The Military Watch That Forged a Living Collection

The Hamilton Khaki Story

Date Published
Jun 12, 2021
Author
Samuel Ng
Category
Insight
SponsoredAcme Inc.

Birth of the Khaki

When the MIL-W-46374A specification became defunct in the 1980s – leaving massive manufacturing capability potentially inert – Hamilton began to hit the civilian market even harder with the Hamilton Khaki Field Watch, effectively transforming this military icon into an outdoorsy lifestyle accessory.

Back on the Military field watch track, during the seventies to the late eighties, the world saw a strong surge with style and fashion influenced by the military aspect. In the history of Hamilton, a monumental shift occurred during this period.

Especially in the latter period, the world’s armies seeking mil-spec watches were gradually diminishing. Hamilton took the opportunity and refocused on producing these classic field watches, redolent of the ones made for war and now for the public market. This happened when they were still swashbuckling with the US government. Hamilton started to produce a 33mm true-to-size field watches known as the Ref. 9219.

(Ref. 9219 features the Hamilton logo on top and with the “Khaki” moniker below) (Photo Credits: Watch Charts)
(The non-government specification case-back of Ref. 9219) (Photo Credits: Unwind In Time)

The Ref. 9219s were directly descended from both the GG-W-113 and MIL-W-4367. Like both of those, the matte tone steel case with fixed lug bars was similar in design, cladding an indelible military dial with the ETA 2750 caliber. What differed from the militaries’ was the addition of its then “jet age” logo (introduced in 1956) for most and no government markings on the screw-down case-back. For the first time, the official moniker “Khaki” appeared on the 9219s in bold fonts, sitting right at the bottom of the dial within the 24-hour military markers. This was a sign of the birth of Hamilton’s first official Khaki military watch.

When the government’s MIL-W-4367 became defunct, alongside the low demand of their British’s 6BB, Hamilton went full throttle through the eighties, turning their military icons to skookum lifestyle accessories for the civilians. Ref. 9219 was already part of the outdoor fashion trend. Sometime in the late eighties to early nineties, it became the Ref. 9415. Not being tied down by the government’s criteria, the 9415 exemplified the civilian-oriented approach by welcoming more practical drilled lug holes with removable spring bars that allow consumers to throw some strap options on it.

(The second Khaki field watch from Hamilton, the Ref. 9415) (Photo Credits: R.M. Gallagher)
(Note the now drilled lug holes for the consumer to change straps) (Photo Credits: R.M. Gallagher)

Another main distinction was ETA 2801-2 caliber after 1983, similarly used within the top range revision D Type 1 of the MIL-W-4367. With the robust Swiss movement and its practical 18mm lug width with drilled lug holes, the 9415 Khaki had weft together a proper daily-beater for anybody appreciating Hamilton’s military spirit.

These two Khaki military watches’ births marked the revival of Hamilton’s classic field watches that once served well during war times. Through this, we acknowledged Hamilton’s effort in being the early adopters to give their past a nod with vintage re-issues. Incredibly, they actually did so while the first Khaki watches’ introductory cross-line they were based on and were still being used by soldiers in the field.

The Collaboration

Hamilton produced absolute scads of these watches starting in the late 1960s and into the 1990s for both military contract fulfillment and numerous retail stores, which tended to sell them with co-branded dials.

Myron Erickson, Rover Haven Strap
(A proper collection of co-branded Khaki field watches) (Photo Credits: Rover Haven)

Another monumental chapter of the Khaki line was the collaborations with different retail stores. Since Hamilton produced scads of these Khaki field watches since the early seventies during an advent time where military-style was de-facto fashion, the brand grasped the opportunity to work with renowned equipment and gears companies, affiliated with everything adventurous and outdoorsy. As early as the introduction of the first Khaki field watch, these mail-order American companies worked together with Hamilton to boost sales of these watches with real military pedigree. We’re talking about adventure brands like Orvis, Brookstone, Brigade quartermaster, and LL Bean – the latter being most widely known today.

They sold these co-branded Khakis through their flagship stores, with double-branding on the dials with both brands’ logos. That being said, I personally find them equally compelling as those from renowned Swiss brands – like Rolex with Tiffany and Co and Cartier, or Heuer’s sports watches with Abercrombie branding. In these co-branded mail orders, Khaki watches were dressed in different sizes for both men and women and came on a mix of NATO straps and movements powering those watches. Apart from those Khakis, Hamilton also restarted producing pocket watches for them, in keeping the military charm.

