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Bulova Hack vs Hamilton Khaki - The Best 38mm Field Watch To Buy?

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How does this sound? A 38mm American branded field watch, with retro aesthetics and a mechanical movement. Hmm not bad eh? Well, what about this? A 38mm American branded field watch with retro aesthetics and a mechanical movement. No, I don’t have a rare form of horological Tourette's, these are two different watches.

Rival brands with very similar offerings both for under £500? This calls for a Ben’s Watch Club duel!

Thanks to Jomashop for sending in the watches for this comparison. As always, they haven’t paid me any money for or demanded any creative control over this post. You’ll find both options linked in the throughout this article. I was a Jomashop customer for years before our arrangement because of their great prices and simple international delivery options, so I highly recommend giving them a try if you haven’t already.

 

Price

Currently, the Khaki Hand Wind is sitting at around $330-$400 on Jomashop, depending on the version and colour you prefer, whilst the Bulova Hack is priced at $199 and $220 for the two variants. Obviously, these prices will fluctuate due to availability and more ominously, inflation.

 

Brand and Packaging

Although originally American, each of these brands has since headed overseas for their wristwatch production. Currently, all Hamilton watches are made in Switzerland, hence the Swiss-made label visible at the bottom centre. Meanwhile, the Bulovas origins are a little less clear. There are no such markings on the dial or box, so we’re left guessing. The brand was bought out by Japanese giant Citizen in 2008, so there is the potential that the watch was made there and that the ‘Made In Japan’ text has been omitted to maintain the American theme. Nevertheless, I’d hazard a guess that China is the more likely place of construction; as is the standard among most £200 watches.

As expected, the Hamilton comes in a more grandiose box, with a faux wooden outer and leatherette lining, whilst the Bulova was delivered in a more standardised container, with a grey felt lining. For their respective price points, both are equally suitable, though I’m docking them both a point for not coming in more practical pouches instead, as we’ve seen from many affordable microbrands. After all, I have a feeling that most of these boxes will just end up in an attic or worse, landfill.

 

Dimensions

While both 38mm across, the two are more different in shape than you might think. The Hamilton is much sleeker, at a mere 9.5mm thickness that includes the domed crystal.

Meanwhile, the Bulova sits stoutly at 13.5mm, incorporating a notably higher crystal and thicker construction, which is boosted to a chunky 15mm with the included leather strap. While the Hamilton’s strap boosts it to 12.5mm, it still lies flusher to the wrist. The Hamilton, in particular, wears slightly larger than I anticipated after having read the spec sheet. The lug to lug length of both models isn’t the shortest and here you’ll notice the Hamilton has a large gap between the case and the spring bars, which feels like an open door for a slip-through strap in particular.

Case Construction

Both options are constructed of industry-standard 316L stainless steel, but each opts for a different type of matte finish. The Hamilton has a blasted look throughout, while the Bulova has a variety of vertically and horizontally brushed surfaces across its stepped case shape.

As a whole, the latter is more angular, with steep lugs to combat the taller stature, whereas the Hamilton has a more traditional swooping side profile with some slight curvature. I think the design of the Hamilton is cleaner and while it’s tricky to compare different styles of finishing, if I had to side with either, it would be the Hamilton; despite being a close contest. The Khaki also has drilled lug holes for easy strap changes, whereas the Hack does not.

 

Crown & Water Resistance

Neither watch features a screw-down crown or strong water performance for that matter. I like how tight the Bulova crown sits, unlike its more bulbous contemporary on the Hamilton, which does look a bit like it’s permanently unseated. The increased surface area does allow for marginally easier winding, though a couple of millimetres shaved off wouldn’t have gone amiss, as it currently looks a little oversized.

Despite both pieces being secured with screwbacks, the Hamilton only offers 5bar water resistance, while the Bulova falls short with a measly 3bar splash resistance rating. Given the chunky build, the latter score was very surprising, as it looks easily capable of 10bar. There’s always contention around water resistance, as some brands are known to deliberately play it safe to prevent a portion of returns. Nevertheless, I’m sure prospective buyers would benefit from the added peace of mind assured by a higher rating.

No screw-down crown on the Hamilton does make sense given its manual wind nature, though I’ve still seen many super-budget watches offering higher designations, which is bizarre. Perhaps that’s something to do with the movement type?

 

Crystal

While both crystals are domed, they each take very different approaches. As expected, the Hamilton features a near-scratchproof sapphire crystal, which is generally considered to be the optimal material of choice. The arc here is very subtle and low, with tremendous clarity and minimal distortion, even at the steepest of angles.

Alternatively, the Hack has a more aggressive dome that steeply projects from the bezel at the circumference; which creates much more of that vintage-style warping. The downside here is that this is only mineral glass. To my understanding, it is quite difficult to pull off this specific crystal shape made out of sapphire and perhaps that wasn’t within their target budget for this watch.

But, this is still a £150-£200 watch, so even a lesser-domed sapphire alternative would be more desirable for me, given that this is a field watch and not any sort of dress option. Not only would that improve scratch resistance but it would simultaneously reduce the overall thickness of this rather deep Bulova.

 

Design

As neither of these pieces are spec juggernauts, they are certainly relying on their appearance to pull them through.

You see, this is what lets down many budget field watch offerings. They may have monstrous specs and seem incredible value on paper, but they’re let down by either ill-conceived or straight up stolen designs that don’t look particularly good in person.

Luckily, the same can’t be said for this pair, as I think they’re both impressive. Of course, these brands each have long illustrious histories that involve ties to the US military and as such, the mid-century combat aesthetic is well and truly on display here, with the Hack and Khaki acting as reissues of original designs produced during that era. 

