Two watches consistently get brought up in the "best watch under $500" conversation. The Seiko SARB033 and Hamilton Khaki Field are both very popular amongst collectors, and they deserve the praise they get.
I was a bit surprised when someone asked me to compare the two, because they have very distinct styling. The reason why so many people are torn between the SARB and the Khaki is simple: they're two awesome watches with a similar price point and size.
The key to choosing between the Seiko and the Hamilton is to weigh every pros and cons, and this starts by pointing out every single difference between the two. Here we go!
Khaki field 38mm
With so many models in the Hamilton Khaki lineup, I chose to compare the Field Auto 38mm since it's the closest in size. Indeed, this Khaki Field Auto shares the same 38mm case diameter as the Seiko SARB033.
However, the most important measurement to look at is the lug-to-lug length. At 47mm, the Khaki's lug-to-lug is a significant 2,50mm longer than the Seiko. This means that the Khaki Field wears considerably larger than the SARB033.
With this in mind, I think men with smaller wrists (6.25'' and lower) will be better off with the Seiko SARB033.
Finally, I think the case thickness is also an important dimension to consider. While the 1,20mm spread between the two watches doesn't seem important on paper, it does a big difference in wearability.
The Khaki Auto is one of these watches that you'll forget is on your wrist after a couple minutes. On the other hand, the SARB033's height reminds you that you're wearing something all day long.
khaki field 38mm
100m / 10 bar
100m /10 bar
316l Stainless Steel
316l Stainless Steel
316l Stainless Steel
Hands & Numerals
Hands & Pips
At the price point of these two watches, a sapphire crystal is usually a mandatory feature. Both the Khaki Field and the SARB033 are indeed equipped with sapphire crystals, but they have a slightly different approach.
The Hamilton's sapphire crystal is slightly domed, giving a vintage feel to the watch. Conversely, the Seiko SARB033's crystal is completely flat.
As far as scratch resistance goes, the two watches are on the same level. Furthermore, neither of these crystal are applied with anti-reflective coating.
This is no big deal on the SARB033 since flat surfaces aren't that reflective. On the other hand, the Khaki's domed crystal is inherently very reflective, so the lack of AR-coating is a bit disappointing.
Water Resistance & Crown
The Hamilton Khaki being a field watch and the Seiko SARB033 being a dress watch, water resistance isn't a priority for either of these timepieces. Still, both manufacturers made sure that their watch is water-resistant to 100m, meaning you can take them for a swim (and even snorkeling).
With this relatively small water resistance rating, neither Hamilton nor Seiko deemed it necessary to use a screw-down crown. The Khaki Field's push-pull crown is signed with an embossed "H", whereas the Sarb033's crown gets Seiko's "S" logo.
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest physical difference between the case of the two watches is the protruding lugs of the Hamilton Khaki.
Both watches have brushed lugs and a polished bezel. The only place where the finish differs is the case sides. The SARB033's sides feature a highly polished finish, whereas the Khaki's sides are brushed.
Both watches have an incredibly high level of finishing that you would usually see on $1000+ watches, but I must say that the SARB033 is a notch above the Khaki Field in this aspect.
The Seiko SARB033 comes on an Oyster-style stainless steel bracelet that starts at 20mm at the lugs and tapers down to 18mm near the clasp. The lugs are brushed all over, except for the polished sides.
The SARB033's bracelet is excellent, but there is one recurring complaint. This bracelet is notoriously hard to fit perfectly to your wrist due to the lack of half links, and the small number of micro-adjustments (2).
In contrast, the Khaki Field Auto 38mm is equipped from the factory with a high-quality leather strap. The strap provides great comfort, high malleability, and a nice white stitching.
It's nice to know that both watches have lume-applied indices and hands. The Khaki Field goes for a heavily-lumed look (full numerals, hands, lume pips), while the Seiko SARB033 is a bit more subtle with its lume usage (small pips + hands).
Khaki field 38mm
-15 to +25 secs/day
Hand-Winding, Hacking, Skeleton Rotor
Diashock, Magic Lever, Etachron
The movements used in the two watches share a lot of similarities, but they each have their distinctive features.
The Hamilton H-10 Caliber is strongly based on the ETA C07.111 (itself being an ETA 2824-2 variation), whereas the Seiko 6r15 movement is completely built in-house. I think this proprietary movement adds some merit to the SARB033.
Let's start by stating the shared features of both movements. At their core, these are two automatic calibers with hand-winding and hacking capabilities that beat at a low frequency of 21,600 bph.
