Tuesday, August 9, 2016

WATCH DNA SERIES: Swiss Army Hunter Watches – Mach 1, Mach 2 and Mach 3

Where do I start telling the story of one of the coolest quartz watch series that Victorinox Swiss Army ever produced? Grab a cup of coffee, because this might take a while.

Swiss Army Hunter Watches - Mach 1, Mach 3 and Mach 2
So, you have never heard of a Hunter watch? That is not a surprise. It seems that these watches fly under the radar of many collectors, but that is a shame. The Hunter watch series should really be seen in person to appreciate what Swiss Army accomplished. That is, they tried their hand at a pilot's watch, but did it their own way.

Shared Traits of the Swiss Army Hunters

The Swiss Army Hunter Watch series had 3 versions and were named in the tongue-in-cheek Mach 1, Mach 2 and Mach 3 nomenclature. Sure, "Mach" and "Mark" sound similar, but only Mach has to do with flying fast (as in the speed of sound). Since these are pilot style watches, it is appropriate.

Mach 1, Mach 2 and Mach 3 Swiss Army Hunter watches are awesome.
These watches are not round, and are called "barrel tonneau" because they look like old wooden barrel shapes when viewed from above. These watches do not have traditional lugs that allow the user to change straps to aftermarket options. Instead, the barrel case flows directly into the shape of the bands. It is a very streamlined futuristic look, and I personally love it.

Swiss Army Hunter watches wear like heavy armor bracelets and are wonderful.
The watch bands are pre-curved so wearing a Hunter is like wearing a form-fitting bracelet, and 2 out of 3 were comfortable to me. The 3 versions included a black rubber strap with buckle, a gorgeous all-metal bracelet with deployment clasp and an interesting hybrid metal/plastic bracelet with deployment clasp.

Swiss Army Hunter Mach 3 and Mach 2 on metal bracelets. The barrel shape of the case is unmistakable.
Of the 3, the all-metal bracelet is the one to get. It is practically unbreakable, intricate in its design with multiple size links and fits like custom armor IF your wrist size is right. The only way to fit the wristband is to remove links so if you are in-between sizes, there are no micro-adjustments to help. You are left wearing it slightly loose or slightly tight.

The deployment clasp is integrated into the band so the illusion of a continuos bracelet is created. There are 2 known variations of the locking section as seen on the comparison below.

Swiss Army Hunter deployment clasp variations
The hybrid metal and plastic bracelet looks amazing, but there are potential downsides to it. The black plastic inserts are not hinged links but one-piece meaning that part of the bracelet does not form around the wrist.

The plastic insert in the hybrid bracelet can break if bent too far.
Instead, this area tends to squeeze against the wrist bones, and I did not find it comfortable. I have seen a few of these bands broken online by wearers who tried to bend the bracelet into a wider shape. The plastic inserts are not malleable and shattered.

The plastic insert on some hybrid watch bands
Considering that the watch bands are no longer offered by Swiss Army and that new replacements are rare as unicorns, owners often have to buy used versions of the watch to replace the bands. I've done it myself so now I have all-metal bracelets.

This surface blemish will quickly disappear with a Scotchbrite pad
The metal bands may be indestructible, but they are prone to scratches. However, the bands and cases can be buffed into a bright polish or a satin finish in literally minutes making it look as good as new. Don't be afraid to buy one that is a little beat up. It will clean up nicely.

A plastic frame is held on by 4 screws and surrounds the matte black dial.
Another family trait includes a black plastic "porthole" around the sapphire crystal held in place by 4 screws. This might bring to mind Bell & Ross's famous square watches, but Swiss Army thankfully did not copy them. In fact, I have yet to find a watch that looks exactly like the Hunters. I am going to call that an accomplishment in today's copycat world. Bravo Swiss Army!

There is nothing else exactly like the Swiss Army Hunter watches.
The dials are black with printed 12-hour numerals and indices. White hour and minute hands along with ticking seconds hands remind me of a serious Sinn watch. The last common characteristic is the oversized screw-down crowns. I wish all watches had crowns that are this easy to manipulate. From there, the models diverge, each upping the design scope and complexity.

Victorinox Swiss Army Hunter Mach 1. The white date window replaces 3 o'clock. Clever.

The Swiss Army Hunter Mach 2 - A Very Special Chronograph

I'm not gonna lie. I think this is one of the coolest watches ever produced. I once took this to an event featuring Sinn watches, and guys wearing more pricey watches were asking questions about this. They were intrigued, and you may be too once you see what it does.

Swiss Army Hunter Mach 2 on a metal and plastic hybrid bracelet. The crown is not screwed down here.
The multiple chronograph functions of this watch our mind-boggling, and I took a video of it to showcase them here: https://youtu.be/XwaN_Iu9jFU

I understand that the movement in this watch is the same one in many high-end brands such as Breitling, and has three unique time measuring features including:
  • a normal 30-minute chronograph
  • a fly back chronograph
  • a rattrapante (double chronograph) minute measuring chronograph. 

A normal chronograph measures time like a stopwatch for up to 30 minutes as seen on the 10 o'clock subdial. The normal chronograph uses the two righthand pushers to start stop and reset the stopwatch. The top button starts and stops the stopwatch. If stopped, the bottom pusher will reset the chronograph.

