Video may have killed the radio star, but the quartz crisis killed Hamilton. Well, American Hamilton – the company founded in 1892 that went on to dominate the railroad pocket watch market. By 1969, Hamilton was a Swiss manufacturer. In ’74 it was all over. The SWATCH Group bought the name and little else. The Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Skeleton is a throwback to Hamilton’s heyday: the Jazz Age. Well, not exactly . . .
According to clevelandart.org, Jazz Age design featured “new looks on familiar forms, providing updated, modern interpretations of older styles of decoration.” Not it. Hamilton’s 128-piece Jazz Master collection consists of extremely conservative timepieces, displaying none of the exuberance of the Jazz Age or, for that matter, the improvisation of jazz music.
Be that as it may, I love the idea of a skeletonized mechanical watch. I buy mechanical watches because I like the mechanics. Quartz-based chronos are cheap and plentiful; I pay 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: most skeletonized mechanical watches are hideous. They tend to focus on right angles and chiseled gears, as in this Fossil or this Tissot. They look too complicated, too cluttered, too confused.
The Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Skeleton watch succeeds where the others fail because it embraces a more stylized, sleeker approach to the skeletonization. Instead of simply 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.
Another feature that makes this watch more readable: the track along the outside of the watch face. The markings for hours, minutes, and seconds are all legible and present, styled to convey as much information as you need without any you don’t. Even the branding is tastefully subdued.
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.
Hamilton’s Open Heart line “fixes” the legibility problem by adding a dial card over the movement with strategically placed cutouts. The solution severely limits the movement’s visibility. I reckon the Open Heart Autos are on the wrong side of the line.
A transparent caseback puts more of the Viewmatic Skeleton’s mechanical art on display. You can see straight through to the other side. With the balance wheel up top, the most striking part of the watch is 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. In my opinion that’s a feature and not a bug.
Hamilton calls the movement the H-10-S. It’s the same engine found in their Khaki Field Automatic line (the H-10) with a bit of skeletonization and engraving on the plates. The H-10 is a re-branded ETA C07.611, dubbed the “Powermatic 80.” It’s one of the variations of this movement that is used in a couple other brands of Swatch-es as well as Hamilton (e.g., Tissot).
The movement is capable of COSC certification (although this one isn’t). It’s blessed 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 cool that the same movement powers two very different watches.
Moving from the inside to the outside, the Jazzmaster Viewmatic Skeleton’s case is gently curved and sleek, allowing it to slide under the cuff of a dress shirt. Like with the Khaki Field line, the Viewmatic feels surprisingly thin for an automatic, and it’s light enough that you forget that you’re wearing it.
I don’t care for the band. The Viewmatic Skeleton originally came with a black leather band, and I’m not a black leather kind of guy. So I swapped the band for brown leather as soon as it came in the door.
I pretty much assume that I’ll be swapping the leather band on whatever watch I buy as soon as I get it, so I figure it a sunk cost. But the OEM band is a perfectly satisfactory in terms of construction and finish. This one just doesn’t fit my vibe.
There’s no doubt that this is a “cheaper” version of a skeletonized watch. There’s very little decoration on the parts that you can see. There’s some perlage on the visible surfaces to give the movement a more refined look. A stylized Hamilton logo engraved in a pattern on one of the main plates of the movement is the only real decoration, and it isn’t what I’d call spectacular.
Never mind. The Viewmatic Skeleton is built to a price. The watch remains a conversation piece/party trick for buyers who want to show the world – and themselves – that a machine on the wrist is better than a computer. It’s also a daily driver to pull out of the drawer when you want to add some mechanical razzle dazzle to our silicon-based world.
In short, Hamilton got it right. They brought a conservative, vaguely nostalgic historical style to the skeleton watch genre, combining it with a time-tested [sic] movement. The result is a piece of affordable art.
Model: Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Skeleton
Case: Stainless steel
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 design compliments the movement’s jagged mechanical bits .
You might need to study it for a second to tell the time. But you’ll enjoy doing so.
Comfort * * * * *
Sleek, slim, and comfortable.
Overall * * * *
The perfect balance of style, function and price for a skeletonized mechanical watch.