The Vintage Hanhart 417 Pilot’s Chronograph
For those of you interested in a little history of the 417, let’s go back in time to 1882 when one Johann A. Hanhart
set up his eponymous brand in Diessenhofen, Switzerland. He relocated to Schwenningen in south Germany near the
idyllic Black Forest in 1902, and by 1924, the Hanhart brand had gained a reputation for making highly precise yet
affordable stopwatches. At the time, the chronograph complication was only available with a staggering price tag.
Hanhart, seeing the popularity of competitive sports, wanted to democratize these timing devices, and he achieved
great success as a result. In 1935, the company, helmed by Johann’s son, Wilhelm Julius Hanhart, added to its
achievements the creation of a split seconds stopwatch. In 1938, Hanhart launched its first modern chronograph
powered by the legendary caliber 40. This was a monopusher movement which was utilized to create watches for the
German Luftwaffe and Navy. By 1939, officers in both these branches would wear chronographs typified by a thin
fluted rotating bezel, and a large matte black dial with luminous cathedral hands and large luminous markers.
Interestingly, from the beginning, these watches were made in both stainless steel and chrome-coated brass.
1941 saw the introduction of the brand’s first two- button flyback chronograph movement, the caliber 41, a column
wheel powered engineering masterpiece. Following the war, Hanhart produced Type 20 watches for the French military
under the name Vixa. In 1956, Hanhart resumed production of its legendary pilot’s watches, now with the updated
caliber 42. These watches are quickly distinguished from the World War II era timepieces by having modern pencil
shaped hands. By 1958, Hanhart had ceased production of pilot’s watches, and during the two-year period in which it
manufactured the 417 flieger or pilot’s chronograph, it is believed that only 1,000 watches were made — 500 with the
designation “ES” for stainless steel and 500 more with no additional designation, which were brass watches that were
chrome plated. There was a further minuscule number of these watches made with white dials for medical
professionals. As an aside, our bronze watch was inspired by the brass cased watches where the plating had worn away
to reveal the rich warm-colored base material.
The 417 was one of the most handsome and pragmatically designed military chronographs ever created. These watches
eventually became sought after by anyone interested in performance sports, thanks to their reliable movements, high
visibility due to the 39mm case size and clean dial design, and their shockproof and anti-magnetic status which is
proudly proclaimed on the lower half of the dial.
The most famous person to wear a Hanhart 417 was the “King of Cool” himself, Steve McQueen. How McQueen came to own
his watch is something of a mystery. Though what is clear is that he had exemplary taste in everything from
motorcycles, particularly Bud Ekins-tuned Triumphs and Nortons; to cars, such as the 1958 Porsche 356A 1600 Super
Speedster, Ferrari 275 GTB4 and Jaguar XKSS; to bespoke suits, as seen in his collaboration with Douglas Hayward in
the film The Thomas Crown Affair; to women, particularly Jacqueline Bisset, Candice Bergen and Ali MacGraw. It was
said that on the set of Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway, the attraction between McQueen and MacGraw was so palpable that
it threatened to melt the celluloid as it ran through the camera gate. So, it was no surprise that he naturally
gravitated to the ultra cool 417 (his watch is believed to be an ES), which he wore most frequently on a Bund or
“fat strap” style bracelet.
His affection for his Hanhart 417 was made conspicuous when McQueen came to East Germany along with motorcycle racing
specialists the Ekin brothers to represent the United States at the International Six Days Trials (ISDT). Often
described as the Olympics of enduro motorcycle racing, the ISDT was first established in Carlisle, England, and
invited five-man teams from countries around the world to a showdown in off-road motorcycle skills. It is well known
that McQueen was, at this time, one of the United States’ most skilled motorcyclists. Before the era of massive
insurance waivers, McQueen even performed the majority of his bike stunts on The Great Escape himself. However, the
famous jump over the wire fence was made by his ISDT teammate Bud Ekins on a Triumph TR6C disguised as a WWII era
BMW. In the ’60s Ekins competed in seven ISDTs and won four gold medals and one silver. The team including McQueen
were dubbed the “California Boys,” and they were the first American team to ever compete in the ISDT. McQueen even
had the honor of carrying the Star-Spangled Banner in the opening ceremony. Now, think about it from this
perspective: McQueen was notoriously obsessed with detail when it came to competitions. He had gone to pick up his
1964 Triumph TR6 Trophy SC at Comerfords in London where he proceeded to make all the modifications himself. So, he
surely applied that same sense of high scrutiny to the timepieces in his life. The mystery behind McQueen’s Hanhart
417 ES is that while the provenance of his Heuer Monacos and his Rolex Submariner have been well documented, the
fate of his Hanhart is unknown.
It’s a funny coincidence. It was only after the prototype of our new Bronze 417 “Mark 2” was finished that I realized
the beautiful brown dial reminded me of something. And that is Steve McQueen’s stunning metallic brown 1963 Ferrari
250 GT Berlinetta Lusso which was purchased by his first wife, Neile Adams, and was his daily driver in Los Angeles.
This has always been one of my favorite cars and the fact that it was Steve McQueen’s makes it, of course, even more
mythical. Could this have been embedded in my subconscious while thinking of this dial? No — it was absolutely my
5970 that inspired it. But it is amusing that the colors of the car and dial are close.
Hanhart 417 Chronograph Edition No. 2 “Copperhead” For Revolution & The
Movement: Manual winding Sellita caliber SW510 M; 58-hour power reserve FUNCTIONS Hours, minutes,
small seconds and bi-compax chronograph with 30-minute counter and central stop seconds
Case: 39mm; satin-polished bronze; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Brown sunray; Super-LumiNova filled Arabic numerals and hands
Strap: Dark brown Bund-style calfskin with white stitching and leather underlay; bronze pin buckle
featuring historical Hanhart logo
Price and availability: USD 2,050; limited edition of 200 pieces