The history of maritime exploration and discovery would read a lot differently without the advent of the marine chronometer. Prior to its development, ships hung close to familiar coastlines; when they ventured further out to sea, sailors had to rely on celestial navigation and plain dumb luck to get where they wanted without crashing on hidden reefs or ending up thousands of miles off target. The chronometer suddenly provided access to the missing piece of the puzzle — longitude — by providing a reliable, accurate time reference at sea.
During the 1940s (especially during WWII), the U.S. Navy relied on Hamilton, the watch company whose pocketwatches timed America’s railroads, for its marine chronometers — which they still used to calculate longitude. Nowadays, landlubbers can find vintage oversized Hamilton marine chronometers, in their rubber tree wooden boxes (the wood was chosen for its resistance to rot in damp conditions), on eBay. These functional pieces of history are still engineering marvels worthy of a prime spot in your man cave (FDR had one in his library), but they’re not exactly portable. Now, Hamilton is releasing a limited edition commemorative timepiece, the Khaki Navy Pioneer ($2,945), which celebrates the brand’s 120th anniversary with a wristwatch-cum-marine-chronometer inspired by its military predecessors.
Read more about the Hamilton Khaki Navy Pioneer (and see photos) after the break.
The Khaki Navy Pioneer has a hand-wound pocketwatch movement, the venerable slow-ticking Swiss Unitas 6498-2. Inside and outside, it is reminiscent of Hamilton’s marine chronometers, with a knurled steel bezel, velvet-finish silver dial with Arabic numerals and elegant hands in ocean blue. The case is 46 millimeters in diameter — not exactly marine-chronometer sized, but still a diameter fitting its use.
The limited edition watch comes in a replica wooden case, a downsized homage to classic marine chronometer cases right down to the rubber tree wood. Inside, the timepiece sits in a carrier with thumb-wheeled gimbals, just like the ones that rode in the captain’s quarters on Navy destroyers during World War II. At sea, these gimbals would have made sure that the chronometer stayed level through even the highest swells. On your desk, the gimbaled inner case can be removed and tightened to make a truly fine tabletop clock that still hints at your prowess in the fo’csle.
When you want to wear the Navy Pioneer on land (while captaining your car, perhaps), the timepiece can be removed from its gimbaled carrier and fitted with two steel loops and leather straps. Unlike the old chronometers, which had to be kept high and dry, the Navy Pioneer has a water resistance rating of 100 meters, so at least your watch will survive if you fall overboard. Hamilton is only releasing 1,892 versions of the Navy Pioneered limited edition this December, a number that commemorates the year that the company was founded. A non-limited, self-winding edition of the Navy Pioneer will also be available with other dial colors, but we think the Limited Edition is the one to own, even if the only thing you’re navigating is morning rush hour.
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