Hamilton is no stranger to openworked watches, spreading the style across several collections with models like the Ventura Skeleton Limited Edition, Khaki Field Skeleton Auto and Jazzmaster Viewmatic Automatic Skeleton. The Hamilton Jazzmaster Skeleton simplifies the name and is the brand’s latest with a multi-level dial forming the iconic “spiky H” logo over a decorated Swiss automatic. Although there are many standouts in its portfolio, this one seems to be the most purpose-built and well-thought skeletonized design yet. It’s classy, refined and very eye-catching, and is one of the best overall offers in its price range. It even earned a spot in our Buying Guide of 8 Skeleton Watches. Let’s take a closer look.
Hamilton has an illustrious history and was well-known as an American brand with deep military roots before becoming a Swiss subsidiary of Swatch Group. Named after Andrew Hamilton, the original owner of the first Lancaster, Pennsylvania factory, the brand’s American reign spanned between 1892 and 1969 and left a lasting impression that’s still relevant today. The Khaki Field Mechanical line is among its most popular with designs going back to mid-century military watches. Hamilton is anything but a one-trick pony, however, with a host of edgy designs and a huge presence in cinema. Those two elements collide in the Ventura collection, an unorthodox line made famous by Elvis Presley in 1961’s Blue Hawaii. The futuristic, triangular design returned in the Men in Black films and has been a brand icon for over 60 years. The aforementioned Ventura Skeleton Limited Edition even landed on the wrist of Iron Man himself as Robert Downey Jr. wore it in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. After 86 years in over 500 films and its own annual Behind the Camera Awards in Los Angeles, Hamilton created the Jazzmaster Regulator Cinema as a tribute.
Skeleton watches are a dime a dozen these days with just about every major brand producing them. They can be a tough nut to crack, however, with legibility issues (hands often blend in with background mechanics) and aesthetic challenges. Anyone can remove a dial and show the movement underneath, but uniquely blending dial and mechanical elements with balance and refinement is quite a task. If you drive a Bentley to the coast for weekend excursions on your yacht, heavyweights like Breguet, Piaget and Roger Dubuis have you more than covered. For the rest of us, Hamilton has designed a stunning openworked piece that’s the culmination of its vast experience with skeletonization, all for a price that competes more with the latest iPhone, not your car.
Case and design
The stainless steel case of the Hamilton Jazzmaster Skeleton is a contemporary 40mm in diameter with polished sides and a thin polished bezel. Viewed directly from the front, the mid-section of the case is just a hair wider than the bezel and the lugs create an additional step where they meet the case sides. These are all subtle design elements but demonstrate high attention to detail. The lugs are the only brushed parts of the case and create a cool two-tone effect from the side, although the bottom of the lugs is polished.
The sapphire exhibition caseback displays the remainder of the decorated automatic. A sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating protects the dial and is especially adept at minimizing reflections (even with a partially black dial underneath). The signed crown is what I consider to be the perfect size for a 40mm piece. Slightly oversized and easy to manipulate, and just a great match aesthetically. It doesn’t screw-down and the case is water-resistant to 50 metres.
Dial and hands
Although certainly a skeletonized piece, there are still some interesting dial elements in the Hamilton Jazzmaster Skeleton that provide an edgy vibe. Comprised of two matte black layers (with a white dial variant), the outer level consists of a perimeter seconds track with applied, lume-filled indices every hour. A horizontal section forms the central H portion of the brand’s “spiky H” logo, while a lower level forms the two vertical crosses. These crosses connect to a second ring just inside the seconds track with Arabic numerals every five minutes (useful to track seconds as well).
It all combines into a cool depiction of Hamilton’s logo with plenty of negative space to allow the openworked movement to shine. The sword-style hour and minute hands are nickeled with Super-LumiNova inserts, and the narrow seconds hand has a nice arrowhead counterweight. The balance wheel is clearly visible at 12 o’clock with a partial tease of the escapement, while the barrel and exposed mainspring provide a surrogate power reserve indicator at 5 o’clock. The mainplate is decorated with Côtes de Genève with just a hint of perlage at 10 o’clock. The melding of these movement and dial elements is sophisticated and edgy, and a real aesthetic winner.
The skeletonized movement is Hamilton’s Calibre H-10-S automatic, based on the ETA C07.111. Joining the front’s predominant Côtes de Genève finish is perlage and a custom openworked rotor on the back. It has 25 jewels, beats at 21,600vph (3Hz) with a sizeable 80-hour power reserve. It’s a time-only movement with central hours, minutes and seconds, but the spectacle of the mechanics under the complex dial elements mask this simplicity. Anything more, such as a date window, would throw off this optimal balance.
The Hamilton Jazzmaster Skeleton comes with a 20mm black calf leather strap with an alligator pattern and squared stainless steel pin buckle – the watch here was worn on a simpler, less padded smooth leather, which felt more comfortable considering my rather small wrist. A stainless steel bracelet is also an option for all models, minus the Gold-PVD variant.
Hamilton is one of the relatively few Swiss brands that have mastered many styles while keeping prices accessible. The Khaki Field and Ventura lines may be the most visible, but there are some class-leading chronographs, dress watches and novelties as well. Few can rival its skeletonized pieces in this price range, especially when the openworked aesthetic is spread throughout multiple collections. There’s nothing else quite like a Ventura Skeleton Limited Edition, after all. The new Hamilton Jazzmaster Skeleton inherits the best qualities of its siblings with a sophisticated, edgy and refined design that balances dial and movement elements in a great way. I’ll always admire and often yearn for watches with five or more figures in the price (cough, H. Moser & Cie.), but this particular Hamilton reminds me that a stunning overall package doesn’t require sticker shock.
The Jazzmaster Skeleton follows (but doesn’t replace) the Jazzmaster Viewmatic Automatic Skeleton, itself a well-executed piece, with a comparable price of EUR 1,095 or USD 1,245. It may not be as affordable as the Khaki Field Mechanicals, but for such a well-thought and refined piece, it’s almost a bargain. The model comes with either a black or white dial, and a rose gold PVD option with white dial. All models will be available soon from Hamilton’s website.