During the second world war, Hamilton was an American watch brand that supplied Marine Chronometers to the Navy and wristwatches to the Army. It was successful for many years after but the brand lost it's market to the Swiss who eventually acquired the brand. Last year saw the brand's ambitions to return to horological significance by their launch of Pan Europ and this year again, of the Navy Khaki Pioneer. Hamilton in recent decades had been reasonably successful in reaching out to the public via mainstream media and product placements (e.g. the Ventura in MIB movie series). Its offerings however did not excite serious collectors. Realising that Hamilton has a long history, their new strategy is to reissue tribute watches from old designs in new calibres - essentially to bridge the years apart by producing successful designs with proven modern movements and materials. For 2012, Hamilton launched this Khaki Navy Pioneer Limited Edition.
Two primary aspects of Marine Chronometers is its accuracy and how they are mounted on board the ships. These are more akin to clocks than to watches are usually mounted on a gimbal to reduce the rocking of the ship affecting its mechanical accuracy.
Hamilton has cleverly crafted this miniaturised tribute time piece to be both a table clock and wristwatch. The key innovation by Hamilton is the developing a camera bayonet type mounting for the watch onto either the gimbal box or the watch strap case. The watch could either be displayed as a table clock.
Or be used as a watch if one is able to carry off the 46.5mm case.
The design of the mount onto the watch strap is so ingenious that it hardly adds any height to the watch when worn on the wrist. The watch though is nevertheless enormous with its wire lugs potentially hanging over the wrist of anyone with less than 7 inches of wrist circumference.
Nevertheless, because of its versatility of being either a watch or a table clock at the simple twist of the watch mount, this watch will find owners quite easily. Its beautiful blue hands on arabic numbers on a white dial is a simple classic design that will not age. With only 1892 pieces to be made at retail of about US$3000, it will probably sold out even before the first pieces are due to be delivered in September 2012.
Some individual captures in medium resolution of a few models for fans of the brand to view and study. The first is a steel Ref 5454 (44mm) next to a Ref 3531 Portuguiser (36mm). Click on the images to view the higher resolution capture.
Any serious collector of IWC watches would know that the Portuguese line of watches is one of the key lines for the brand. I would even consider that it is one of the main influential factors affecting the growth of demand for large watches.
IWC made large watches even before they were popular and the designs of Portuguese has always been round cases with nearly no bezel to speak of. One of the key success stories of the Portuguese watches was the Portuguese Jubilee limited edition (which was in fact a remake of the first originals many decades ago). Since then, IWC was careful not to make multiple replica variations of the Jubilee. However, of recent years, the temptation to return to the successful old designs was too hard to resist. A few years ago, IWC launched the Vintage Collection (stainless steel black dial versions of old collections from different model lines) and more recently the Portuguese handwound 5454 (together with other models - including the ultra thin Piaget calibre 42mm case - which most serious IWC collectors tended to overlook).
In 2010 the 5454 design was launched with a contrasting subdial but this was discontinued within a year and in 2011 IWC released the new 5454 which now closely resembles the Portuguese Jubilee - save for three details. It is now in a huge 44mm case (originally at 40mm); the minute markers are on train tracks (as opposed to dots); and the movement is the FA Jones Calibre (instead of the famed Calibre 95). The new 5454 no longer has the contrasting subdial and I feel it looks much better without it. It is a handsome piece and the design is still classically beautiful and balanced.
Admittedly this timepiece was tempting but after careful consideration (avoiding the error of impetuous purchases - which does come with experience), I found the 44mm case with a very thin bezel makes the watch look far too big for my 7 inch wrist. At this size the watch cannot be a dress piece but it's design is far too delicate to be a sports watch. So it has to be acquired as a daily office wear - probably for those wearing a suit. Will this watch be a classic? I am sure for fans of big watches, this will be an exciting piece but visually, somehow this large version is somewhat harder to wear with ease.
As a collector, I am hoping that IWC will not go down the path of other brands making endless variations from their successful limited edition Portuguese Jubilee. I can understand though from a business point of view why it is done. Hopefully, they will nurture the design without hurting the aura it currently enjoys. If they have to, I hope IWC will return the design to 40mm or even at least 42mm with the Jones Calibre.
Here are two montages of two models of the 5454 that caught my eye - photographed at the IWC boutique. The steel model with silver dial and the rose gold model with grey dial. The boutique manager Mr Robin Lee kindly modelled for me. As always, click on the images to view them in high resolution.