The Vintage Reissue Done Right

Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto Chrono Review: A Perfect Panda Dial


September 11, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Hunter D. Kelley

Following the release of their Intra-Matic 68 Chrono, a modern watch that took design cues from several vintage chronographs, Hamilton has further refined the vintage aesthetic with the Intra-Matic Auto Chrono, available mid-October on Hamilton’s e-commerce shop and in Hoidnkee’s online shop, and available everywhere mid-November for $2,195. The chief complaint with the 68 seemed to be the overly-large case dimensions (42mm with a 22mm lug width), which Hamilton has remedied here with a 40mm case that’s 20mm between the lugs. Oh, and it’s got a panda dial (the 68 featured a reverse-panda). Let’s take this thing for a spin.

The Good: It seems like Hamilton listened to the screaming masses when they designed this next iteration of vintage-inspired chronograph — now we’ve got a 40mm case that just looks and wears better on the wrist (considering that the Chrono-Matic from 1969 and the “Poor Man’s Carreras” from around the same time were housed in 36-37mm cases, 40mm is already a significant increase in diameter). At roughly 14mm tall, this is not a slim case, but considering you’ve got an automatic chronograph movement in there, the dimensions feel pretty good.

The panda dial is also damn good-looking, with a relatively unobtrusive date window at 6 o’clock that doesn’t interfere with the two sub-dials, both of which have a nice “textured” look for added depth. Chronograph action on this watch is also well-balanced and smooth — I could likely entertain my one-year-old nephew all day just by letting him play with the chronograph (Note to Hamilton: I did not actually do this with your watch).

Who They’re For: Anyone who appreciates a vintage-inspired chronograph will almost invariably dig this watch. So will anyone who likes a good panda dial but can’t afford to shell out crazy many for a vintage one, or who could shell out crazy money for a vintage one but doesn’t want to deal with the pain of having to service a 40-year-old watch. Someone who appreciates good design in general would likely appreciate the Auto Chrono as well, as would someone who simply likes pushing buttons, be they on watches or on people (this thing has three different buttons on it, if you count the tiny quick-adjust date pusher). And of course someone who likes a good chronograph in general would of course appreciate the Auto Chrono, panda dial or not (if you want to time laps, naps or boiing pasta water, you can time the shit out of them with this watch).

Watch Out For: If you’re looking for a super-thin chronograph, then the Auto Chrono is not the watch for you. It’s not that it’s unusually thick for an automatic chrono (these movements are generally pretty tall), it’s simply that should you choose to go with a manually-wound chronograph instead, you could probably shave off a few millimeters in the process. The crystal on the Auto-Chrono, despite being a double-AR coated, sapphire variety, is also pretty reflective; this doesn’t bother me so much as it would on a tactical field watch (I’m pretty sure no one’s wearing the Auto Chrono whilst on sniper overwatch), but it’s something to watch out for. On the other hand, you can sort of use the watch crystal to check your hair, so maybe that’s a plus rather than a drawback.

Alternatives: For one, if for some reason you like the general aesthetic of the Auto Chrono but want either A. a larger case size or B. a reverse panda dial, there’s always the original Intra-Matic Chrono 68 from 2017 for $2,195. Mercer Watch Company, a micro-brand based out of the Great State of New Jersey (I’m from Jersey, so I can talk condescendingly about it), makes the Lexington Chronograph in a 39mm case based on the Seagull ST19 movement for $529 (the Chinese-made movement helps to partially explain the price). If you’re willing to shell out some more cash (like, a lot more cash), then there’s the Bremont ALT1-C for $6,495 which is also sized at 42mm and features a panda dial.

Review: Panda dials have become a hot-ticket item in the vintage watch world, and so it’s no surprise that brands are capitalizing on the trend and creating reissues that utilize this dial style (a panda dial, for the uninitiated, is a white dial with black sub-dials that looks — wait for it — like the face of a lovable, cuddly panda bear; a reverse panda is a black dial with white sub-dials). I for one love a good panda dial, and to the extent that there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to the flow of vintage-inspired reissues, am glad to see a few more on the market, of which the Auto Chrono is a particularly good example.