(An early LL Bean advertisement)
(Two 9219s with individual co-branding) (Photo Credits: MWR Forum)

Although I will not list every single piece and go through in-depth analysis of each, like the expert and collector Myron Erickson (yes, the guy with all those confusing Fall Warblers), I will list out a few distinct ones to highlight this era. The first original two Khakis Ref. 9219 and 9415, were notably kickstarted by the collaboration phenomenon. They started with LL Bean (founded by Leon Leonwood Bean), and the rest was history.

These co-branding watches were available for sale right up until the nineties. And they were usually complimented and sold along with military gears like compasses, thick wool socks, and Swiss Army knives (before Victorinox watches came about). These enlivened a theme for consumers who wanted the complete adventurer package.

(From left clockwise: Ref. 9219 Brookstone Khaki, Orvis Khaki, LL Bean Khaki, and a LL Bean Khaki Mate) (Photo Credits: MWR Forum)
(A Brigade Quartermaster variant with its hooded archer logo on top with bold “Khaki” font below)

While I might need another in-depth article with the single intention of scrutinizing and indulging in the details of these original Khakis, from the photos above, we can see the differences in logos and fonts on those 9219 dials. But what we can derive is that the rugged styling of these early Khakis sealed the enduring appeal of what would be the uber military collection of today’s Hamilton. These watches felt every bit the tools for military personnel and civilians, from pure functionality to discovering a sense of nostalgia; it’s undoubtedly proven that these Khakis are timeless.

Quartz, Automatics, and Chronographs

However, the MIL-W-46374A specification was defunct in the 1980s. To avoid losses, the brand takes its watches to the masses. From a military icon, the Khaki Field watch ultimately turns to an outdoor watch.

Fran, Prowatches

In the nineties, Hamilton started to clad their Khakis with Swiss quartz movement and automatic ones, all for the sake of better utility. For instance, co-branded 9219s were seen with ETA 963 quartz movement, up to the Ref. 9445, a beefed-up 36mm field watch with a flanged side with crown guards date display powered by the ETA 955.114 quartz caliber.

(An early 9219 that already clads an ETA quartz movement) (Photo Credits: MWR Forum)

These quartz variants were durable enough to be used by intrepid adventurers and soldiers, with the benefit of not being disconcerted by the need to wind up the watch. Once the time and date are set, it became a grab-and-go watch. These Khakis made things easier for their wearers, accentuating their “daily-beater” sobriquet.

(Hamilton Ref. 9445 with date display and quartz movement) (Photo Credits: Akiyose)
(An ETA 955.114 that powers the 36mm Khaki Date) (Photo Credits: Reddit)

If quartz movement might be seen as unsexy for watch savants, Hamilton had you covered with the Ref. 9721 that used an ETA 2824-2. Coined as the “people’s” caliber, the ETA 2824 is one of the most classic automatic movements since 1982 and has proven extremely reliable.

(First automatic Khaki Field watch the Ref. 9721) (Photo Credits: Unwind In Time)
(The “BMW” workhorse engine ETA 2824-2)

Like the rest of the watch, the dial was purely utilitarian. Its element differed slightly from the earlier Khakis, as it resembled the RAF’s W10 variant closely. It bored the railway minute rehaut, a triangular 12′ o clock hour marker affiliated with pilot watches, but now with additional 24-hour inner markings and a date display. The dial came in both silver and black, sitting within a slightly-domed mineral glass crystal. Also, the case had multiple finishings. Several were accomplished with polished bezel and satin mid-body and case-back, or the military-style in full matte finishing that mimics the parkerized case of those vintage field watches.

(Another example of Ref. 9721 with different case finishing) (Photo Credits: Prescelto)

With these 9721 variants, things seemed to be “out with the old and in with the new.” We got a sense of the progressive development towards a more modern take on Hamilton’s military heritage, epitomizing the exuberance and clean aesthetics of the Khaki, coupled with the embracing of the GG-W-113 and Mil-W-4367 design principles.

