Welcome to part one of my quest to find the ultimate Field Watch. The full list and watch order is here if you want to refer back.
First, let’s look at the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
It is almost getting hard to write something original about the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical. The watch has been so well documented and analysed down to the smallest screw there is almost the danger of saturation. Nevertheless, as I highlighted in the earlier published test list how can I not include a classic which arguably defined the whole modern genre of Field Watches?
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical on British Military Leather ZULUDIVER - Credit WatchGecko
More important the Hamilton deserves to be in the list as it is one of the few models which stems from real military issue watches, it is a prolific seller, and the inspiration for half the other watches in the exercise. That lineage demands respect and while the latest iterations of the watch may not scream imagination there is always the argument that if something works why mess with it?
Appearing historically with a black dial, new colours and case materials became available in a series of 2018-2019 upgrades. For that reason I selected the white dial Khaki as it is the most practical for outdoor use. White dials reflect less than dark ones which is why the “Polar” Rolex Explorer II has always been a preferred choice for adventurous souls. When I lived in Oman in the late 80s the National Geographic staff located in country all wore Explorer II white dials. The more brilliant the ambient light, be that snow field or desert, the more thankful you will be that you selected a watch with a white dial.
Rolex Explorer II - Credit WatchGecko
The Khaki Field Mechanical used in these trials has remained fundamentally unchanged since the Vietman War. I found an image online of a less common 1970s white dial model from that era which looked remarkably similar to the test model.
First announced as a commercial non-military issue watch in the late 1970s, the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical never fails to make it into the top ten of similar tests. At 38mm is has near prefect proportions and with its clear and uncomplicated dial legibility is never an issue. The hand wound H50 movement is refined using an ETA 2801-2 as a base and offers a class leading 80 hours of power.
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical on ZULUDIVER Green Military Nylon - Credit WatchGecko
The bead blasted satin case and fabric strap are easy on the eye and very practical. The faux vintage, almost orange, lume against the white dial makes for an effective combination to deliver information.
Now if you recall in my intro to these tests, I only selected watches I could get hands-on with. So with that in mind I set off for a hike with the Khaki. I chose against using the original strap, not that there was anything wrong with it, I just think the watch looks better on others. For the bulk of my walk I used a ZULUDIVER British Military leather military style strap. It reminds me so much of the attachment ends of WW2 weapon straps or webbing and this watch can really pull off that look. On the leather strap the watch just seemed to ooze history.
I had left the watch deliberately low on power so I could wind it while walking (rare multi-tasking from me). The winding process on this watch, that’s now a few years old, was still buttery smooth and gives a real sense of you and the watch working in harmony. I won’t so far as a symbiosis, but the feeling is not far off that. The Field Mechanical is simply a joy to operate. While clambering around on rocks and hills the dial proved to be clear and the inner 24 hour track and bold markers give the watch an urgent, purposeful look. At just over 60g the watch never felt heavy or in the way and its wafer thin profile is a real asset under glove cuffs.
As I reached the top of my chosen hill I found myself constantly looking at the dial. Wondering how many people in history have looked at an identical dial at a critical moment in their lives. Images of D-Day and the original A-11, or the 1970s GG-W-113 filled my mind.
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical above my village on a Marine Nationale ZULUDIVER Military Nylon - Credit WatchGecko
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can offer the Khaki is that it is an easy watch to create a personal relationship with. No question, it will be a partner you can rely on.
So does the Khaki Mechanical merit this perpetual top spot? Not sure?
When I take my camo-tinted glasses off and look at the watch as a professional watch journalist what strikes me is how old the watch felt on. Not old as in vintage, but old as in perhaps a little dated; lacking evolution? That’s not a criticism per se, I have already established that it would probably be daft to hugely mess with this classic, but I have seen so many great Field Watches over the last few weeks that I did begin to wonder if the Hamilton is justifiably on such a high pedestal?
It’s a great watch no doubt, and I was excited to use it but the whole experience left me a little flat. Also, the price of the Khaki has gone up substantially. If you look on a major UK retail website they range from the basic Khaki (like the one I was wearing) starting at £450 on special offer from the normal £530. The next model is £600 for a PVD “Earth” coated case with green dial and then over £600 for every other subsequent model.
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical on British Military Leather ZULUDIVER - Credit WatchGecko
Truth be told, and I do struggle to see such a high price in this watch. And I say this as a military and Field Watch enthusiast who is fully cognisant of the icon the Field Mechanical is. But if someone else made that watch would it be £530? I would argue not.
