My New Favorite Dive Watch.
Words/Photography: Me / Model: Bryce McD
With an ETA automatic, sapphire glass, and great looks, the Hamilton Khaki Navy Sub Auto is a dive watch that I genuinely enjoy wearing. This version is my favorite, but you can find the Sub Auto with a steel bracelet that’s also quite the looker.
I have talked about Hamilton watches quite a lot on WYCA over the years because their mid-range price point puts them right in the upper-end of affordable for most people. “Watch people” might spend north of $1,500 on a watch without hesitation, but for most that’s simply a bit too much. $500 or $600, though? That’s more manageable.
Priced on the grey market in the $490 – $525 range, the Sub Auto is an affordable Swiss-made dive watch with an ETA 2824-2 in it. This is my favorite price range to shop in, and so I definitely appreciated a chance to assess the Sub Auto hands-on.
I’d like to thank Certified Watch Store, who we partner with to make reviews like this happen, for providing me with this Sub Auto to photograph and review.
- Model Number: H78615985
- MSRP: $1,145
- Case Diameter: 42mm
- Alternate Models: H78615135 (All-Steel)
- Movement: Automatic, ETA 2824-2
- Complications: Date display
- Power Reserve: Approximately 40 hours
- Water Resistance: 300m / 990ft
- Crystal Material: Sapphire
Well, Would You Look At That
I think it’s fair to say that dive watches aren’t bad looking, but it’s rare for one to be good looking. In order to achieve their water resistance ratings, dive watches tend to be bulkier and heavier than other watch types. Some divers, like this Audaz Scuba Master I reviewed a couple of years ago, embrace that heft and just own it. Others, like the Citizen Promaster (review coming) just ignore it completely (function over form, after all).
But Hamilton? They decided they’d rather just get rid of the heft entirely. The Sub Auto is indeed heavier than the typical watch, but it’s not any bulkier. It’s look, encouraged by it’s racey orange accents (and strap), is more sporty than dive, and the result is one of the best-looking dive watches you can buy for under $1,000.
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The Sub Auto Looks Great on the Wrist
Part of what makes the Sub Auto look and feel leaner than other divers is how Hamilton’s done the lugs.
The strap connects to a single central lug. Notches in the case expose the surface – or wrist – underneath, and the bezel and dial seem to float on top of it.
This visual effect is aided by the black rubber sides and bezel markings, which complement the dial perfectly.
The dial itself is textured and grooved, and the entire thing looks like it was carved out of steel or stone. When viewed up close, the indices on both the bezel and the dial appear to tower like monoliths over their surroundings.
The steel on grey combination serves as a visual counterweight to the orange strap, which is thick in both width and depth.
From the top down, the hour markers and hands are easy to see. This is true any time of day, by the way, thanks to excellent dive-ready lume. Telling time, or depth, is no problem when the lights go out.
The wrist shown here measures just under 7″, and as you can see, the Sub Auto is sized just about perfectly for it. Thanks to the notched sections in the bottom part of the case, the watch very much looks and feels like an impressive but not imposing addition to the wrist.
One of the ways you can gauge the level of precision and quality in a watch is by how clean and well-aligned the dial is. Like most of the Hamilton’s I’ve worn in the past 5 years, the Sub Auto is made as well as you’d expect a Swiss watch to be. This is especially true when you consider the entry-level luxury price of around $500. Under close scrutiny, aided by $2,500 in camera and lighting equipment, you can see every nook and cranny on the Sub Auto, and it all looks good.
This is also true of the rest of the exterior. The crown itself is machined with near-perfection, and the crown, screw-down mechanism, and uni-directional rotating bezel all operate with precision. The bezel moves with a satisfying click as it snaps into place and remains there securely. The 12 o’clock position has a well-lume’d dot, as do the hands and hour markers.
The screw-down crown is part of what empowers the Sub Auto to achieve 300m of water resistance. This level of resistance ensures the Sub Auto is a good companion when swimming, snorkeling, and shallow-diving. It’d also do fine in a hot tub. Ensure the screw-down crown is actually screwed down whenever you submerge it (the Cadence Buccaneer met an unfortunate end due to the screw-down crown being wide open).
The Sub Auto does not have the usual exhibition caseback, instead further bolstering its dive-chops by opting for a stainless steel caseback. Engraved on to the caseback is a Manta Ray, which boldly stands out against the textured background.
You can see the case and lugs are connected via four screws, which facilitate easyish changing of the integrated strap.
The strap is a heavy-duty rubber strap with an equally as heavy-duty stainless steel buckle. It’s a good quality strap that’s comfortable to wear, and from what I can tell, is quite colorfast as well.
Replacement OEM straps are a bit more expensive than aftermarket straps, but they don’t need to be replaced often. Even with regular wear, the original strap should last for a few years before needing replacement.
The ETA 2824-2 Automatic Movement
When it comes to movements, the general rule of thumb is that quartz movements are almost always inferior to mechanicals (with a few exceptions), and that Swiss-made automatics are the best of those. Depending on how you view things, there’s a fair bit of truth to that perspective.
ETA movements power millions of watches from dozens of brands. The 2824-2, with date display, is perhaps one of the most commonly used Swiss-made automatics around. It’s reliable, accurate to within +/- 12 seconds per day, and beats at 28,800 bph. The near-seamless movement of the second’s hand stops when the crown is pulled (aka, it hacks), and owners can expect decades of trouble-free life out of it assuming it is serviced every 5-7 years.
For a watch like the Sub Auto, the 2824-2 is a basic-but-dependable choice of a movement that’s hard to fault.
The Sub Auto is a Great Choice for a Dive Watch
I’m doing an upcoming list on dive watches, and so I’m getting my hands on as many divers as I can. Up next is the Citizen Promaster, which is a real serious diver that helps give perspective on just how extreme a diver can go in the pursuit of pressure-performance.
Next to the Citizen, it’s clear that the Sub Auto isn’t that kind of diver. While it does boast an acceptable level of water resistance, the Sub Auto is meant to be as aesthetically pleasing as it is dive-capable. All but the most hardcore of actual divers out there will appreciate the Sub Auto’s blend of dive-focused build quality and properly good-looking aesthetics.
This is a watch I’d wear almost anywhere, from the office to the beach, and it’d look perfectly appropriate the entire time. Definitely recommended.