Breitling is the yeast extract-based spread of watchmaking. Some people can’t get enough of them, others wouldn’t even wear one on a bet, but either way we’ve all heard of the brand. Pre-quartz revolution, Breitling watches were the go-to tools of the experts, found on the wrists of pilots, engineers, scientists and even astronauts, but post-quartz revolution, well—let’s just say that Breitling seems to have taken a little longer than most finding its groove.
The result of this was an abundance of confusingly similar models, leaving newcomers with a muddle of watches to choose from. Breitling has recently managed to consolidate its lines, leaving some that honour the brand’s illustrious past and others that look to future. The cherry on the cake was the brand’s first new in-house chronograph movement since the quartz revolution, the B01. That was launched five years ago, and it was released to a rumbling of questions: Is it going to be expensive? Will it be reliable? Is there enough demand for it?
The 18k gold hands and markers create a mild but pleasing contrast against the white dial
It’s been long enough to answer those questions now, and it seems that any concerns were unfounded. Lets not forget that this isn’t the first time Breitling’s been involved in the development of a chronograph movement: in the sixties, the watchmaker collaborated with TAG Heuer (then Heuer) and others to develop the Calibre 11, the world’s first integrated automatic chronograph movement. The B01 too is a tremendous achievement, costing millions to produce, and is well specced with a 70-hour power reserve, vertical clutch and column wheel at its heart.
With the in-house movement comes a marked improvement in build quality, with the Chronomat here exhibiting slick detailing throughout. Finishes are reference level, tolerances millimetre perfect, the balance of luxury well-judged. On paper, the Chronomat 44 is the ideal flagship for Breitling’s range, carrying a proud heritage forward. Pricing is about right, too, sitting £1,000 less than Rolex’s Daytona.
A science-fiction–inspired font lines the
bezel, and it’s a choice not everyone is sure about
But it’s not all cake and party hats, because it seems that Breitling still hasn’t been able to shake the last of its uncertain years. Where some details impress, others confuse. Why does the crown guard bulge and dip towards the pushers in such an awkward way? Why is there a square in the middle of the dial made up of lines, one edge of which steps around the logo? And who on Earth picked that retro-futuristic space-age font for the bezel? Erase that shaky judgement with the mind’s eye and you’ll see a very handsome watch, but unfortunately reality must be faced: those niggling little foibles really are there.
Breitling’s in-house chronograph—its first for
decades—remains hidden under the caseback
Still, it’s a step in the right direction and if, while we wait for the flagship Chronomat to take on a more resolved form, we still have a hankering for a Breitling with that excellent B01 inside, there’s the vintage-inspired Navitimer 01 to tide us over. Breitling’s time is yet to come, but be patient—it’s coming, and it’s coming soon.
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]