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Review: Hamilton Intra-Matic Chrono

If you would describe your ideal watch as a chronograph, twin sub-dials, with vintage styling and a contrasting panda dial for less than £2,000—then boy do I have a treat for you. Welcome to the Hamilton Intra-Matic Chrono.

The 1960s has a pretty good record. The moon landings, Pink Floyd, the Ferrari 250 GTO—and some of the best-looking watches you’ll ever see. Humanity was on a roll in that decade, had pep in its step, and that included American—now Swiss—watchmaker Hamilton. Its chronograph watches were all things to all people, functional yet stylish, eye-catching without being ostentatious, and it makes perfect sense that the boys and girls at Hamilton today looked at them and thought, “We should make that again.”

And so they did, and here it is. Well, this watch is actually the second time round—third if you count that 1968 original—because the first go Hamilton had at reviving this classic watch missed the mark by just a little bit. In pictures you’d hardly be able to tell the difference, but the 2017 Intra-Matic 68 Chrono was 42mm.

You may remember it, this frustrating time where watchmakers insisted on making beautifully vintage-inspired timepieces in Panerai sizes, and the Hamilton Intra-Matic was one of them. Well, not anymore, because now it comes in 40mm. This, for us average human beings, is a good thing.

The thickness remains unchanged at 14-and-a-half millimetres, and although that’s quite a bit, the tall bezel and unassuming crystal do a good job of making it still feel balanced. A lot of vintage reissues find their way up to the same thickness with a deeply domed sapphire, so it all evens out in the end.

But by reducing the diameter to 40mm, the Intra-Matic finds itself benefiting in more than just size and comfort, with the spacing of the chronograph sub-dials lending a more outward bias, just like the watches of the 1960s. So many of the larger reissues end up looking cross-eyed with movements too small for their cases.

With a good proportional foundation, the rest falls comfortably into place. The chapter ring isn’t too thick, the hands aren’t too short or too long, the logo doesn’t feel lost in a swathe of empty space. Even the date at six manages to disappear, finding a compromise for the two sides of the should-it-or-shouldn’t-it war on date windows. Big, chunky pushers and a bigger, chunkier crown are the finishing touches on a watch that feels built for purpose and not just a show queen. Ruggedly handsome, just like me.

So, good looking chronograph for just under £2,000. Sounds like the end of the story. But the Hamilton Intra-Matic is just getting started …

You may have noticed that I haven’t touched on the movement yet, the calibre H-31. It’s based on the Swatch Group’s—that owns Hamilton—ETA 7753, although it’s been through a few rounds in the customisation shop before it finds its way to the Intra-Matic. Power reserve is beefed up to 60 hours and the regulation system has been improved too for better accuracy … and it’s an automatic, as it says on the dial.

Now, normally the word “automatic” on a dial is the horological equivalent of a tramp stamp, but for the Intra-Matic, the meaning goes a bit deeper than that. Yes, it does have an automatic movement inside, but so too did the watch it owes its dashing good looks to, the 1969 Chrono-Matic. Still doesn’t sound like much—until you discover that the 1969 Chrono-Matic was one of the very first watches in the world to have an automatic chronograph powering it.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the partnership of TAG Heuer—then Heuer—and Breilting to build the world’s first automatic chronograph movement, but what’s missing from this picture is that this duo was actually a trio, the third member of the gang being Hamilton. So tightly knit was this partnership that the three brands announced their new watches featuring this revolutionary automatic chronograph at the exact same time—and for Hamilton, that was with the Chrono-Matic.

It’s not that same movement you’ll find in it today, but funnily enough, the modular nature of that original Chrono-Matic made it a surprisingly tall watch—and large by 1960’s standards—which has the unexpected benefit of giving its great-grandchild a spookily similar profile. Intentional or just good luck? Doesn’t matter when it works!

So, really, this watch is more than just a forgotten beauty from the back catalogue of an under-appreciated brand—it carries with it a legacy that was perhaps the last major development of mechanical watchmaking before the technology was made obsolete by quartz. It was a shining beacon of what was possible, basking in the glory of its technological triumph with no idea what horrors lay ahead.

Of that triumphant trio, it’s Hamilton that was hit hardest, now carrying nowhere near the weight it used to, especially not compared to Breitling and TAG Heuer. But there’s a silver lining, because that means for you and I, we can purchase a watch with an incredible story to tell, that wears its effortless good looks like a 60s movie star, that comes with the backing of a solid, stable group like the Swatch Group—for less than £2,000.

It’s easy to get disheartened by the ever-rising prices of our favourite brands, but really we’re presented with more choice and value than we’ve ever had before. The Hamilton Intra-Matic offers so much with little compromise, and I’d challenge anyone to find fault with it. Right, I’m off to listen to some Pink Floyd.

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