There are many reasons to wear a watch, I said to myself as I took my turn at the JFK airport security scanner.
“Take off your belts and empty your pockets,” the female TSA agent said, clearly bored of having repeated this phrase a hundred times an hour.
“Watches too?” I asked, pulling back my shirt cuffs to reveal my timepiece.
She looked at it for a beat, “Honey, that isn’t a watch, that’s a clock. In the tray.”
Yes, there are many reason to wear a watch, but simply telling the time is the least of them. The first clue that there is another reason comes from the mind boggling array of wrist-based choice. At the very top you have your “supercar” watches only able to be worn by people who don’t actually pay for them. Watches like those of Richard Mille that cost more than the mortgage on my house and yet I can’t help feel look garish. Then, coming down from the heavens atop the mountain, mere Demi-God brands such as Patek Philip, which has spent the last couple of hundred years trying, mostly successfully, to convince us that their product is worth a lifetime investment. Even their adverts talk to your having “invested” in an “heirloom”. Then just next to the peak comes the high-end tool watches. These are brands able to go to to extremes, the bottom of the oceans or into outer space. These are serious instruments used by serious professionals – or so we are told – and can save your life. Rolex and Omega spring to mind. Then… then it all gets a little floaty.
If you are not buying your watch to calculate the way back from the moon, for your children to marvel at when you’re gone, or because you’ll run 10/1000ths of a second faster, the market gets wide indeed. Under the magic figure of £1000 it gets figuratively as wide as the Atlantic. This, for me, is the where the most fun is to be had. Not just because of budget, I can rationalise a purchase just as well as the next man, but because I can have fun with something really personal. Something that expresses me much better that simply dropping £2000 on a tool watch and forgetting about it. Buying a watch, such as a Rolex, always seemed to me to be almost lazy. It is like there is no journey, no discovery of a love of timepieces, only a wedge of cash and ten minutes in a jewellers.
That’s that taken care of then, off about my day.
Where’s the expression in that? Other than perhaps saying that you have so much money that you don’t even need to think and just go for what you are told is “the best”. I’m sure it’s not like this for everyone, but for me a Rolex is no fun.
Fun, for me, comes from selecting, from researching, from reading up, from taking my time, from working up, saving up and reaching out. It comes from making the smart choice and getting a bargain with a little history. In this bewildering ocean of choice I looked into the far past for help.
Hamilton as a Classic Brand
It is interesting to me to think that in the past there was no uniform notion of time. I don’t mean in the sense that ancient cro-magnon man didn’t have a clock, I mean in the sense of what exactly is the “current” time? If you went to a town in the Old West 1850’s and asked the barkeep what the time was, he may tell you one particular time based on the spring-wound pocket watch tucked into his waistcoat. Walk down the street into the barbers and ask the owner and he may tell a slightly different time from his key-wound grandfather clock in the window. A discrepancy of seconds, but essentially synchronised. Imagine however that you could instantly teleport to the next town and ask the storekeeper there. He may give you a “current” time that is almost completely different, out by 20 – 30 minutes from that in the barbers. Time keeping was, back then, almost a local phenomenon as there was no uniform starting point. Consequently each town had its own sense of the “current” time. This was all well and good until the railways arrived. Suddenly, each town was joined together and the train ran between them. Imagine this train was due to depart at, say, 1:30pm and took 30 minutes to arrive at the next town’s station. If the “current time” value between those two towns was thirty minutes apart, then the 1:30pm would depart and arrive at the same “time”. Catching the train home from the second town to the first could be tricky. More importantly than this, trains run to a safety schedule. So, two trains, running on their local starting station’s notion of the current time, could easily run into each other!
This problem was solved by the railways themselves who simply ran the time on the train and “Railway Time” was invented. Soon each town would synchronise their time to that service and Railways quickly became the “source” for the “current” time. In order to police this, watches need to be invented with higher and higher accuracy. An evolution of watch development then flourished that leads all the way up to the modern era. That’s quite a history. One of the main brands laying claim to this heritage is Hamilton, who sold thousands of “Railway Chronometers” to train companies all over America.
Browsing the current Hamilton watch collection it becomes clear that this is a brand defined by its quintessential Americana and is making an effort to define what it means to be “American” in return. The railways ran on Hamilton’s and the canny owners also made sure that the US Navy also ran on them during the World Wars. This eye on the future is always present. For example, they designed a watch for Elvis that they still sell today with an new association that of Will Smith and “The Men in Black” enshrining the brand in the American mind forever.
While the company’s ownership has changed hands many times it has most recently been re-launched in 1984 by their latest owners, the greatest Swiss watch brand in the world, Swatch.
