On March 3, 1969, the world’s first automatic chronograph movement, referred to as a Chrono-matic or Caliber 11, was announced at a press conference in New York City. Caliber 11 was a joint venture among Heuer, Hamilton-Buren, Breitling and Dubois-Depraz to produce the world’s first automatic chronograph, a distinctly designed caliber that positioned the crown at 9 o’clock and the pushers on the right side of the case.
Two years later in 1971, that groundbreaking movement made its way into a Hamilton watch named the Pan-Europ. The watch featured a blue dial inside of a brushed cushion case. Fifty years later, Hamilton re-released a limited edition version of the Pan-Europ (gorgeous blue dial and all) housing its caliber H-31, a caliber developed specifically for Hamilton by ETA. This reissue was suitably limited to 1,971 pieces and was a smashing success. Riding on the coattails of that limited edition, Hamilton more broadly released black and silver dial versions of its vintage-inspired automatic chronograph in 2012.
There’s a lot that’s right with this Pan-Europ, both as modern watch and as a throwback to the brand’s heritage, but it’s really as a contemporary, sensibly designed and accessibly priced chronograph that today’s Pan-Europ succeeds. Read on for my thoughts.
The Pan-Europ Automatic Chronograph
Measuring 45mm wide, 15mm thick and 48.5mm lug-to-lug, today’s Pan-Europ is larger than its original inspiration, although Hamilton’s case design primarily remains faithful to the watch released in 1971. However, one feature is missing and it’s likely the single most striking characteristic of the world’s first automatic chronograph: the 9 o’clock crown. Owing to the ETA-produced caliber inside the reissue, the new Pan-Europ instead possesses the typical right-side crown and pushers configuration.
Despite intimidating, tool-like measurements, the Pan-Europ is beyond wearable with moments of elegance, particularly in its case finishing and dial design. While defined brushing adorns the top and sides of the case, polished beveling accentuates the curves of the barrel shape. At 10 o’clock on the left side of the case is a recessed pusher for adjusting the date.
Around the ever so slightly domed sapphire crystal, the black rotating bezel completes the sporty look. However, this 120-click bezel seems more for show than actual use as it’s difficult to grip and turn. The polished coin-edge of the bezel compliments the grip on the polished screw-down crown, a key ingredient to the case’s 100m water resistance.
The dial is a laudable effort thanks to its balance and contrast. While a lot of reissues tend to “improve” on the classics by inserting a date aperture, the 1971 original actually had one. Just like it, the date window on today’s Pan-Europ is placed at 6 o’clock, maintaining the symmetry that makes this dial, and its 1971 original, so legible and attractive. The primary backdrop for the dial is black, but the white scales add high-contrast that renders its timekeeping and chronograph features useful and adds somewhat of a reverse panda feel to the execution. A while track around the dial houses both the tachymeter and the chapter ring, from which the luminous applied baton markers appear.
The contrast is bold and obvious, but if you look closely you can see some cool detail. The red chronograph and subdial hands add a splash of color and sense of speed. I particularly love how the running seconds and 30-minute registers have very three-dimensional scales angled inward that appear to bulge ever so slightly into the outer chapter ring.
The Pan-Europ features a sapphire crystal exhibition case back through which you can see Hamilton’s Caliber H-31 in action. Caliber H-31 is a modified Valjoux 7753, a proven movement used by many brands in the watch industry. Specifically, it features a bigger barrel lending to its 60-hour power reserve (versus the standard 44 hours) and interesting decoration from Hamilton. I say interesting because it’s quite utilitarian and basically finished, but it’s still well done and appears intentionally minimal, not lazy.
My only gripe is the date adjustment. I don’t like the idea of having to use a foreign object to adjust the date, which is often necessary if you rotate regularly throughout a collection of watches since any one watch will wind down. It’s not only inconvenient to not be able to use the crown for this, but the recessed pusher mars an otherwise clean and smooth case side.
On the Wrist
I was certain that 45mm was going to dominate my 6.75-inch wrist, but I was pleasantly surprised with the Pan-Europ’s wearability. While the Pan-Europ has a confident wrist presence, it’s comfortable without being oversized thanks to its relatively modest lug-to-lug distance. It weighs 129 grams, which is a nice heft for most wrists without being overbearing. Through and through, it’s a sport watch with a few luxurious touches, making it a versatile and ideal choice for everyday wear.
When the first Pan-Europ reissue hit the market in 2011, one of the biggest complaints was the strap. Collectors felt Hamilton shouldn’t have equipped the watch with such a glossy alligator grain strap, and omitting a deployant seemed like a cheap move for the watch–both oversights being especially egregious for a limited edition piece. This generally available model’s strap isn’t different from the limited release’s other than its color, and while I wish it were of a finer quality, I’m quite impressed for what it is. Most grain straps are cardboard-stiff, but this one conformed to the wrist fairly quickly, and although Hamilton makes excellent deployants, I’m okay with the pin buckles because they make those well, too.
Today’s Pan-Europ automatic chronograph is competitively priced at $1,945, completing the package and making this one of my top considerations for an entry-level sports chronograph. Brands sold exclusively online, like Sinn, come to mind as worthy alternatives that also offer proven ETA movements, solid cases and historic designs at honest prices. A watch like the Sinn 103, with its beautifully proud and domed acrylic crystal, probably holds the edge for looking and feeling like a vintage chronograph while the Pan-Europ is vintage-inspired with modern, luxurious details and conveniences.
Hamilton had every intention of releasing this as an homage to the original Pan-Europ, but for a few reasons (i.e. deviations from its predecessor) this remake rather commands respect as a modern chronograph. There is no question that this watch, even if we’re talking about the black or silver version, very closely resembles the 1971 model; however, it’s bigger, it’s a different color, contains a much less historic movement and features an updated dial. It’s quite different from the original, but the updates made to the Pan-Europ are less like unscripted “improvements” we typically see in reissues and more like a collection of iterations that tastefully form a new watch with undeniable 1971 DNA.
Hamilton’s Pan-Europ Automatic Chronograph is available at Hamilton authorized dealers, HourPassion boutiques and at its online shop. shop.hamiltonwatch.com