The Swiss Army Hunter Mach 2 is highly legible
The chronograph can also work in the flyback mode if the bottom pusher is used while the chronograph is activated. In the flyback mode, the stopwatch is reset and restarted with one single lower button push. This has the most accuracy for pilots who are measuring legs of a journey. By having one button reset and restart the chronograph, there's very little lost time between timing legs of the flight.

Compared to the normal chronograph function of starting the chronograph, stopping the chronograph, resetting the chronograph, and restarting the chronograph, the flyback does all those things in a single efficient push of the lower button without losing time. Depending on when the flyback button is pushed, the resetting seconds hand will either land on the first or second tick mark depending on how long the hand takes to sweep across the dial. This is clever, and it will maintain an accurate amount of time from the restart point.

The striped yellow hand appears in rattrapante mode and looks like ejection seat handles.
The rattrapante function is activated by the pusher at the 10 o'clock position. Activating this button reveals a hidden ticking seconds hand underneath the normal chronograph ticking seconds hand, which freezes in place. The yellow and black striped hand keeps ticking and is used to measure time periods under one minute. It can be used while longer timeframes are being recorded with the normal chronograph function. This allows for timing two events concurrently... an event within an event. As a nod to jet fighters, the special hand is painted like an ejector seat handle.

Photo: http://www.comptoir-aviation.com/english/2009/06/

Swiss Army Hunter Mach 3 - Making an Omega for the Common Man

Swiss Army Hunter Mach 3
There are iconic watches that are well known to watch nerds, and Omega made 2 of them in the sub-genre of analog-digital watches for serious aerospace work. One is the amazing Omega Z-33 Spacemaster, which looks like it might have actually been in space. It looks made for astronaut suits with oversized pushers, digital display and analog hands.

The hockey puck sized Omega Z-33 Spacemaster. Photo by Omega
The other watch is the Omega X-33 which is a slimmed down version in the spirit of the Z-33.

Omega X-33 Skywalker. Photo by Omega

I am only mentioning these models to get the obvious out of the way. There are similarities in the design of the Omega analog-digital watches and the Swiss Army Hunter Mach 3. In fact, practically any other analog-digital watch might have some of the same features. Now consider that the Omega "33" models can cost over $6,000+ new and well over $3,000+ used, and that the Swiss Army Hunter Mach 3 can be practically stolen for a few hundred dollars on the used market. The sheer economics make the Hunter an attractive value for the money.

The adjustable digital display behind analog hands
Most mortals will not need the super quartz movement in the Omegas so they might be paying for something that they do not need. This will probably get me some hate mail, but I am going to go one step further and say, that for many people, the Hunter Mach 3 will be the better everyday watch because one can wear it without worrying about destroying a precious investment watch. And, the size of the Hunter is more wearable than the shockingly tall Omega Z-33. A 20mm tall watch does not usually look great on mere mortal arms, but I'll admit that it would look great on a spacesuit. Do I still want one? Yes, you bet I do!

The Swiss Army Hunter Mach 3 has many of the same functions as the higher priced Omegas including 2 time zones, date, alarms, timer, chronograph and a cool greenish blue backlight... and it is only 12mm thick for us non-bodybuilder types.

The backlight of a Swiss Army Hunter Mach 3
When the backlight is not on, the user can still see information on the LCD screen in a faint, but readable display. I prefer the subtlety of this and the user can choose what information to display by twisting the crown to get into different modes. The crown also is a push button to activate the backlight.

Extra information is digitally displayed behind the hands.
Before modern smart watches, these analog-digital watches were the kings of functionality packing features that one might only find in a digital watch. The analog dial showed a more traditional view of the time, but powerful features were available right under the surface when needed.

I will write anther blog on the functions of this final version of the watch, so I'll just say, the Hunter Mach 3 is a satisfying watch to wear and looks more expensive than it costs. If it was good enough for Mark Sinclair Vincent, a.k.a. Vin Diesel, then it might be something to check out for yourself.

Ehhh... I'm a cool guy right? You know it...

Where did the Hunter name come from?

There is a bit of a mystery about the use of the name "Hunter". Clearly, this watch is inspired by aviation and not something like duck hunting. The clean dials, functionality, legibility, aviation design  winks, special chronograph functions and later digital functions point squarely at the biggest hunter of all... jet fighters.

Swiss Airforce Hawker Hunter Attack Fighter. Photo: Wikipedia
I could not find any specific information from Swiss Army confirming if this watch is linked with a specific airplane, but the Swiss Airforce flew Hawker Hunters well into the 1990s. Swiss Army has commemorated other Swiss aircraft with their stunning Alpnach watches commemorating Courgar helicopters so it is plausible. It makes sense to me anyway.

Speaking of hunters, I have 2 squirrel hunters looking at me right now. It is getting hard to write anything else under the weight of their stares... so I must take them walking.

Canine squirrel hunters and my Swiss Army Hunter watches -generations 1, 2 and 3

1 comment:

Crescencio Bibay said...

i lusted after this timepiece when it first came out but at prices hovering around the $1k range (i really wanted the 3) it was just too expensive, but i couldn't stop thinking about it so i saved enough money and bought one. Sadly it now sits in the almost forgotten section of my drawer but thanks to this article , i will have to put it back into rotation