Yes, Swatch… who have saved the Swiss watch industry on more than one occasion and yet manage to continually innovate with a prodigious output of their own brand watches.
Browsing the Hamilton range is to see an attempt to bring the history of America and the quality of Switzerland together. Swatch also own, among their many marques, the movement company ETA and have been putting their finest watch movements in Hamilton’s for years. There are also more Hamilton watches around than you may think. Indeed, you have seen thousands of Hamilton watches and probably never noticed. Where? In Hollywood. Almost every hero, from the “Die Hard” John Mclaine to the Spaceman Dave Bowman in “2001: a Space Odyssey” wears a Hamilton watch. Even the greatest watch-wearing-character, James Bond, has donned a Hamilton during his space adventures.
This partnership with the silver-screen means that almost every time you have wondered what watch that character is wearing then it is almost always a Hamilton. The watch of the entertainers.
Entertainment is what America is good at. Indeed in every entertainment medium it excels. For film they have Hollywood, for games they have Microsoft’s XBox and for music they have Jazz legends such as Miles Davis. It was this link to Jazz that first caught my eye. I love Jazz and its offshoots. I listen to Miles, of course, but also to modern music influenced by Jazz such as Earl Okin. Hamilton making watches named JazzMaster’s, well – this caught my attention.
The other element is, well, me. I’m a commuting London worker. I’m a manager in a company and a specialist in my realm. I mention these things because you can never judge an opinion of any watch without knowing a little about he who says it. About where I am coming from. I want a watch for the week to wear with my suit and for the evenings when out on the town with my wife. A dress watch basically. This was a departure as I had been spending a lot of time playing around with watches that had a dual function. Watches that were for action and yet could also be worn with a suit. But, after damaging one of these watches when playing Military Simulation, I realised that I needed two – one for the city and one for the weekend.
I discovered the Hamilton Jazz Master Maestro after seeing one on the wrist of fellow train traveller. I thought at first it might be a IWC Portuguese – a fine, but laudably expensive, watch, but quickly realised that it was the slightly more rugged Maestro. Some quick Googling revealed the watch in all its glory:
very musical score needs a maestro to achieve true perfection – the JazzMaster Maestro Auto Chrono is ready to take on that role. The model is an instrument of pure elegance with finely marked digits and tapered hands reminiscent of a conductor’s baton in action.
Before it had my attention, now it had my interest.
The Review – JazzMaster Maestro Auto Chrono
I bought my JazzMaster over the web from a store in Scotland. This was a special deal reducing the cost to a manageable £900. JazzMaster is part of Hamilton’s American Classic line and there are a lot of different models of this watch, but I was after a particular edition the H32716839.
- Open 45MM Case
- Lug Width 23MM
- Sapphire Crystal Glass
- Water Resistance 10 bar (100 m / 328 ft)
- Stainless Steel Case
The watch comes in a very nice presentation box, which would make a great gift box if you are buying the watch for someone as a present.
The first impressions of the Hamilton was that this was a large steel watch with the particularly striking face. I had gone for the dark faced model, but I was pleased to see that the hands were an elegant silver that caught the light as I twisted it in my hands.
The smooth back to the face stretched across the large space the thin edged case allows. Running around this edge is a simple tracked line signifying minutes and this also runs up the inside of the ring that has a chronograph track. This track marks individual sub-seconds, second marks (slightly higher) and a numeral 10 second indicator. Moving inwards there are raised silver hour markers, which glitter with polish. Inside this ring are three sub circles. The smallest, to the left indicates the seconds and on this model rotates around a small track with a “60” indicator at the top. The other two circles have a polished appearance and indicates the hours and minutes for the chronograph. The top circle has a slight red track over the last 15 minutes, which you can see when you stand back and is the colour accent on the face. To the right is the day in text and in numerals. Above this is the Hamilton name and below is the word “Automatic”. The hands are silver, thin and pointy with lume along the thicker part of this length. Taken at a distance it is a particularly fine face and elegantly protected under a smooth and slightly domed sapphire glass.
The case of the Maestro is very special. It has brushed sides to the lugs as well as polished parts which catch all the light in the room. Under different light it reflects beautifully. The crown has a Hamilton “H” embossed on the top and two easy to push chronograph controls. When starting and stopping the chronograph there is a distinct satisfying feeling of a click. On the back is a display window into the movement, which has some visible fine screws and is engraved with some of the details of the watch such as that it is in steel and the water resistance. Looking into the movement you see that the plate is engraved with “Hamilton”.
We will be talking a little more about the strap options, but the stock strap is a fine leather black strap in a crocodile style ending in a Hamilton engraved buckle. It has the width of 23mm, which is quite unusual.
