Image courtesy of breitling.com
It seems amazing to most watch fans that a brand as technically astute as Breitling has never had, up until the Calibre 01, its very own in-house movement. I guess this was because they didn’t need to create their own movement. Breitling, along with their loyal following, was justifiably comfortable simply having a wonderful cross-section of tool watches, each with its own Chronometer rated movement. These movements were mostly ETA ebauches that have been largely re-worked by Breitling to allow them to be the only watch brand in the world to have every single one of their movements to be tested and passed by the COSC.
However, these movements that were out-sourced were coming more scarce with each passing year, especially chronograph movements, as large conglomerates bought up movement houses and seriously restricted availability to those not under their corporate wings. Something had to change for the brand that is synonymous with the Chronograph wrist watch.
In 2004 Breitling made a bold and courageous decision to change all of this: They decided to make their own in-house movement. This requires that the component fabrication and manufacturing are all performed under their own roof and, any brand achieving this, can subsequently call themselves a manufacture. Despite the movement shortage this is still a rarity and carries with it great respect and admiration. Becoming a manufacture is no small undertaking and commands considerable for-thought, technical know-how and financial commitment. It took the next five years for Breitling’s admirable aspirations to come to fruition.
Not content with simply creating an in-house movement, Breitling set themselves the goal of creating a brand new movement that was very user friendly, accurate, could be manufactured in high volumes and could have further, or alternative, functions added. The other criteria for this new movement would be an automatically winding chronograph with a date function.
Following these “headline” specifics other requirements could be established, such as the maximum diameter and thickness, the power reserve and the display layout.
Many employees at Breitling could influence this new movement. This included the design engineers, watch makers, staff at Chronometrie (Breitling’s manufacturing facilities) and, even, the after sales service managers. The ultimate goal for this new movement was reliability and efficiency of manufacture, rather than simply for the sake of claiming to have your own movement. Therefore, blue sky thinking was encouraged but traditional manufacturing and design principles were just as important.
Towards the end of 2004 a Research and Development team was created. They resided in their own offices where all work was shrouded in secrecy. To help with this subterfuge they were given the name PFI (Professional Flight Instruments), a meaningless acronym to the uninitiated.
The team was split into three separate entities all with their own part of the movement to concentrate on. All three teams were included in any decision making. Within a year the first design of the movement structure was complete. Component suppliers were selected and confidentiality agreements were signed. Each supplier was told that they must produce the components using tools and equipment used for high volume manufacture. This would give greater confidence in the reliability of the final components that were to be mass produced by Breitling themselves. Delivery of these components started at the end of 2005 through to the beginning of 2006.
For the rest of 2006 the team concentrated on producing many movements. Normally, in this situation a company would only produce one or two prototype movements for initial testing. Yet again, Breitling was pro-active and created around 50 movements so that it could have early faith in the reliability of the movement once volume production began. These movements were subjected to all manner of tests for accuracy, sturdiness, resistance to temperature variations, aging, magnetic fields and general ease of use.
At the end of 2006 a few of these movements were sent to the COSC for testing. They all passed with ease and considerable margins.
At the beginning of 2007 the Research and Development department had succeeded in their mandate from Breitling. They were now called “Breitling Technology SA”. The previous two years of their work had been mainly taken up with trying to come up with solutions for the various aspects of the movement where the least number of components were used. Efficiency had always been a key word. Mission accomplished. They had created a brand new reliable, sturdy, efficiently manufactured movement with some unique and useful features.
Image courtesy of breitling.com
For the best accuracy and reliability a column wheel is used for the chronograph.
For the coupling system between chronograph and time mechanisms a vertical clutch is used. This allows immediate triggering of the chronograph without any risk of the hand jumping. The seconds, minutes and hours all work from the same “kinematic chain” to reduce the discrepancies between the various displays. This is opposed to the usual system whereby the hour counter mechanism is separate.
A patent was filed for a new auto-centering system for the chronograph reset hammers. This removes the need for “touch up” or individual adjustment normally required for each movement by the watch maker. Yet another step towards increased reliability and ease of manufacture.
The rate of the watch can also easily be adjusted, if required, once the movement has settled to the wearer. This is achieved using an exclusive index regulating system. Microscopic visual reference indexes are provided to allow the watchmaker to achieve incredible accuracy when adjusting the timing screw.
The Calibre 01 has been designed with a 70 hour power reserve. The standard is usually about 40 to 45 hours. This considerable increase not only facilitates ease of use for the owner but also greater accuracy for longer when the mainspring is winding down. The main spring, which powers the movement, is wound using a bi-directional rotor mounted on ball bearings.
Another wonderful and unique feature is the date adjustment. Normally this should not be performed manually between the hours of 8 O’clock in the evening and 3 O’clock in the morning. This is because the date changing gear is engaged during this period. Normally this would not stop the date function from working but may move the time that the date increments. Breitling’s Calibre 01 is designed so that this is no longer a true concern or fear. The instant date change can be made at any time. Another incredibly useful feature for the user and, to a lesser degree, the service department. Further designs have also been implemented which protect the chronograph mechanism from such user errors as trying to reset the chronograph whilst it is still running, as an example.
The Calibre 01 is modular in design. This allows easy maintenance of the movement because the main spring, for example, can be easily accessed by simply removing the two screws which hold the chronograph in place between two bridges. Normally the entire chronograph mechanism would require dismantling. This modular construction will also allow easier integration of future functions.
All of this technical brilliance and the Calibre 01 has still remained a very aesthetically appealing movement. There are no superfluous finishing elements to the movement. This would not befit a movement of this nature. However, wherever finishing touches have been applied (Cotes de Geneve, snailing, stippling, circular graining and diamond polished bevels) the various components have been finished to a very high quality. It seems a shame that the first Breitling watch to incorporate the new movement, the B01, had a solid case back. However, limited edition versions of the B01, Navitimer, MontBrillant and TransOcean have all been produced with sapphire exhibition case backs to allow the owner the wonderful view.
After the movement had been designed and proven the important aspect of the manufacturing processes had to be established. Breitling didn’t want to simply parade a few prototype models around trade shows years before being able to produce a small number of watches with the idea of ramping production if required. They wanted to hit the ground running.
Industrialisation methods were researched, whether they were used in watch manufacturing or not. The main inspiration for the assembly process came from a revolutionary and high-tech medicine manufacturing plant. Each movement is traced and directed through assembly using highly sophisticated and adapted software. This automatically directs the movement to the next station, be it a manual or automated procedure.
At the end of 2007 the different entities that had been involved in creating the assembly processes all came together under the same roof, Chronometrie 2. This new building sits next to the original Chronometrie.
In the Spring of 2008 Breitling started to install all of the high volume manufacturing equipment required to begin mass production. At the very same time all of the numerous, different and incredibly small components started to arrive. In July Breitling was finally able to initiate its very efficient, clean and clever assembly process for its very first in-house movement.
By the end of 2008 high volume production of the Calibre 01 was running successfully.
Finally, in 2009, and over 5 years since the decision was first made to make its very own in-house movement, Breitling’s Calibre 01 movement was launched to the public in the brand new B01.
All words and pictures by Richard Atkins (unless otherwise stated). Please ask if you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article.
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