The biggest difference is the power reserve, which is a whopping 30 hours larger on the Hamilton Khaki. This amazing power reserve means you can put off your Khaki for a whole weekend and wear it on Monday without winding it.
The second important distinction is accuracy. Even though Seiko's 6r15 is pretty accurate, the Hamilton H-10 takes the palm for timekeeping. As you can see above, the accuracy window of the H-10 is slightly smaller than the 6r15, and anecdotal reports from owners show that the H-10 is more accurate.
KHAKI FIELD 38MM
Here's the biggest difference between the Hamilton Khaki and the Seiko SARB033: the former has a casual look that's very hard to dress up, whereas the latter has a dressy look that can easily be dressed down.
This makes the Seiko SARB033 a much more versatile watch as a whole. For instance, the Hamilton Khaki (being a field watch) will be out-of-place in a formal business attire no matter which strap you use.
Conversely, the Seiko SARB (even on the OEM bracelet) can be worn with a suit and look great. Also, it can be worn with a nylon strap and look nice in your casual outfit at your neighbor's barbecue.
The main reason why the Khaki is so hard to dress up is the overcrowded dial attributable to field watches. With so many indices, numerals, scripts, date display, etc., the dial is very busy and that's rarely associated with dressy/classy watches.
In contrast, Seiko stuck to what it knows best with the SARB: a minimalist timeless dial. This neat clutter-free dial gives off a classy vibe that looks great in most situations, including formal wear.
To summarize my point, I think the Hamilton Khaki is great if you wear jeans & t-shirts every day, but if you have to wear suits or dress shirts on a daily basis, the Seiko SARB is undoubtedly the best option for you.
The Hamilton Khaki Auto gets a pair of syringe hands for the minutes & hours. These hands are often found on field/beater watches and they provide both great styling and flawless legibility.
The second hand is an elongated red-tipped arrow that goes all the way to the chapter ring, once again increasing legibility.
To improve its classy look, Seiko chose a set of dauphine hands for the SARB033. These hands provide adequate legibility, gorgeous styling, and enough room to apply a good bit of lume.
The SARB's second-hand is one of the best-looking in the watch game, all price points included. This extremely thin needle ends with a beautifully-finished diamond-shaped tip.
The Hamilton Khaki uses big bold numerals for the 0-12 o'clock marks, while the 13-24 o'clock marks are painted in a smaller font in the inner-ring of the two-tone dial. This layout is very reminiscent of the U.S Army A-17 watch.
Additionally, the Khaki Field sports a chapter ring that's filled with minute marks (and numerals for every 5 minutes). This whole package makes for a very easy-to-read dial, but it makes the Khaki hard to dress up.
Seiko is much more conservative and minimalist with its indices selection for the SARB. The hour marks are denoted by applied stainless steel baton indices that pop out of the matte black dial.
Like the Hamilton, the SARB033's minutes and seconds can be read on the external chapter ring, which displays painted lines for every 1/5th of a second interval.
There's nothing much to say about the bezel of these to watches. Both the Hamilton Khaki and the Seiko SARB033 have a polished stainless steel fixed bezel that looks great out of the box but will collect scratches quite easily.
To avoid wear & tear, you will either need to be super careful with your piece or simply repolish it every few years.
KHAKI FIELD 38MM
$350 to $450
$350 to $400
At the time of writing this article, the Hamilton Khaki and Seiko SARB033 were in the same price range. However, this might not be true for long, since Seiko discontinued the SARB back in 2018.
For now, the price has been pretty steady while retailers get rid of their large inventory of this popular watch. Once the supply gets scarce, the SARB will follow the same path as the SKX, which prices skyrocketed a few years after discontinuation.
On the other hand, the Khaki Field Auto 38mm is still mass-produced by Hamilton, and the end is not in sight. For this reason, I think the SARB033 is the best option if you want to keep as much value as possible, and even maybe make a profit when selling it a few years down the road.
Seiko's 3-year warranty is slightly better than Hamilton's 2-year warranty. However, the customer service you get will be equal for both brands. Although I must say it's nice to have a longer duration, it's pretty rare for a fabrication defect to appear after the 24-month mark.
For this reason, I think you shouldn't base your decision on the warranty. However, this might change in a couple of years when Seiko ARs run out of inventory and you're obligated to buy from a third-party reseller without warranty.
Brand recognition is usually important for people spending thousands of dollars on a watch, but this isn't the case for sub-$500 pieces. I gave a "medium" rating to Hamilton and Seiko because they're two brands that are beloved by enthusiasts but usually unbeknownst to the general population.
Get the khaki if you:
get the SARb033 if you: