I like watches not necessarily for how they look, but instead for how they function. I love the skill, the engineering, and the craftsmanship that goes into making a mechanical watch. Usually I’m limited to just enjoying a transparent caseback on my timepieces, but in the Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Skeleton I might have actually found an attractive skeletonized mechanical watch.

Hamilton is a cool brand, in my opinion.

Most watch companies start out as a small concern, go bankrupt, and then are purchased by a big company for the name. Hamilton got an early start on the process, purchasing the old Pennsylvania based Keystone Standard Watch Company from bankruptcy in 1892. They chose the name Hamilton after James Hamilton, a lawyer who laid out most of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and who had owned the site on which the current factory was located.

Their timing was perfect — the company hit their stride just as the railroad industry was booming in the United States, and 100% of their production of accurate and reliable watches was purchased by the railroads (capturing about 56% of the total railroad watch market).

Between the world wars they produced a few lines of consumer pocket and wrist watches, but with the outbreak of WWII they successfully reverse engineered a Swiss made movement to produce an accurate and reliable clock for use on ships which allowed them to accurately plot their location at sea. These Hamilton manufactured clocks remained on pretty much every American warship up until the GPS system was perfected in 1988.

After the war Hamilton continued producing new and interesting designs for the American consumer market, including the first electric watch with their 1957 Hamilton Electric 500 as worn by Elvis Presley.

In 1966 they purchased the Swiss watch company Buren and started using them as the source of their movements, closing up shop in their original U.S. location in 1969 and moving 100% to Swiss manufacturing. The company would eventually succumb to the quartz crisis in 1972, liquidating their factory and selling the brand to the Swatch Group like pretty much every other Swiss watch manufacturer of the time.

Since then, Hamilton has been a sub-brand of SSIH and Swatch, using technology and movements from elsewhere in their collection (with notable exceptions) to produce a line of watches that have that mid century modern feel.

I think it’s that mid century design that really makes this watch work.

I love the idea of a skeletonized mechanical watch. I buy mechanical watches specifically because I like the mechanics — quartz based chronos are cheap and plentiful, I paid extra for someone to use physics and clockwork to make magic happen on my wrist. And I want to see it happen.

The problem I run into is that most skeletonized mechanical watches are hideous. There seems to be a focus on right angles and chiseled gears, like in this Fossil example or this Tissot. It looks too complicated, too cluttered, and too confused.

This watch exceeds where the others fail because it embraces a more stylized, sleeker approach to the skeletonization. Instead of just slicing out as much of the plates as possible, Hamilton has gone about their horological surgery with a more skilled knife, leaving curved edges and flowing shapes. All of the parts are still visible, from the keyless works to the spring within the skeletonized barrel, but with a little bit more of the original plate in place to break up the otherwise industrial look.

One other feature that makes this watch more readable is the track along the outside of the watch face. The markings for hours, minutes, and seconds are all legible and present, and styled in such a way that it conveys as much information as you need without any excess. Even the brand information is tastefully subdued, much unlike some other watch brands on the market. The second and minute hand trace around the top of this track, making them easy to spot and discern. The hour hand is a little less legible, but can still be found relatively quickly.

I feel like that lack of legibility is why Hamilton focuses on their Open Heart Auto line instead of making more versions of this one. The hands are difficult to read at a glance and take a second or so of studying because they do tend to get a bit lost in all the shiny metal of the visible movement. Their Open Heart line “fixes” this problem by adding a dial card over the movement with some strategically placed cutouts, but that severely limits your ability to actually see the movement. It’s a trade-off, and I feel like the Open Heart Autos are on the wrong side of the line there.

To see even more of this beautiful mechanical piece of art there’s a transparent caseback, which means that there are parts of this watch where you can see straight through to the other side. Such as with the balance wheel up top, the most striking part of the watch and also the most visible. The view can sometimes be blocked by the rotating weight of the automatic winding works located at the rear of the movement, but in my opinion that’s a feature and not a bug.

Speaking of the movement, I should note that this is what Hamilton calls their H-10-S — the same movement that can be found in their Khaki Field Automatic line (the H-10) just with a bit of skeletonization and engraving on the plates. The H-10 is a re-branded ETA C07.611, dubbed the “Powermatic 80” and is one of the variations of this movement that is used in a couple other brands of Swatch-es as well as Hamilton (such as Tissot, etc). The movement is capable of COSC certification (although this one isn’t) and comes with an 80 hour power reserve at full wind. As someone who owns both this watch and a Hamilton Khaki Field Auto I think it’s kind of cool that the same movement is in two very different watches.

Moving further from the inside to the outside, the case for this watch is gently curved and sleek which allows it to slide nicely under the cuff of a dress shirt. It feels surprisingly thin for an automatic, just like with the Khaki Field line, and is light enough that you basically forget that you are wearing it.

I’ll be honest — I didn’t care for the band. This originally came with a black leather band, and I’m not a black leather kind of guy. Which I why I swapped the band for a brown leather one as soon as it came in the door. Honestly I don’t really mind, as I pretty much assume that I’ll be swapping the leather band on whatever I get as soon as I get it, so I figure it as a sunk cost. But the band is a nice quality, and I like Hamilton’s straps in general. This one just didn’t fit my vibe.

There’s no doubt that this is a “cheaper” version of a skeletonized watch. The movement is a common version used among a couple different brands, and not necessarily anything spectacular. There’s very little decoration on the parts that you can see — sometimes there’s some perlage on the visible surfaces to give a bit more refined look, and in this case the only decoration we really get is a stylized Hamilton logo engraved in a pattern on one of the main plates of the movement. It’s something, but it isn’t the best execution possible.

That said, I’m honestly not mad. Considering the price for this piece I feel like they understand the market — this isn’t an everyday driver, but instead a conversation piece or a party trick. Something to pull out of the closet every so often for special occasions or to show off a little bit of mechanical razzle dazzle. They did just enough work to improve things without going overboard, and priced it appropriately so that you don’t feel like you were ripped off.

Making a skeletonized mechanical watch is a complicated and risky venture. There’s a lot that can go wrong, and the end result might just look terrible. But in my opinion, Hamilton got it right. They brought their historical style to the genre, combined it with a great movement, and the result is a piece of art that I could stare at for hours.

Model: Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Skeleton

Price: $1,195

SPECIFICATIONS:

Case: Stainless steel

Crystal: Sapphire

Bracelet: leather

Movement: Hamilton H-10-S

Power Reserve: 80 hours

Water resistance: 50m (164 ft)

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Design * * * * *

I’m a huge fan. The mid-century modern approach to watch design is my jam, and I think it perfectly compliments the jagged mechanical bits in the movement.

Legibility *

You might need to study it for a second to tell the time. But you’ll enjoy doing it.

Comfort * * * * * 

Sleek, slim, and comfortable.

Overall * * * *

The perfect balance of style, function, and price for a skeletonized mechanical watch. Just a hair difficult to read but I’m not complaining.