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 first automatic chronograph, which resulted in a distinct 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 same movement made its way into a Hamilton watch named the Pan-Europ. 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, limited to 1,971 pieces, 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.
The retro, racing-inspired design of the chronograph would extend just as well to a three-handed automatic version, and I think collectors and Hamilton both knew it was coming one day. Just before Baselworld this year, Hamilton announced that three-handed Pan-Europs would debut in the fall and watch lovers already ate it up. As of this writing, the Pan-Europ is completely sold in Hamilton’s online shop.
I was fortunate enough to spend a week with the new Pan-Europ automatic, and it’s a lot more than just an obvious success. Hamilton could have stopped at a blue three-handed automatic on a leather strap with an ETA 2824-2 inside. Instead, the brand delivered a successful pilot watch that nods to 1971 but also introduces a series of innovations that push the brand forward.
The Hamilton Pan-Europ
If you’ve ever seen the chronograph, then you’ll instantly recognize this watch as belonging to the Pan-Europ collection. Throughout the entire dial, the three-hander clearly borrows from its bigger sister–from the sunburst dial to the applied hour markers; from the stick hands to the white chapter ring. Without either a chronograph or a tachymeter, this version of the Pan-Europ feels a little less like a racing-inspired watch, but its clear visual relationship to the H-31 lends it credibility by association. Plus, the red hashing on the first 15 seconds makes an effort to connect with speed.
Overall, it’s a reductive design the way that three-handed automatics can be, but such wide open dial real estate is all too often a temptation for brands to find features to fill them. Unfortunately, Hamilton took the bait, introducing a weekday aperture alongside the date and interrupting the deep blue dial with its asymmetrical inclusion. I’d have rather Hamilton emulated the date on the chronograph by placing it at 6 o’clock.
The Pan-Europ design continues to the unidirectional bezel, notched for easy grip, which carries a familiar color and font. I’m impressed with the quality of the case finishing. Radial brushing on the 42mm cushion case contrasts with the polished edge of the bezel and again with the beveling that accentuates the curves on the sides of the case, resulting in a luxurious mix of surfaces that bring the case to life.
Turn the watch over and you’re treated to a view of the Pan-Europ’s caliber H-30 through the exhibition case back. In 2014, Hamilton introduced several new calibers designed for the brand by ETA. How exclusive these movements remain to the brand is unclear. What’s most impressive about these movements are their 80-hour power reserves. I have to say, an extended power reserve is one of the few practical improvements to that brands can make to their movements that really provides tangible benefit to the buyer. Taking the watch off on a Friday evening and picking it up on Monday morning to find it’s still running is a wonderful thing.
Other than the 80-hour power reserve and the skeletonized rotor and pearlage on the movement, the only other collector-facing aspect of the new caliber is its beats-per-hour. Caliber H-30 beats at 21,600bph, which is slightly less frequently than an ETA 2824-2, so when you watch the seconds hand sweep, it’s not as smooth as you’re used to since it’s advancing only six times per second instead of 8.
On the Wrist
Sized ideally for a modern sports watch, the Pan-Europ is lovely on the wrist. It’s 46mm lug-to-lug and only 12mm thick. Weighing 103 grams on the leather strap, it’s a wrist presence you’ll feel but never tire from.
The Pan-Europ comes with two straps and a springbar tool to help you swap them. The first is a black leather rally strap with a red underside, although it’s unfortunately more salmon colored than red. While I’d have loved to see a truer red to match the red seconds hand, it’s a minor gripe when you consider how comfortable and attractive the strap is. Lastly, the signed deployant buckle is top-notch in looks and ease of use. For 2014, Hamilton developed new deployant clasps that are leaps and bounds above what you expect at Hamilton’s price points.
The second strap that comes with the Pan-Europ is an ultra-premium NATO strap with rich coloring and high quality brushed hardware. NATO straps are everywhere and I know they’re a staple to most collectors, but I’m extraordinarily impressed Hamilton’s version of the NATO and I’m glad more brands are introducing their own nylon. Your run-of-the-mill $15 NATO might be tough as hell, but something like this adds a touch of class to an otherwise rugged strap.
However, actually putting on the NATO is such a hassle it’s almost not worth it. The spring bars are too fat, leaving little room between the case and the bar itself, so you could never thread a NATO (especially not Hamilton’s heavy duty version) through as you normally would. If you want to wear the NATO, you have to put the spring bars on with the nylon set in place and then push really hard until the bar pops into its holes. Worsening the endeavor is that the spring bars are curved, which works beautifully on the leather because it allows the end of the strap to flow with the curves of the case, but it makes wearing the NATO impractical.
The Pan-Europ automatic retails for $1,195. The $1,000 range for Swiss Made automatics is fairly crowded, and there are even no shortage of automatics with Swiss movements that can be had for about $500. So what makes the Pan-Europ even worth considering?
For me, it’s another example of the “whole watch” done properly, for the most part. While I was disappointed that the NATO didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped it would, I’ve never been much of a NATO guy and given the looks and quality of the rally strap I’d opt for the leather 9 times out of 10. The leather is padded, flexible and comfortable with a deployant clasp that reminds me of something Oris or Baume & Mercier might produce. When it comes to wearability, Hamilton is punching above its weight class. Sure, the dial is derivate and somewhat obvious, but it’s handsome, and the movement behind it really adds some convenience with an 80-hour power reserve that you won’t get from anyone in the sea of brands using off-the-shelf movements.
The Pan-Europ is available now at HourPassion boutiques and authorized dealers, as well as Hamilton’s online store. hamiltonwatch.com