ETA owned Valjoux is a Swiss manufacturer of mechanical watch movements, known for chronograph movements that are used in any high-end mechanical watches. The Valjoux 7750 movement’s extreme popularity means that it is easy to get maintained, which is an important point. Introduced in 1974 uses an automatic-winding module attached to the top of the movement, winding in one direction by means of a single wheel. The 7750 movement is a very a reliable and durable workhorse and the entry level to the high end.
Wearing the Maestro
This watch, for all its size, doesn’t look as ridiculous on the wrist as the simple width numbers suggest. Strapped with the dark leather, it hugs the wrist and sits comfortably atop the arm without swinging around. The height of the watch is also quite large, it containing all those classic Valjoux internals, and yet I have always been able to slide it gently under my shirt cuffs. It sets of a suit fantastically without over-dominating the style. Your eye notices the watch, but it isn’t inexorably drawn to it like it would be with some other large frame watches. It is however, very heavy. You know you are wearing a chunk of steel on your wrist. I actually like that.
Then there is the little bonus, the wiggle. You will often hear of this famous effect of wearing a Valjoux. What happens is the the disc, winding the movement, sometimes gets up to a real speed due to just the random directions you have been moving your arm in. This can be at any time, but usually after you just sit down. The disk zooming around keeps moving when you stop and you feel the effect of the centripetal force being generated. It feels like the movement is wiggling gently. Its quite a pleasant feeling, but not noticeable to the onlooker – as if the entire watch wiggles – its just the movement wiggling and the feeling is just for you, the wearer.
Telling the time with such a great face is very easy from all angles, the sapphire glass is very well polished on the inside. At night, the lume is not massive – indeed it is fairly simple – lume fanatics should consider this aspect.
Presenting itself as a Jazz influenced watch one can easily imagine the greats wearing such a piece in the evenings or when playing a big bass. Or perhaps the Brat Pack, suited and booted, out on the town in New York. I found it great to wear to work and on any occasion with smart clothes, but I also was able to wear it comfortably with jeans and when doing any activity not involving sports or action. It is a quintessential dress watch.
With a 23mm lug width, you are between two normal sizes of straps. most 22mm strap are a little too narrow and a gap shows. The first strap I tried was a very nice 22mm mesh strap from Amazon.
This strap, as you can see in the close up, was not an exact fit – but looked really great on the wrist. Clearly I should have tried a 24mm strap, which would be a tighter fit, but would still fit with a little work.
Then I got serious.
Hamilton do produce a steel strap on their other watches and when I sent it in for maintenance I ordered one.
I wasn’t ready for how special this would be.
On the incredible Hamilton steel the watch comes to life. The strap is a push clasp with a two tone bushed and polished effect that sets off the light in the steel of the case perfectly. The brushed parts are cut to be “H” shaped.
Of course, this adds to the already weighty watch, but I find this combination to work perfectly.
Caring for the watch
There are other JazzMaster’s, with the latest model having the H21 internals that give a longer run time, but I personally wanted the Valjoux model for two reasons:
- It has a seconds hand.
- It has the classic internals, which means maintenance is simpler.
Almost every watchmaker will be able to deal with a Valjoux movement, meaning that you do not have to send it back to Hamilton to be maintained. However, Swatch are fairly low cost compared to other manufacturers (I’m looking at you Omega). Swatch also keep all the case parts in stock if you damage the steel. The movement will need to be kept wound if you don’t wear the watch for more than 30 hours and I have a simple watch winder if I am not wearing it over the weekend (such as I am going shooting). Being water resistant it is easy to clean the watch, but the strap will degrade over time.
Accuracy on this movement is always excellent if the watch is kept wound. As with all Valjoux you have to be careful not to change the date at the wrong time of day, which can damage it, but that aside the watch takes care of itself. I noticed less than 5 seconds a day drift. I can image that if you don’t care for the watch that this would get worse.
Some people run the chronograph constantly to act as the seconds hand, but this will reduce the time between maintenance visits.
In this price range there are a large number of watches as I mentioned, however in simple terms of bang for your buck, nothing comes close to the features of the Maestro. There are other Hamilton’s, of course, and some high end Seiko’s in the range, not to mention the very highest Christopher Ward’s, but really (having owned all these makes) the Hamilton has them beat.
Going “up” from the Hamilton, you are in Omega (also owned by Swatch) and Bell & Ross territory. Here there are there options for tool watches, but little as elegant as the JazzMaster before literally doubling your spend. In the end, having the extra cash in your pocket while “beating” the more expensive marques for quality, is a really good feeling.
The Hamilton JazzMaster is the best watch I have ever owned. It has brilliant performance, elegant looks and features aplenty.
Where to Buy
If you are interested in purchasing the watch then we recommend Jura Watches (it’s where we got ours) and is the top online watch shop:
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