Hemel Watches entered the scene earlier this year with their Hemel Military (HM) series, a line of four vintage military style models. Now, if you are a micro brand launching your debut product, it's hard to go wrong with a military watch. After all, they are instantly recognized, widely liked, and watch enthusiasts know they can expect a certain degree of style and utility. Of course, the downside is that any new military watch wades into an already crowded market of similar designs and high expectations so that new field watch had best deliver the goods.
Hemel's founder Marvin Menke, clearly accepted that challenge. According to Hemel's promotional materials, the HM series "combine[s] the iconic heritage look of mid-century modern timepieces with the refined style of the modern gentleman." This is a fairly common refrain, but notoriously hard to pull off. In this Bum's opinion, precious few watch designers manage to translate classic designs into modern watches without destroying the very things that made the originals appealing. After wearing the HM-1 24 hour field watch Marvin sent me for review, I am pleased to report that he is one of those designers, and this is one of those watches. The HM series strikes just the right balance between classic and modern design sensibilities.
HM Series watches are mid-sized, measuring 40mm across, 48mm long, and 13mm thick from the display case back to the top of the crystal. I applaud their restraint. Vintage military watches were small by contemporary standards (you can read more about vintage US government issued field watches here) in marked contrast to many of the massive pieces worn today. I recognize the fact that fashions have changed and I have nothing against large watches per se, but simply inflating a vintage design is not necessarily an improvement. The 40mm HM is a good compromise. On my wrist, it was just about perfect, maintaining a healthy presence in a small footprint.
The HM's case is surprisingly nuanced. It is largely free of flat surfaces and hard angles, thereby reducing unnecessary bulk. Bowed sides meet a stepped bezel with a fine coin edge surrounding the domed sapphire crystal. Curved, tapered lugs wrap your wrist. The result is lean, attractive, and considerably more refined than a traditional field watch. The straight sides and linear grooves on the cylindrical, screw-down crown diverge from the softer lines elsewhere on the case, but it is slightly recessed so its flat bottom does not protrude too far over the rounded surface beneath.
Behind the screw-down case back's sapphire window lurks a cleanly finished, if not particularly decorated, Miyota 9015 secured by a brass retainer. This 24 jewel, 28.8k bph automatic is a common sight in the micro brand world. In proper military fashion, it hacks and hand winds. Power reserve is approximately 42 hours.
All four of the HM Series dials are classic designs. The HM-1's is a traditional field watch with Arabic numerals marking both 12 and 24-hour time, ringed by a minute index with dart shaped markers on the hour. Both the crystal and dial are domed, complementing the curves of the case. The dial is matte black and it looks deeper and blacker than most. I can't explain why this is, but I like it. All numbers, markers and the tapered hands glow with bright C3 SuperLuminova. The second hand offers a pop of bright orange. Hemel's distinctive stencil-style logo is polished and applied. The only other text is "Automatic" printed in a diminutive, broadly-spaced sans-serif font below. It is a well-executed dial that packs a lot of detail without sacrificing legibility.
Initially, you could only order a polished case, but Hemel sent me the recently introduced bead blasted version. I'll admit that thought the polished case was an odd choice for a military watch but once I had the HM-1 in hand, I understood. If you consider the part about "refined style of the modern gentleman," then a bit of flash makes sense. In that guise, the HM is a fine everyday watch with the 100m water resistance and anti-reflective sapphire crystal you would want for your more sporting, weekend activities. If you prefer the stealthy look of a tool watch, then the blasted matte gray case is the way to go.
The watch comes on a heavy nylon strap with Zulu hardware and grommets in the same finish as the case. It is black with two floating keepers, one in orange to match the second hand. The buckle is signed. I applaud the choice of two-piece construction. Given the relative thickness of the case, a pass through strap would raise it too high off the wrist. Also, am I the only one getting a bit burned out on NATOs? This is a nice change. My only criticism is that while the nylon looks perfectly appropriate on the matte finish case, it strikes me as too utilitarian for the polished version. I'd be inclined to swap a more tailored leather strap onto the fancier case. Of course, strap swapping is half the fun.
I liked this watch in pictures, but I loved it on my wrist. This is why I go out of my way to perform hands-on reviews whenever possible. Viewing the watch on a computer screen did not convey the way its curves worked together, dressing up the case while also slimming it down. I questioned why a field watch would have decorative bezel detailing or a display case back until I worn it awhile and realized that on a different strap, it would look perfectly at home with suit and tie.
The Hemel HM Series sells for $399, which is a great price for a 9015 with sapphire, and even better when you consider its versatility. If you are looking for an attractive, mid-sized, everyday watch at an affordable price, then you really need to consider a Hemel.
Pro: Curves, curves, curves.
Con: You will want a second strap to get the most out of the watch.
Sum: Right size, right shape, right price.