As someone with a 7 or 7.5-inch wrist (I can’t remember and I don’t have any spare knitting yarn at my desk with which to measure), I tend to draw the line at a 42mm case (unless someone has a spare Panerai 3646 he wants to gift me — in that case I might be willing to make an exception). While I personally believe that 38mm is probably the best size for this watch, I think 40mm probably does strike the best balance for the “modern” wearer, and I applaud Hamilton’s decision to reduce the case size by 2mm from that of the 68.

The dial on the Auto Chrono is somehow busy yet constrained — one gets the impression that there’s a lot of information being presented here, but it’s being presented in such a way that the wearer doesn’t feel overwhelmed. The main color palette at work is actually cream and black (rather than white and black), which gives the dial sort of a vintage-inspired, subdued look (it also allows the sub-dial hands and the date wheel, which are white white, to stand out against the dial body). On the outside of the dial you’ve got a tachymeter scale with white printing, after which there’s a 1/5th second/minute track in black atop the cream-colored central disk. The markers are polished, multi-faceted steel with white Super Lumi-Nova lume above each.

As this is a dual-register chronograph, you get two sub-dials: a running seconds hand at 9’clock and a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock. Hamilton’s logo and name (in all their mid-60s flare) adorn the center of the dial below the 12 o’clock marker, while the word “Automatic” is placed just above the date window at 6 o’clock. “Swiss Made” flanks the date wheel above the 1/5th second/minute scale. The nickeled hour and minute hands feature Super Lumi-Nova lume, while the central chronograph seconds features black laquer.

The stainless steel case itself features bevels that both constitute the bezel around the sapphire crystal and, on the lower half of the case, flow downward toward the screw-down case back; these help to dissipate some of the case depth and give the watch more dimensionality. A signed, screw-down crown is a nice touch for added waterproofing (though taking the Auto Chrono in the bath isn’t recommended), and the pump chronograph pushers feature great action. The quick-advance date is controlled via a recessed pusher at 10 o’clock rather than via the crown. This, while functional, I found to be annoying, as I’d much rather not have to search for a toothpick or tiny flathead screwdriver when I need to change the watch’s date, but I’m sure there’s a good reason for this having to do with the movement architecture that is beyond my powers of horological comprehension to grasp. I just get to complain about it on the internet!

And what exactly is the movement ticking away within the Auto Chrono, you might ask? It’s the 28.800 bph Hamilton H-31 automatic chronograph caliber, featuring 27 jewels, 2-register chronograph functionality, hacking seconds, hand-winding, date window, and 60-hour power reserve. This is essentially a Valjoux 7753 with an upgraded power reserve, which makes sense, given that Hamilton is a Swatch Group brand, and Valjoux is part of ETA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Swatch Group. To paraphrase J.R.R.. Tolkien: “One Watch Company To Rule Them All!”

The strap that ships with the Auto Chrono is a black leather model with black top-stitching all around and a Hamilton-signed buckle. While the strap is unoffensive and comfortable enough, I would probably change it immediately — imagine how killer this watch would look on a vintage-style strap with contrasting stitching in any number of different leather types. The included strap almost seems like an afterthought, to be honest.

Verdict: The Intra-Matic Auto Chrono is a great-looking panda chronograph, and it’s well-made, to boot. If you’re after a modern upgrade to a vintage chronograph, this is certainly a good bet. This watch isn’t fitting under a cuff any time soon, so watch out for that — but this small gripe aside, this is a pretty great option, as far as modern chronographs go that won’t break the bank.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto Chrono is a great looking timepiece with awesome wrist presence and just the necessary vintage touch” — Balazs Ferenczi, Fratello Watches

• “Overall, I’m pleased with the Intra-Matic Auto Chrono. I think it’s a superior replacement to its predecessor, and Hamilton was smart to make this one a general release. And while I also feel brands could go smaller, and I would love to see what this would look like at 38.5 millimeters, the overall balance here between the case and dial feels much better.” — Ilya Ryvin, Worn & Wound

Key Specs

Case Diameter: 40mm
Lug Width: 18mm
Movement: Hamilton H-31 automatic
Water Resistance: 10 bar
Price: $2,195

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