz frequency

Housed within the stainless steel case is the manually winding Hamilton H-50 movement. This all mechanical movement is made exclusively for Hamilton by ETA (a Swiss movement manufacturer also owned by Swatch Group) and boasts an impressive 80 hour power reserve off of a full wind. A few seconds of winding gives you more than three days of ticking.

This is an upgraded movement built upon the architecture of the ETA 2802-2, which was found in the 2018 Khaki Field Mechanical. By slowing the frequency of the watch from 4hz to 3hz, the H-50 movement was able to nearly double the amount of time you have until the watch requires another wind, which is no small feat. All in all, it’s a reliable, no nonsense, and even impressive movement.

[Related: How to pick the best leather for your watch strap]

hamilton khaki field watch

Hamilton Khaki Field Watch Price

Setting out to purchase a Swiss timepiece can be a daunting task. Apart from the absolute ocean of choices out there, the prices can go from the significant investment category to outright irresponsible in the blink of an eye. 

At about $500 on Hamilton’s website ($525 for the leather strap and $495 for the nylon strap), the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical model is among the most affordable mechanical Swiss timepieces that money can buy. 

But that does not by any means equate to cutting corners or sacrificing quality. That is to say, this watch doesn’t feel cheap or lacking as if some corner had been cut. If you are on a tight budget you’re not likely to feel as though you missed out on getting something great because you couldn’t afford better, and that is something truly special nowadays.

The cost of a mechanical timepiece is not limited to buying the watch itself, however. Like all mechanical things, this watch will require maintenance and servicing at some point in time. This is where one of the only points of caution comes into play. While many entry level Swiss watches ($500-$3,000) use fairly simple, off the shelf movements (often provided by companies like ETA) the H-50 is a proprietary movement made specifically for Hamilton. While it is based off the architecture of a more generic movement, the modifications made to the H-50 do make it a tiny bit more esoteric. As a result, you might have some challenges if you decide to have the watch serviced by an independent watchmaker in lieu of sending the watch back to Hamilton. In either case, this could potentially lead to a more expensive service bill than that of the 2018 model.

hamilton khaki field watch on wrist

Hamilton Khaki Field Watch Pros & Cons 

 Pros 

  • Classic, legible design, faithfully recreating the military issued pieces of the past.
  • 38mm case size is as close to one size fits all as one is likely to find on a vintage inspired watch.
  • Huge value for a Swiss made, manually wound mechanical movement.
  • 80 hour power reserve means you’ll only have to wind it once every 3 days.

Cons

  • No date complication.
  • 50 meter water resistance is significantly lower than most modern sports watches, even for mechanical timepieces.
  • Proprietary movement means servicing could be more complicated and expensive.
  • Faux patina luminous material might alienate some watch purists.

hamilton khaki field watch on table

The Takeaway

The Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical is a spectacular timepiece and offers some of the best value in currently available in Swiss watchmaking, with other competing watches costing double or triple the price.

The case size, while a tiny bit small for some folks with larger wrists, is absolutely classic and will remain in vogue even as the fickle preferences of the wider watch market ebb and flow. Indeed, for many watch enthusiasts, 38-39mm is considered downright perfect.  

At the end of the day, a great watch is a great watch, and the Hamilton Khaki Field certainly deserves to be in that category. While many watch companies have to over exaggerate or outright invent their heritage, Hamilton actually has the history of producing rugged military timepieces for the US Army and Air Force. Short of buying a vintage example (and all of the sourcing, servicing and water resistant headaches that may entail) this is as close to the real deal as you’re likely to get. 

Thanks toTroy Barmore at Analog/Shift for his help providing me with some of the historical and technical information for this review.

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By day: Manhattan-based journalist with reporting experience on four continents, published in Vice, Men's Health, Popular Science, and a bunch of other places.By night: ravenous consumer of anything and everything related to high end men's boots.Stridewise is where I nurture a maniacal obsession with footwear and share my findings. Say hey: [email protected]

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