Our favourite bits of outdoor kit are those that withstand the ultimate test – time. Because it’s only after years of use and multiple adventures that gear starts to get properly weathered and worn in. And that’s when you come to regard these items with the same affection as you would an old friend. Whether it’s a pair of down-at-heel hiking boots that have gradually moulded themselves to your feet or a battered old metal water bottle that’s still going strong despite countless dings, dents and drops, these are the true adventure companions.
That’s why we were attracted to Hamilton’s Khaki Mechanical Bronze Watch when we were looking for classic outdoor watches. Firstly, because this storied Swiss brand with American roots has genuine heritage. Hamilton played a key role in the development of 20th-century military field watches. In fact, the Khaki Field is a reinterpretation of their original FAPD 5101, commissioned by the US military and produced from 1969 well into the 1980s. Better known as the ‘GI’, it was a watch that even saw service in the Vietnam War. Just like its forebears, the modern Field Khaki is a function-first timepiece featuring a slabby case with big lugs, a flat bezel and a large crown.
More unusual, however, is the fact that this watch has a case made from bronze. Now, bronze doesn’t rust, ensuring good durability. It does, however, oxidise, meaning that over time the watch will develop a distinct patina. The metal will darken and age, so that eventually the watch on your wrist will tell a story of all the epic trips, voyages and journeys it’s been on. How’s that for a proper adventure companion?
Who is the Hamilton Khaki Mechanical Bronze Watch For?
We reckon this is a watch for those who appreciate elegant simplicity and classic design. With its vintage looks and hand-wound mechanical movement, it’s undeniably a bit of a throwback, so it’s a timepiece for those who aspire to relive the golden age of exploration, intrepid adventurers fuelled by the same passions that drove Scott, Shackleton and Mallory.
Basically, if you prefer a good old map and compass to modern GPS, and shun synthetic performance fabrics in favour of old-school canvas, wool and leather, this is the watch for you.
We’ve already touched on the unusual and striking bronze case. It is extremely eye-catching, being bead-blasted for a matte finish, but exuding a warmth and glow that stainless steel can never deliver. The oversized crown is also cast from bronze, creating a harmonious and resolved look, while the crystal is a domed sapphire. That should offer excellent scratch-resistance and suits the premium materials used elsewhere.
Because if you flip the watch over, you’ll see the watch has a full titanium caseback. As well as being famously lightweight and incredibly strong, titanium is also hypoallergenic, without the nickel or cobalt content that can cause allergic reactions in those with sensitive skin. It also means that the bronze case doesn’t sit directly against the wrist, minimising the chance of it leaving a greenish tinge on your skin as that patina develops.
For similar reasons, the pin buckle on the strap is also titanium. We can see the logic here, though for us a mismatched strap buckle and case is nearly always a no. It still kind of jars slightly on this watch, but we’re prepared to let it go. The rest of the strap is well executed. It’s a soft and supple brown leather NATO style, fitted with matching leather keepers. It’s extremely comfortable and should wear in over time just like the bronze case.
The Khaki Field mechanical is a compact watch, especially by modern standards, with a 38mm diameter case. It’s just 9.5mm thick, and the total lug-to-lug measurement across the wrist is 47mm. It’s also lightweight – all of which makes it a fairly unobtrusive piece, well suited to even small wrist sizes. With minimal bulk, profile and heft, this isn’t a watch that you’ll feel self-conscious about strapping to your wrist. It slips easily under the cuff of a shirt or jacket too, making it ideal for daily wear.
The dial is all about clarity, with large, white-printed sans serif numerals on a matte black background. The inner ring adds a 24-hour scale that makes it easy to translate AM and PM into military time, emphasising the Khaki Field’s army origins. Prominent minute hashing along the outer edge of the dial is interspaced with triangular hour markers. The handset employs syringe-style hour and minute hands, with a lollipop arrow seconds hand. The tip of the seconds hand, and in-filled sections of the other hands, as well as the hour markers, are all coated with aged Super-LumiNova for a vintage look and low-light visibility. While it isn’t the brightest lume we’ve ever seen on a watch face, it’s perfectly serviceable and does the job.
The watch has water resistance of 5 bar or 50 metres, which is more than adequate for a field watch primarily designed for use on terra firma.
The leather NATO strap feels great to wear, and its classic design adds more security than a single-pass, two-piece strap. That’s because the strap actually loops under the watch head, so even if a spring bar breaks, the watch will remain attached to the strap, and likewise, the strap will remain attached to your wrist.
The watch is powered by a Swiss-made mechanical, hand-winding movement called the Hamilton H-50. Based on an ETA movement, it has 17 jewels and a 21,600bph frequency. This slightly lower beat rate gives it an impressive 80-hour power reserve, meaning when fully wound, it’ll run for just over three days before you’ll need to wind it again.
There is something undeniably old-school about owning a hand-wound mechanical watch as opposed to an automatic, or even a solar- or battery-powered quartz watch. Luckily, the watch’s large crown makes it easy to enjoy the silky-smooth winding. There’s just enough tension to remind you that gears are turning and the mainspring is coiling up, ready to provide the beating heart of your watch. Maybe we’re getting overly romantic, but this regular routine creates a sense of ownership, an affinity and even an affection that you just don’t get with, say an Apple watch or a Garmin Fenix.
Hamilton’s Khaki Field Mechanical has already become a modern classic since it was first reissued in 2018. Google ‘best field watches’ and you’ll find it’s invariably top of the list on multiple watch enthusiast forums and websites. The reasons for such widespread popularity are obvious. It’s a great-looking piece with bona fide military origins that give it plenty of heritage appeal, and this handsome bronze version only amps up it aesthetic charms. It may be slightly less robust than a counterpart like the Nodus Sector Field, but we doubt you’ll find another field watch with as much charm and elegance as this Hamilton.
Despite the mid-century design, it still makes a pretty practical daily wear or adventure watch too. Indeed, the elements that made it such a stalwart in service in the field also make it a practical wrist companion. For starters, it’s not too big or bulky, with a slim case profile. The titanium caseback cuts a little weight on what is already a lightweight watch, so you’ll hardly notice it on your wrist.
The sapphire crystal is highly scratch-resistant, and that bronze case, while softer than steel, should still be plenty tough. The military-inspired dial offers excellent legibility, and the lume means it’ll still be readable even in low light conditions.
The Achilles heel – at least if you’re considering things from the standpoint of outright toughness and shock resistance – is probably its hand-wound mechanical movement. Obviously, this is going to be inherently more delicate than quartz. We still wouldn’t say you need to baby it though. Treat it right, and it’ll look after you in return. A hand-wound movement also makes this a more authentic tribute to the original field watches, which were all hand-wound. And if it was reliable enough for US soldiers back in the day, it should be good enough for you too, right? As mechanical movements go, it’s also pretty impressive, thanks to that long 80-hour power reserve.
Bottom line: if you’re attracted to the idea of owning a mechanical watch and are willing to splurge a little on a daily wearer with oodles of charm and character – one that’ll dress up for the office or down for weekend adventures – you can’t go wrong with this little Hamilton.
CuSn8 bronze alloy case (92% bronze and 8% tin) | Screw down titanium case back with unique serial number | Hamilton H-50 hand-wound mechanical movement | 80 hour power reserve | 50m/5 ATM water resistance | Single dome sapphire crystal | Aged Super Lumi-Nova | Leather NATO strap.