Hamilton Jazzmaster Traveler – a different kind of GMT

Certain types of watches have a special kind of allure – just like a good dive watch evokes a sense of adventure, the same can be said for GMT watches – strapping one to you wrist can instantly make you feel like a globetrotter, travelling across the world, skipping through different time zones, all the while you watch effortlessly keeps track of your local, as well as your home time.

And without a GMT in my collection, I thought it was high time I addressed that issue. Enter the Hamilton Jazzmaster Traveler.

The Traveler is an odd watch – odd in the sense it has the characteristic Jazzmaster DNA, which is a dressy line from Hamilton, with art deco styling, but it also has some real toolwatch aces up its sleeve. When I first started looking into this piece, I was both fascinated by its specs and amazed it wasn’t more popular in the community.

Let’s start with the obvious things – as I mentioned, the Traveler has all of the design cues of the Jazzmaster line – beautifully finished case with alternating brushed and polished surfaces, small crown-guard protecting the dual crowns and a recessed polished part of the case at the 9 o’clock. Long, elegant lugs, art deco numerals, applied hour markers and a very elegant set of hands – dauphine for the hours and minutes, needle seconds hand and a small blue arrow for the GMT.

The white dial has a very subtle sunburst effect and the sapphire crystal is ever-so-slightly domed, helping the overall vintage vibe with a subtle distortion in certain viewing angles. To finish everything off, Hamilton have supplied it with a genuine ostrich strap, which is one of the best stock straps I’ve ever seen.

Flipping the watch on its back reveals a display window, exhibiting the ETA 2893-2 with a Hamilton rotor, as well as a screwed-in (with actual screws) polished casebeck, with the usual specs etched on it. So far, nothing out of the ordinary for a Jazzmaster. What are the not-so-obvious things?, you might be wondering.

Firstly, the watch has an inner rotating bezel. And it’s not there for the 24-hour scale – that one is printed on the dial. No, the bezel is a count-up, i.e. a dive-time bezel. If you give it a better look, you’ll even see that the 0 to 20 minutes section is marked with more pronounced graduations than the rest of it. But why on Earth would you put a dive-time bezel on a dress watch?, I can hear you asking. Well, if it wasn’t obvious by now, this is not an ordinary dress watch.

If you look just below the Hamilton logo on the dial, you’ll find a hint for the WR of this piece – 660 ft. That’s right, this Jazzmaster has a WR of 200m. How does it accomplish that? – well, both crowns are actually screwed-down. The final surprise is also subtly hidden on the dial. Those elegant dauphine hands are actually lumed and there’s a small lume pip next the applied hour indices.

Now, I know this is a far cry from a proper dive watch – there’s no lume on the rotating bezel or on the seconds hand. But the specs make it much more capable than its looks actually suggest – instead of an occasional wear dressy piece you’d feel reluctant to wear on an overcast day, this one is a proper daily watch that you shouldn’t worry about too much, no matter the circumstances you may find yourself in.

So how come barely anyone has heard of the Traveler? My theory is that this is simply due to the fact it’s mislabeled on almost every online retailer website. Most of them quote a 100m WR and push-pull crowns and there’s no mention of the lume – not even on the official Hamilton site. So this one is really a hidden gem – even though it was hiding in plain sight all along. Another possibility is the limited availability of this one – even though it’s not discontinued (it’s still featured on Hamilton’s official site), the Traveler has been on the market for almost 15 years and the supply is obviously dwindling.

Hamilton is gradually replacing all of their ETA-based pieces with the newer, lower-frequency, 80-hour power reserve H movements, so this one is bound to disappear – sooner, rather than later. The final hurdle stopping the Traveler from becoming a community favorite is its wildly fluctuating price – depending on where you find it, it can be the best deal you’ve ever seen or a not-insignificant thousand-dollar purchase.

Let’s start wrapping this review up with a few positives and negatives.

The Jazzmaster Traveler is a 42mm watch and it wears like a 42 – the inner rotating bezel makes it visually smaller, but then the white dial cancels out that effect. And remember those elegant lugs I mentioned earlier? Well, they’re 52mm long and even though they curve down, they’re still going to present an issue for smaller wrists. However, the Traveler redeems itself somewhat by being only 12mm thick, which is even more impressive considering the depth rating and the domed sapphire. The 22mm lug width could go both ways – even though I personally would’ve preferred a 20, I really can’t put this as a negative, since there is a widely available choice of straps and bracelets in this size.

The movement is also a positive, at least for me – call me old-fashioned, but I’m still not convinced that the new modified ETAs used by Swatch group brands are actually an upgrade from the standard ETA movements. Sure, the 80-hour power reserve is nice, but it comes at a cost – and that cost is a stuttering second hand, beating at 21600 bph, which is something we’ve learned to associate with Japanese, rather than Swiss movements. Accounts of plastic parts being used in them, as well as the reports of the entire movements being thrown out and replaced by new when they’re serviced are not very reassuring as well. On the other hand, standard ETAs are tried and tested movements. You’re not getting much (at least considering the more modern movements of today), but at least you know what you’re getting.

To summarize everything, the Jazzmaster Traveler is a watch I really like. I think the specs really elevate it from a mere pretty face to a more useful and versatile watch. It can also be easily dressed up or down – put it on a more rugged leather strap or even a mesh bracelet and you’ll get an exceptionally nice daily-wear piece. Switch it up on a thin elegant leather and you’ll get an excellent dress watch. All in all, it’s a watch that wouldn’t look out of place in almost any situation.

If you like the looks and the specs, I’d say go for it. There really isn’t much to compete with this one on the market – it really is a stand-alone piece. Depending on the price you find it for, it has the potential of being a real bargain – but no matter how much you end up paying, you’ll be getting a great watch for your money.

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