The Hemel HFT20: A Mid-Century Revivalist Pilot's Watch

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The agile HFT20 is a pilot's chronograph; a blend of modern capabilities and more premium specs yet still retains all the visual cues of classic mid-century, no nonsense design. Consider it design with a pedigree.

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The Hemel Flight Series is the embodiment of forward motion, of advancement, and the HFT20 is a true homage to the legendary timepieces issued to military pilots beginning at the dawn of the jet age in the1950s.

Following the successful campaign of the HM Series, Hemel now unveils the HFT20, a solidly tool focused pilot’s chronograph watch with the option of buying up to two different versions of additional rotating bezels. The 60 minute bezel is black ceramic while the 12 hour GMT and standard bezels are made of naval grade, 316L stainless steel. Like last year’s Hemel watches, the HFT20 case is also 316L stainless steel with sapphire crystal and a screw-down back. The more conventional form factor is not without some flair and the eagle-eyed connoisseurs will appreciate the detailed lug design which incorporates a subtle bevel; how this detail flows into the case provides an undeniable touch of elegance. The watch is basically saying, “If I’m worn with a dress shirt, so what?”

The Hemel Flight Series is the embodiment of forward motion, of advancement, and the HFT20 is a true homage to the legendary timepieces issued to military pilots beginning at the dawn of the jet age in the1950s. With subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock, the dial provides an uncluttered reading interface bolstered by Superluminova C3 for low light conditions. A diamond shaped crown and gridded traction pushers round off the case side. Getting the controls just right was worth the extra time and effort. The treads on the pushers are a practical detail that one doesn’t see often, and it gives the HFT20 the feel of a classic tool watch. Engraved onto the solid steel screw down caseback is the watch’s designation and specs. The 42mm case size makes it very wearable and the action of the pushers is extremely satisfying. A signed crown and buckle come standard…there are no stock parts here. The bezels rotate unidirectionally with 120 satisfying clicks for a very engaging ratchet feel.

The watch and its designation were inspired by aircraft. Marvin Menke, the founder of Hemel, revealed his inspiration saying, “When I was a kid, my father worked for the airlines and we talked about the airplanes. I loved all the alpha numeric designations given to the aircraft like DC10 or LT11 and of course the supersonic concord or SST was always so thrilling to see. I also built model planes around this time and again, names like F-5E and B29 really just left an impression. So to create a pilot's chronograph watch with such a designation really pays tribute to the history and love of aviation.”

Hemel embraces the customization edict found in so many crowd funded campaigns but doesn’t stop there. By offering the option of extra bezels with every watch purchase, customers can continue to change the look of their watch at any time. Under the hood is the highly capable Seiko NE88 automatic movement which is a triple hammer tipped, vertical clutch, column wheel engineering marvel that beats at 28,800 beats per hour (bph). For the more wallet critical customers, the VK64 mechaquartz movement offers the same sweeping second hand at a more approachable price point. This mechaquartz runs on a battery but incorporates traditional gear architecture so that the feel of a mechanical watch is maintained but at an affordable price point. Regardless of configuration, one can be sure that it is heavily grounded in vintage pilot watch aesthetics.

All this comes in at a very competitive MSRP of $999 for the NE88 automatic. The version with the VK64 mechaquartz movement is offered at $449. Early birds who preorder will get the better deals at the Hemel Watches website starting July 12.

After a rewarding collaboration earlier this year with Manhattan based Maison 10 where 10% of every purchase was donated to Toys For Tots, Hemel broadens its altruistic efforts by allowing consumers to choose to which charity Hemel donates. Choices are Toys For Tots, Wounded Warriors and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

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Marvin Menke
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