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The Hamilton Khaki King. Silence…
I have been on a journey, one that will be familiar to many of you. It started off with watches that were too big for me and which were far too flashy. This moved on to looking at more expensive pieces like the Oris Divers 65, which I regretted selling, and then on to the Tudor Black Bay Heritage which I recently let go because it was just too big and heavy for me.
I moved on to wanting a Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 which I cannot buy because they are so difficult to find and perhaps more importantly because I am not 100% sure that it would be perfect enough to merit the near £5,000 I would have to spend.
So, I have decided to wait and to buy a temporary watch to keep me going for a year while I decide what will be my one watch for the next decade or so. I am determined to be a one watch guy (is that even possible?) and to wear it most of the time alongside my Mondaine Stop2Go which my son bought me and which gets worn 2 to 3 days a week. He has just left home, but when the second hand reaches the top and pauses, and when I spot it happening, I think of him every time.
On a whim this temporary watch ended up being the Hamilton Khaki King. I had been vaguely interested in it and spotted it online for a very good price, and so made my move. I was not excited at all and viewed it for what it is; a budget(ish) watch with an automatic movement and a little bit of heritage. I didn’t want to spend close to £1,000 on a temporary watch because I want to save up for my eventual ‘perfect’ watch and so it made sense to spend much less than £500. This felt like a decent compromise.
Three days later the word compromise has not entered my thinking since and I will explain why.
During a recent Hodinkee podcast a guest talked about men coming in to his store and asking for a powerful suit, and how they would usually aim for the widest pinstripes they could find. He explained that a powerful suit is a well cut garment which does not take anything away from the person wearing it, it merely emphasises the person underneath. He then explained that the same rule applies to watches and it made a lot of sense to me.
It made me think about all of those big watches I have owned in the past and how in my head I felt that they needed to be big, they needed to say something about me and to show other people what I was wearing, but of course I was wrong. There is nothing positive coming from wearing a flashy watch that you want others to see and if someone is impressed by such an object they are likely not worth impressing. What is more important (or not important at all to many people) is when your watch compliments you, when it looks stylish and when it becomes a part of you. It needs to fit you physically and emotionally, and few watches do that.
Anyway, the King arrived and I left it on the side as I had work to do which is unusual for me. Usually I would rip open the box in a minute, but as I said I was feeling the compromise and I was almost ready to return it the moment I looked at it. I opened it later though and rested it on my wrist. Silence…
On my 7.25” wrist the King sits just so perfectly. The 40mm case corresponds to the 11mm height and the drop of the lugs makes for a watch that hugs the wrist almost invisibly. At 48mm lug to lug it covers my wrist, but never dominates. I don’t notice it when wearing it until I need to check the time, but I do notice it when I look at it and spend a second longer than I normally would, just looking at it. My first impressions of this watch were perhaps heightened by the fact I had not bothered previously with the sweet spot size of watch for me, despite guessing that the Oyster Perpetual 39 would work.
The weight is also in the sweet spot at 150 grams and overall it feels just right for me which could be coincidence or it could be a brilliant design. I think it’s the latter given the reviews I have read by others.
Some people have criticised the bracelet and I can see why. It doesn't feel luxury in any way, but it doesn't feel cheap either.
It suits the King perfectly, is easy to adjust is at the level I would expect for a watch of this price. Only 2 micro adjustments is a little stingy though.
Another reason why I moved the Tudor on was the lack of a date window. Initially I loved the symmetry of the dial because it had no date window, but for some strange reason my mind needs to know the date on my watch even though it is readily available on my iPhone, my work computer, my Mac and in countless other places. It’s hard to explain, but if I have the date on my watch I know it, if it is not there I struggle to know the date. It’s quite odd really.
I don’t need a day view, no one does, but when it looks as good as it does on the King it becomes a positive part of the design and not just a useful complication. It brings more to the dial that would otherwise look like so many other field watches and I don’t even mind how it cuts off the 11 and 1 and completely removes the 12. The actual date window could be bigger, however, and is my only criticism of the dial overall. It isn’t so much the size as it happens, but the way it is cut out and the shadows that come from the cut out that can make the date hard to read. A slightly larger cut out would resolve this.