Before we move on further, I would like to point out a rare chronograph model. The nineties limited edition was developed for Italian military aviation and ran on the famed Lemania 5100 caliber. Earning a legendary status as a workhorse chronograph, the movement was juxtaposed with more explicit materials than other contemporaries like the Valjoux 7750 and yet worked equally well. It was even fitted in many famous sports chronographs, particularly the Sinn 156 for the Bundeswehr Luftwaffe (German Air Force). It looks like a mirror image of the Hamilton’s.

(A super-rare Hamilton “Bund” Chronograph made solely for the Italian Air Force) (Photo Credits: Catawiki)
(The legendary Lemania 5100 chronograph within the Hamilton) (Photo Credits: Omega Forums)
(Looks familiar? The Sinn 156 Chrono) (Photo Credits: Omega Forums)

The Hamilton Lemania Chronograph was Teutonic in design to the core, as if it’s straight out from Germany during the nineties. Like the Sinn 156, the Hamilton “Bund” Chrono measures up at 44mm and came in black and white dial variations. These chronographs were considered rare, but like the three-hander Ref. 9721 Khaki, they all pointed the direction forward for Hamilton’s grandiose military heritage.

Hollywood Traditions

Around the same time throughout the nineties, many Hamilton Watch fans started to pay attention to the brand displaying their watches within several Hollywood movies. Although it all might seem like it began with a particular iconic, asymmetrical, futuristic Ventura watch worn by Agent J, played by Will Smith in 1997’s Men in Black (it’s the first Hamilton that caught my eye in movies), the company’s endeavor actually dated back to the thirties during the Art Deco movement. Remember the Piping Rock watch that I jotted at the start of this article? Yes, it was the first watch ever debuted along with the Hamilton Flintridge in the movie Shanghai Express in 1932.

(The second watch that debuted in “Shanghai Express”) (Photo Credits: The N.Y. Times)
(Agent’s J Ventura Quartz Ref. H24411732 on his wrist) (Photo Credits: Spotern)

Now you might quibble, wondering, ‘why the sudden switch from a firm military horology path to shining the limelight on the watchmaker’s footprint on the red carpet?’ Well, simply because after more than eighty years or so in keeping the Hollywood tradition, some fantastic Khaki models were actually born out of it. These watches might not be actual Mil-Spec compliance per se. Still, every single bit of each encapsulates the spirit – heavily based on the company’s military roots and specific design ethos – alongside some evolutionary upgrades.

First in line would be the Khaki Navy Frogman dive watches. Commercially produced with volume in 1951, the first Frogman diver was thoroughly based on the aforementioned waterproof Canteen watches issued to the US Navy “BuShips.” The model pays tribute to Hamilton’s first military watch capable of underwater operation and marking the second time a Hamilton timepiece was featured in a major movie called “The Frogmen.”

Apropos for the movie, the watch, in fact, was based on those Navy demolition teams going on their dangerous jobs while strapping onto the wrists those first-ever Frogman divers. From then on, Hamilton continued evolving the Frogman collection by inheriting design cues that made the dive watch stand out, like the influential screw-cap crown protective system.

(First-ever Khaki Frogman that appeared in “The Frogmen” in 1951) (Photo Credits: Your Watch Hub)

Another particular “Hollywood” Khaki military field watch was the Khaki Field Officer Ref. H69439363. The 38mm hand-winding field watch in olive drab was first featured in the wartime love movie Pearl Harbour in 2001. The 38mm olive green watch was found on the protagonists’ wrists in the film, worn by US Army Air Corp pilots: Captain Rafe McCawley and Captain Danny Walker, played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, respectively. It was a brilliant effort to infuse Hamilton’s strength of genuine military pedigree with their starring role in Hollywood. This particular Khaki field watch is the most prominent military piece heavily based on the MIL-W-4367 and GG-W-113. However, the R88-W-800 would be more period correct.

(The First Khaki field watch that appears in movie intentionally was “Pearl Harbour” in 2001)

While the films mentioned earlier were based on actual war events that Hamilton was part of, the watches were well represented in that context. But moving along the Hollywood line, the Khaki collection grew to feature several more that might not be used directly to aid any actual warfare yet still embraced the adventurous spirit. For instance, a prominent one would be the Khaki Aviation Pilot Day Date Auto Ref. H64615135 and cult favorite, the Ref. H70605731Khaki Field Murph Auto featured in Interstellar.