It’s a divisive call and if you came to me today and said, “Richard should I buy a Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical?” I would say “yes, absolutely”. But then I would caveat that initially positive response buy suggesting you to take a moment to consider the other options out there.
…..such as the Boldr Venture Wayfarer 24hr.
With a watch as venerable as the Hamilton Khaki it’s fun to pitch it against one of the newest Field Watches on the market. We go from from a brand steeped in history, battle proven through America’s conflicts, to a relatively unknown name which hails from Singapore. The Bolder Supply Company began making watches in 2016 and have now evolved their early Kickstarter models into highly capable outdoor and adventure kit.
Boldr Venture Wayfarer on British Military ZULUDIVER Leather Crazy Horse - Credit WatchGecko
Against current trends they have managed to keep prices low, considering the technical level of their equipment, with their most exclusive models such as the Odyssey Freediver GMT (reviewed recently here) still sub-£1000. For my test we have come in at the other end of the Boldr portfolio primarily as I thought the Venture Wayfarer and Khaki Mechanical were superficially similar.
Let’s have a look in detail at the Boldr Venture Wayfarer Automatic.
This model weighs only 56g thanks to a 38mm aviation grade titanium case and military nylon OEM strap. It is noticeably light when you first handle it but do not be fooled into thinking this translates to fragility. On the contrary, this is a robust 200m water resistant watch, bear in mind the Hamilton is just 50m.
Engraved case backs of the Hamilton and Boldr - Credit WatchGecko
Significant attention has been paid to detail across the dial; almost as if the “new kid on the block” understood it had to visually impress to be noticed. I was testing the white dial model with a sub-24 hour complication. Legibility was particularly clear with the anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal being almost invisible. The syringe hands were outlined in black allowing them to stand out proudly and the second hand was topped with a highlighted orange lume section which gave a vintage navigational instrument look.
The 24 hour dial is a well-placed traditional homage to explorer watches of old but does not move independently for a second time zone. It completes one revolution every 24 hours in parallel with the main 12-hour dial. The dial surface is beautifully textured, unlike the smooth finish on the Hamilton. It reminded me of rough terrain and when the light caught it the effect was complete. It may not be to everyone’s taste but I really liked it.
Boldr Venture Wayfarer on ZULUDIVER Leather Crazy Horse - Credit WatchGecko
The titanium case is extremely strong and 40% lighter than steel. This material has a high resistance to erosion and is non-corrosive when exposed to both salt water and chemicals. It is anti-magnetic, non-toxic, and non-allergenic which makes it the perfect material for a Field watch.
Powering the Venture Wayfarer is a Miyota (Citizen) automatic 21 jewel 8217 movement. This utilises the 8215 movement as a base and offers the additional 24-hour dial with a 40+ hour power reserve. Citizen’s proprietary PARASHOCK system gives reassurance that the Wayfarer will take the knocks.
The watch comes on a stiff tan military strap; arguably too stiff, so as with the Hamilton I swapped it out for my trusty ZULUDIVER leather; the same strap I had used on the other watch.
Boldr Venture Wayfarer on original fabric strap - Credit WatchGecko
When it comes to pricing the Boldr is much cheaper than the Hamilton with my model coming it at £339.00. Which is a really good price considering what you will come away with.
Everything I have described above suggests a highly capable watch. Being automatic, titanium, 200m water resistant and with a 24 hour dial surely the Boldr is the hands down winner in this first head to head? If only it were that simple…
The Boldr draws inspiration from early WW2 military watches and later Field models. The Hamilton is that inspiration, so the question is whether the Boldr has evolved the genre enough to be considered a superior watch?
The plan with these comparisons is for me to choose one out the two and then at the end of the whole affair have a shortlist which I will whittle down to a top three. Describing and testing the two watches has proven to be the easy bit.
Is there a clear winner?
In fairness no, both watches will appeal to a wide demographic of Field Watch seekers. Both have strengths and weaknesses, one satisfies the desire for a classic proven watch that transcends generations, at a cost, while the other represents everything new in the world of outdoor watches at a pocket friendly price.
Boldr Venture and Hamilton Khaki go head to head - Credit WatchGecko
However when you pitch them dial to dial, even though it seems the inferior watch on paper, I have come to the conclusion that I would select the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical.
I confess I entered this first trail really wanting the Boldr to win but having spent a week with both the Hamilton just resonated better with me; it is somehow more than the sum of its parts. Both are excellent watches and will serve well, but for my money the old Hamilton trumps the newer model. Whether I would look for a good pre-owned Hamilton is another matter as I still recoil at the price, but that’s one for me to ponder in the weeks ahead.