Everything else works so consistently that it takes me back again and again to wondering why other brands cannot do this on a regular basis. The hands are perfect for the dial and in particular the way the second hand reaches the edge. It’s a simple thing, but wonderful to look at. The 24 hour markers in the centre add some depth to go alongside the multi-faceted dial shading and the text also feels considered. HAMILTON at the top and KHAKI AUTOMATIC at the bottom is all you need really to emphasis that nothing about this dial is designed to stand out. We have black and white colouring, no red second hand tip and no colours anywhere which works better than you may expect. The minute track is strangely the highlight to me when I really stare at it because it brings everything together while surrounding it in a traditional way that just works. Seriously, the design of the dial is pretty wonderful and much more interesting that it appears to be at first glance.
The Swiss ETA Caliber 2834-2 automatic movement has been modified by Hamilton to offer an 80 hour power reserve. This is done by reducing the beat rate and in my view is a clever trade-off. The lack of a completely smooth sweep offers a sense of vintage in a way that faux vintage lume could never do. It is a physical thing that you witness which feels more real than a slap of beige lume or a deliberately aged dial.
In my case I am getting +3 to +4 seconds per day which is pretty good and more than acceptable at this price point. And it is the price that once again comes to mind. Oris use similar movements in their watches at +£1,000 and so do many other brands which makes this feel like absurd value when you consider that Hamilton is a well known brand with serious heritage.
A strap whore
As is standard for me I had to try out a different style strap on the King and so I did. And then I tried another and another and so on until I realised that this watch is a complete strap whore. From metal to leather to rubber to NATO, it all works really well and there is a considered amount of space between the case and the spring bar, not too much and not too little.
I have owned many watches from very low priced offerings to what some would consider luxury pieces and so I have a good idea of what you get, or in some cases do not get, by spending more.
The Khaki King kind of throws a lot of my think out the door, however, because it appears to compare with much more expensive watches with ease.
I considered an Omega Speedmaster pre-owned at approx £3,000, but that wold have been an expensive temporary option and one that only offers 30m of water resistance, no date and a debatable crystal. This feels much more desirable and in particular the extra £2,600 I have left for my one and only watch one day.
I was so close to returning to the Oris Divers 65 and even though the 200m water resistance and decent lume are enticing I struggle to consider an extra £1,000 after having owned this for a few days.
And then there was a handful of Orient offerings for £2-300 which didn’t quite do it for me and so they were returned. A couple of Citizen watches fell away and so did the new Seiko 5 when I got a few minutes with them, just a little too bulky.
The Oyster Perpetual 39? Obviously it could never be considered competition to the Khaki King, but seriously it has slightly change my view of the 39 and more particularly how I measure watch value.
No watch is perfect and the lume here is disappointing. It does glow and I can almost see the time in the early hours of the morning on my bedside table, but for a field watch it is strangely poor. It falls into that category of features that annoy me in that I have to wonder why a feature is added if it isn’t done properly?
The 50m water resistance is also not ideal and I would expect that a screw-down crown would help a lot, but alas you will have to consider your usage from time to time.
There is no anti-reflective coating on the crystal which has been criticised in many different places, but I have to say that it doesn’t bother me at all. If anything it makes the dial even clearer in most lighting conditions and fits the overall aesthetic very closely. Maybe my mind will change in the summer, but until then I have no issues without it.
The Khaki Kind has surprised me a great deal and I find myself, after a few days, enjoying it a whole lot more than I expected. With a bunch of watches sat in a case that I wear to varying degrees not one of them has moved since the King arrived.
Watches are not about practicality, they are not about features and what they can do for you. They need to fit you and to let you enjoy checking the time when you need to. The King has blown me away and it could well be my temporary watch for a year until I move on, or it could last a lot longer that that.