Following its own departure from Baselworld last year, Swiss fake Breitling has been using standalone ‘summits’ to announce its new collections. Now, alongside with the annual watch fairs themselves (due to start in late April) these too have had to be paused, to be replaced by digital-only reveals. First out of the blocks was a new iteration of its famous Bond watch, the Top Time. And now comes an entire new collection of its aviation-inspired Chronomat model.
Although widely credited with helping save the Breitling business when it was launched back in 1984, the Chronomat can trace its history all the way back to 1942, when founder Leon Bretiling’s grandson, Willy, started producing chronograph watches fitted with logarithmic scales to aid air-borne navigation. Not for the first time, the Chronomat (a portmanteau of “chronograph for mathematics”) would become the choice of aviators the world over.
After the war, Willy continued evolving Breitling’s chronographs, partly to maintain its primacy in the complicated watch market, and partly to ensure it stayed true to its own aviation heritage.
However, the buffeting the brand would receive from the advent of quartz in the Seventies proved too much for Willy to withstand, and it was Breitling’s next owner, Earnest Schneider – himself a keen aviator – who was to fully exploit the potential of the brand’s aeronautical focus.
Although best watches copy Breitling had launched its own quartz models, including a ‘Professional’ series aimed at its aviation clients, one specialist group of pilots – the Italian army’s Frecce Tricolori acrobatic team – preferred an analogue display only to found at the time on conventionally powered timepieces. Schneider obliged, launching a ‘new’ Chronomat in 1984 in celebration of the company’s centenary.
Easily recognised by the four, glove-friendly ‘riders’ that sit on the bezel, the new Chronomat watches swiftly developed a cult of their own, helped along by the sprezzatura of its Italian origins. And whilst many quartz producers opted to go slimmer and dressier the better to ape traditionally made watches, Breitling’s trademark was to become the sizeable and thus ‘high-status’ mechanical chronograph.
Cut to the present day and Breitling, which recently re-set the standard for its aviation models with the launch of its new Navitimer 8 series has announced a new Chronomat collection, reflecting what it calls its “commitment to creating authentic, everyday luxury for men and women of purpose action and style.”
In keeping with the times, Schneider had opted to power the original 1984 Chronomat with the watch industry’s workhorse chronograph movement: the Valjoux 7750. However, since 2004, the brand has been producing its own, COSC-certified automatic chronograph calibre, dubbed the B01. At the time of its launch, the Chronomat was chosen to unveil the company’s first in-house movement and it is used here across the range.
Other signifiers included across the new collection: a highly recognisable stainless steel integrated “Rouleaux” bracelet, superluminova hands and the addition of two new interchangeable rider tabs at three o’clock and nine o’clock (allowing the wearer to opt between ‘count up’ and ‘count down’ functions).
There are four colour ways in the main collection (from £6,650), all of which feature the contrasting sub dials used to denote the use of Breitling’s in-house movement. Additionally, these share with all but a rather special ‘Frecce Tricolori’ model (featuring a blue dial with matching counters and the team’s insignia), the use of a striking red central seconds hand.
There is also a perfect replica new ‘Breitling for Bentley’ model (£6,780), a continuation of sorts of its standalone series (now defunct) featuring a tell-tale racing green dial, a handsome bitmetal version which uses 18K red gold accents for the crown and bezel, and – summoning the hugely popular Rolex Yacht-Master perhaps – an all-18K red gold iteration fitted with a black rubber strap (£15,950).
Commenting on the new collection, Breitling CEO George Kern says: “The 1984 Chronomat occupies a very important place in modern history. It was the watch that boldly proclaimed Breitling was staying absolutely true to its roots. When much of the industry focused their efforts and energies on quartz watches, the Chronomat reminded the world that Breitling had essentially invented the modern mechanical chronograph. The message resonated and the brand prospered.
“The Chronomat Collection replica is a fitting tribute to the amazing watch that, more than any other, put us back in touch with our heritage.”