The Chronomat Evolution has long been Breitling’s “Flagship” model and their most successful, as far as sales, in many territories. Breitling used the basics of this ageless design when they introduced the new Blackbird in 2006. This watch differed from the Evo in that it had a large date feature. It was named after the Blackbird SR-71 High Altitude Reconnaissance Aircraft. I say “new” Blackbird because this model should not be confused with the original Blackbird that was introduced in 1996 and its successor from 2002 to 2004 (ref 13353). These models were very similar to the Chronomat Evos of their time. The 1996 version differed by having a completely brushed matt finish to case, crown, pushers and bracelet, “SERIE SPECIALE” in red over the 12-hour sub-dial and “BLACKBIRD” on the dial instead of “CHRONOMAT”.
The ref 133353 was slightly wider and used a different bezel.
The Lockheed Blackbird SR-71 High Altitude Reconnaissance Aircraft was an advanced, long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft. It was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by the Lockheed Skunk Works. Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was responsible for many of the design’s innovative concepts. During reconnaissance missions the SR-71 operated at high speeds and altitudes to allow it to outrace threats. If a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, the standard evasive action was simply to accelerate and outrun the missile. The SR-71 was the first operational aircraft designed around a stealthy shape and materials that were designed to reduce its radar signature.
On 28 July 1976 the SR-71 also broke the world record for its class with an “absolute altitude record” of 85,069 feet (25,929 m).
The SR-71 also holds the “Speed Over a Recognized Course” record for flying from New York to London, with a distanceof 3,508 miles (5,646 km) at 1,435.587 miles per hour (2,310.353 km/h) and an elapsed time of 1 hour 54 minutes and 56.4 seconds on 1 September 1974. As a reference the best time recorded for a Concorde flight was 2 hours and 52 minutes. A Boeing 747 averages 6 hours and 15 minutes.
The SR-71 served with the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998. Of the 32 aircraft built, 12 were destroyed in accidents, and none lost to enemy action. Since 1976, it has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft, a record previously held by the YF-12.
The SR-71 BlackBird cost $34 million. Significantly more than the Breitling Blackbird.
Thanks to Wikipedia for this information. I admit to knowing very little about aircraft.
The most popular watch by a particular brand does not necessarily translate to that watch being their best model. However, Breitling owners and collectors are most often totally aware of what they are buying, with reference to quality, accuracy, craftsmanship, reliability, etc. Therefore, it can certainly be assumed that the most admired Breitling model will be one of its very best.
So, it should go without saying that the latest Blackbird, with its large date complication, was of particular interest to fans and collectors.
To then have a model that maintains the attributes of this superb model with added features of true interest must make the Blackbird Red Strike one of the best ETA driven models ever made. Well, I wouldn’t argue with that and it will be my pleasure to highlight why.
The element that is most immediately striking on the, ahem, Red Strike, is the red detailing that sets it apart from the standard Blackbird. The colour chosen isn’t letter box red. More like a blood red, which is more luxuriant in its appearance in my opinion. This new hue has been applied to the double date window, the subdials, the chronograph seconds hand and the tachymetre.
I’ve always loved the large date display on the Blackbird. This relatively simple change has given the Blackbird a whole new character over the Chronomat Evo. The subdials have been shuffled round by 90°, and the applied logo is now at the 12 O’clock position where it looks so much better.
I’ve always thought the new large date window was relevantly reminiscent of mid 1900s aircraft displays. It is, of course, also very practical compared to the standard single aperture date display, which is constrained by the disc that has to carry 31 numbers at its perimeter.
The subdials have received a red border and a red seconds hand. This has neither added nor detracted from legibility or functionality over the standard model. It has, however, added further desirability.
I’ve always liked the raised tachymetre chapter ring on the Chronomat Evo models. The deep red accents on the Red Strike emphasise this feature further and makes for a nice border to the whole unique dial.
As with all sapphire glasses that have an anti-reflective UV coating the Blackbird Red Strike is vunerable to the blue hue as a result. This is slightly detrimental to the Black/Red amalgamation on the dial. A small detail but worthy of note.
One feature of this Limited Edition Blackbird that is not so immediately evident is the LASER etched edition number. This has been applied to the side of the case and is a constant reminder to the lucky owner that he is a member of a small club worldwide.
This leads me into one of the features that I am disappointed about with this exclusive model: Why did Breitling choose to have the standard Chronomat Evo caseback instead of the unique Blackbird caseback? With the Limited Edition number on the side of the case this was feasible.
While I’m having a reasonably insignificant whinge I’d like to point you in the direction of the pushers. Yes, I appreciate that these screwdown collars prevent usage underwater and maintain an impressive 300m water resistance but they are a bit of a pain to use in real world situations. I do like their aesthetics but this could have been achieved without the screwdown element of the collars. One element of the Chronomat Evo range that I have always loved is the semi-conical crown. It might be semi-conical but it is fully iconical. It is wonderful to behold and a pleasure to use.
The bezel is another feature that was re-designed for the Blackbird. I always liked the signature bezels that Breitling create with their rider tabs and LASER etched rehaut. The standard Chronomat Evo utilises a minutes display, which aids timing operations. The Blackbird’s bezel utilises a compass display with the rider tabs incorporating N, S, E, W. Timings are still possible but are not as accessible.
The Chronomat Evo has always been just the right size in my opinion. Its wide and deep enough to feel substantial and yet not too big that it becomes overbearing and uncomfortable. In fact, even on my smaller than average wrists the Blackbird Red Strike sits perfectly and is continuously comfortable with no fatigue.
Add to this the best bracelet available from Breitling, who are famous for their bracelets, and you are left with a timepiece that has equal amounts of casual and dress code accessorising credentials. I truly love this bracelet: I constantly marvel at the combination of satin facia and polished edges, the intricate yet strong linkage design and the secure, beautifully finished and designed clasp. Sometimes a bracelet can detract from the case or face of a watch as it vies for its own attention. Some watches simply work better on straps. The Pilot bracelet enhances the whole wearing and owning experience.
As with all Breitling tool watches the luminosity is impressive. Exposure to even the dullest of daylights can charge the lume up so that it jumps right out of the dial in lit areas. After sunset it truly comes in to its own and lasts until sunrise.
In conclusion: The Blackbird Red Strike, which sounds like an oxymoron but makes so much sense, is truly greater than the sum of its many interesting parts. The Chronomat Evo was justifiably lauded by watch fans and the press alike. The Blackbird built on its beautifully designed foundations to offer even more. Now the Red Strike takes this covetable timepiece and makes it yet even more again. The red detailing is thoughtfully restrained and yet immediately evident. The bracelet is the best on the market at this price point, period. The entirely satin brushed case is meticulously applied and is a reflection of Breitling’s dominant position in its intended market. The LASER etched limited edition number on the side of the mirror polished case is further evidence that this timepiece is incredibly special.
If I were to criticise the Black Bird Red Strike in any way I would have liked to have seen the original and unique caseback design carried over from the standard production model. The limited edition identification is on the side of the case so this would have been easy to do. I’ve always thought the hands should be the same width as the markers, but I realise this is subjective and nit-picking in the extreme. The screw down pusher guards are always a bit of a pain to use. The blue hue cast by the UV coating is detrimental to the black and red on the dial. However, that is what I have been reduced to because I cannot really find fault with this exceptional timepiece. It is the most utilitarian, robust, beautiful, well-crafted, collectable and covetable ETA driven Breitling available today. A word of warning though: If you’re reading this after March 2012 exchange “available today” to “that was available” because the last few of these are sure to find happy owners soon.
All words and images by Rick Atkins, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in part or whole without the permission of the author.