Preview: Hemel HFT20 Series

Hemel popped up last year with the popular HM-1 field watches. Their clean execution, nuanced case design, and attractive prices instantly put them among my favorites. Today, Hemel opened orders for the HFT20 Flight Series, a tasteful homage to jet age pilot's chronographs offered in two distinct styles and with a choice of automatic or quartz movements.


Hemel's creator, Marvin Menke is an experienced designer and long time aviation enthusiast. He sought inspiration in the Breuget/Dodane Type 20 and the HFT20 carries many of their cues, but to my eye, I see more than a little of the beefier Heuer Bundeswehr here. Whichever way you care to view it, this vintage military look is a very good thing. These watches served the French and German air forces in the 60s and 70s, and they are high on my list of grail watches, but as I watch their prices climb north of $5,000, I have to accept that they are likely to remain aspirational items for good while longer. The HFT20 convincingly channels the spirit of those watches while incorporating enough of its own contemporary design elements to stand on its own. 


The HFT20 features two registers, a rotating bezel, slim sword hands, and a white-on-black partial Arabic dial. A bright orange sweep hand provides a pop of color on the otherwise martial face. Of course, a tool watch is of little use if you can't see it in the dark, so the markers and hands are treated with C3 SuperLuminova. The text is sparse, just Hemel at the top and if you chose the automatic, it will say so at the bottom. Quartz models do without. 



The brushed stainless steel case measures 42mm wide, 16mm thick, and 49mm from lug to tapered lug. A beveled edge along the length of the watch dresses it up a touch. Its threaded case back is decorated with the series, model name, and specs. It's not fancy, but clean and purposeful. Up front, it wears a flat sapphire crystal. 


Its crown and pushers are brilliantly rendered. Unlike the Bund's unadorned bits, the HFT20's crown is a deeply fluted diamond shape signed with the Hemel "H" logo, and the pusher heads have a crosshatch texture similar to that found on compressor case watches.  The crown does not screw down has sufficient seal for 100m water resistance. 


Now we get to the bezels, which are perhaps the most fun part of this watch. There are three to choose from: 60-minute black ceramic, 12-hour stainless GMT, and a new optional Standard in unmarked stainless with a coin edge. All are 120-click units with orange triangles at top center. The ceramic has the most Bund to it but the shiny black surface and filled, engraved numbers make it far prettier and more modern than the one on the vintage watch. The engraved and brushed GMT bezel evokes those on certain Breguet/Dodane Type 20 models, and also adds a useful lume pip. The Standard bezel has only a triangle and lume pip, and its Spartan bearing takes the watch in an entirely different direction. Can't choose? Then order one of each. Extra bezels are $40 and may be swapped by the owner (at their own risk). 


The two movements are well known to microbrand fans. A Seiko VK64 Mechaquartz is the value leader. This movement marries a quartz timekeeper to a mechanical chronograph module for a smooth 1/5 second sweep and crisp snap back on reset. For those with a slightly higher budget and an affinity for mechanicals, the Seiko NE88 automatic is the best choice. This 34 jewel unit beats at 28.8k bph, hacks, hand winds, and has a power reserve of over 45 hours. 

You would expect a retro pilot's watch to have a traditional pilot's strap and that is precisely what the Hemel delivers. The 20mm distressed cognac leather has steel rivets and a buckle that is signed on either side instead of across the top of the frame as usual.


The Hemel HFT20 automatic will sell for $999.99, and the Mechaquartz for $449.99, but early birds ordering before August 11 can use code HF40 to take 40% off, dropping prices to an extremely attractive $599.99 and $269.40, respectively. If that doesn't tempt you, then consider that 5% of your purchase will go to your choice of three charities: Toys for Tots, Wounded Warriors, or the Bob Woodruff Foundation. For more information or to place an order, see HemelWatches.com. ⬩

Photos courtesy of Hemel



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