These two military-themed watches were worn by the astronaut protagonist Joseph Cooper in the triumphant movie released in 2014. The 42mm Khaki Aviation Pilot Matthew McConaughey wore was a rendition of a World War II pilot watch design with a “Type B” dial face where the inner dial reads the hour and an outer one solely focuses on the minute and second. To make it more functional, Hamilton incorporated a day display at 12 o’clock and a date display at the bottom for an asymmetrical look.

(The pilot watch that was worn by astronaut Joseph Cooper in Interstellar)

The second Khaki featured in the movie was the Murph edition. Through this particular field watch, Joseph communicates with his daughter through a morse code sequence across space and time. What’s notable about this watch was, not only did it appeared to be useful in a crucial scene, the Murph Khaki also set out to be different than the other Khaki field watches. The first and only automatic in the Khaki Field line sans a date display. The 42mm Murph edition was not a remake of any specific field watch within archives. However, despite a wholly new design that was conceived, it still endures the Khaki DNA.

It featured retro typography for the hour and minute numerals in aged luminous tone and a cathedral-style handset with tiny lines and dots of Super-Luminova applied on the second hand that spells “Eureka” in Morse code – a nice novelty that links back to the critical scene in the movie. Other than that, the distinct appearance is visible in the much-appreciated field watch case, with an elegant polished bezel and satin-finished case, closing off with an open case-back that exhibits the modern H-10 automatic caliber, which we will touch on more later.

(The original bespoke Murph Khaki in the hands of Joseph Cooper, beside his Aviation Pilot DD)

Despite many more Hollywood-worthy Khakis worn in movies throughout the years (If you would like to find out about each of them, you can find them here: https://www.hamiltonwatch.com/en-us/filter-by/movie-watches.html), I would like to finish off this section with yet another two non-war-related military watches worth mentioning. These would be Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’s Khaki Field Auto Chrono Ref. H71626735; and the Khaki Navy BeLOWZERO Auto – Limited Edition Ref. H78505332 (Red), H78505331(Blue) based on the movie TENET in 2020.

(The full black 42mm Khaki Chrono specifically made for the Jack Ryan series)
(Jack Ryan, with his Khaki Chrono, he’s a former U.S. Marine and later joins the CIA as an analyst)

In the 2018 Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, the former Khaki Field Chrono featured the current military Chrono clad in full black PVD. It resulted in a cool stealthy mood with its sleek appeal that is more than appropriate for the hero. He goes about his tactical action feats throughout the film.

The latter ones were based on Hamilton’s BeLOWZERO collection, which houses one of the most rigid dive watch ever fabricated by the brand. Even as a movie edition (practically the same but bears a tribute to the one used in the movie TENET), the square case Khaki Navy watches are pressure tested to reach 1000m under frigid water level with a fully functional helium-escape valve.

Again, these two professional dive watches were clad in full black cases, rubber straps, dials, and hands, with only each variant with its own red and blue accents on the second hand tip, offering the only clues to the plot of the mind-twisting TENET movie.

(The heavy-hitter Khaki Navy BeLOWZERO “Tenet” edition)
(Based on this BeLOWZERO prop that was used in the movie with a “digital counter” display)

Intriguingly, the original props were presented with digital counters on the dials and used in the movies during the battle scenes (not going to be a spoiler). The 46mm dive watches embodied a utilitarian military style dial with analog sword hands, running on an automatic mechanical movement instead. With these two contemporary dive watches and chronographs built and explicitly decorated to befit the nature of the show’s aspects, there’s something inherently well-defined about the watches in the Khaki style.

There is an equally fascinating and long history of Hamilton’s role in movies and films, as there is in issuing watches to the world’s militaries. For the sake of this article, I have only highlighted a few of those that tie both together harmoniously. To sum up all these Hollywood Khaki watches, they are clearly and unambiguously re-interpreted, wrapped with distinct flairs yet confined to Hamilton’s military past ethos that stood the test of time. Even if all of these watches have not been used in movies, they would still be acknowledged as robust tool watches that are holdovers, beautifully interpreting the classic military taste from the 1940s to 1980s.

Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.

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