The Bulova Hack is perhaps the most committed to the vintage illusion, with an off-white colour that looks straight out of the 40s or 50s. Green-tinged rectangles sit outside each Arabic numeral, with a dated version of the Bulova logo reintroduced above the central stem; whilst the modern tuning fork logo has been relegated to the case rear.

While comparable, the Khaki Field has a fresher look that includes a bright white dial and more contemporary typefaces such as the current Hamilton logo. There is still an attempt to ride the vintage wave, primarily via the faux patina applied to the hands and indices. While not as convincing as that on the Hack, I personally prefer the orange tone used here and think it results in a more versatile final look that goes better with modern attire.

The same could be said for the handsets, which are the main differentiating factor at a glance. The cathedral-style pointers present on the Bulova are again very period-accurate but perhaps haven’t aged as well as the hybrid baton-syringe hands implemented on the Hamilton, which remain sleek to this day. I prefer the second hand on the latter too, which has a painted triangular tip that elegantly matches the inward-facing markers.

As with most field watches, the text on both is inked throughout and contrasts starkly with the dials for maximum legibility. To the naked eye, it appears that the inking on the Hamilton is a touch more precise and the lacquered finish does a better job of matching that present on the hands. Nevertheless, the Hack is still very neat for the price tag and looks better than many budget offerings I’ve reviewed in the past.

Tasteful is probably the best word to describe the designs of each. I’d happily be caught wearing both of these watches.

 

Movement

Despite being based on older watches, both of these reissues do boast modern movements. Interestingly, as the name implies, the original Hack watch provided to the US military in the 40s was one of the earliest to boast hacking functionality, allowing the user to set the time more accurately by stopping the second hand. This was useful during World War 2 and continues to be a useful tool today for those after precise mechanical timekeeping. The automatic Miyota 8S20-43A, provided by parent company Citizen, also accommodates hand-winding and possesses a self-winding rotor for improved quality of life. This is essentially an 821 series movement that is more easily adapted for skeletonised use and the rotor is noisy when the watch is rotated. I’m unsure why this movement has been used on a fully sealed watch, but it’s reasonable for the cost.

Bulova Miyota 8S20-43A Movement

Hamilton H-50 Movement

How come the Hamilton is so much slimmer then? Well, the secret lies under the hood. This one is powered by the hand-wound Hamilton H-50 movement, which is based on the previously used ETA 2801-2. While the beat rate has been reduced, the power reserve has been upgraded to a whopping 80 hours; almost double that on the Bulova. This mechanical powerhouse is wafer-thin, partly due to the absence of a winding rotor, allowing it to be squeezed into the tiniest of spaces. A side effect of this is that the watch cannot wind itself when on-wrist, requiring you to wind the watch when the power reserve begins depleting.

That being said, 80 hours is a very generous amount of time and this makes it an attractive proposition for those like me who alternate between different watches. You could literally forget to wind this one for over 3 days and still be fine. My sieve-like memory has already put that to the test.

There is an automatic Hamilton Khaki Field for around £80 more at the time of posting, though it does offer a somewhat dressier look that doesn’t make it quite so well-suited for this comparison.

 

Lume

Brightness and dispersion of lume is very similar on each of these. The Khaki maintains its level for longer, though the Hack probably edges it in price to performance as it’s not far off. Neither are particularly bright compared to some microbrands I’ve tested in the same price bracket, but they are visible for the most part.

 

Straps

The Bulova absolutely triumphs the Hamilton in the strap department. For a £300 watch, this one really is shockingly bad, with a cheap, plasticky feel resembling something from a £10 AliExpress knock-off. I’d certainly rather brands cut costs on straps rather than the watches themselves, but this is taking it to the extreme. It just isn’t adequate for a watch costing this much.

Hamilton Watch Strap

Bulova Watch Strap

I’ll link a 20mm replacement here to save you the pain. You can opt for that or spend out for the bracelet version instead.

Surprisingly, despite costing less, the Hack is kitted out with something from the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a peculiar type of NATO-style strap that is fixed to the lugs and only passes under the case a single time, thus halving additional bulkiness. The black one fitted here has a finely grained texture along with nicely machined keepers and a pleasing supple feel that blows its competitor out of the water.

Obviously, straps are far from the most important aspect of a wristwatch but it’s worth highlighting that this Bulova-branded strap is very impressive and could prevent you from needing an upgrade for the foreseeable future.

 

Final Thoughts

Having tried both of these over the last few weeks, I have to say the Bulova has grown on me. I already knew I’d like the look of the Khaki from the stock images but in person, that lug to lug makes it wear a fair amount larger than I had envisaged – to the point where it’s probably a little large for my 15.5cm wrist. I’m also not keen on that large gap between the strap and case. Either way, any worries I had about this looking like a cheap Timex Weekender were quickly alleviated upon unboxing as this is undeniably gorgeous.

Most likely due to the angled lug tips and narrower 18mm lug width, I think the Bulova suits my skinny arm much better despite the significantly thicker case. I’m not keen on how the low-sitting logo is often blocked by the hands but aside from that, I think it’s a very cool little watch. I think the Hamilton is of higher-quality and probably the better choice for average-sized wrists but this one is certainly a viable alternative if you don’t want to spend that much or are too slim to pull it off.

 

WATCH THE FULL ‘BULOVA HACK VS HAMILTON KHAKI - THE BEST 38MM WATCH TO BUY?’ VIDEO BELOW: