Breitling Chronomat B01 42. AB01341
Breitling became synonymous with excellent quality wrist worn chronographs at attractive price points throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, especially with the release of the first ever chronograph with twin push pieces for start/stop and reset, in 1934. However, it was the creation of the Chronomat – a portmanteau of Chronograph and Mathematics – in 1942 that put Breitling on the horological map in that period. It was unique for the circular sliderule created in two parts across the edge of the dial and the chapter ring. Designed on a patent, that was filed in 1940, with two logarithmic scales running opposite to each other. One fixed, on the dial, and the other one rotating at the whim of the user. It allowed tachometer, pulsometer and range finder calculations to be performed. In addition (pardon the pun) simple mathematics could also be executed. This allowed the wearer to solve multiplication, division, interest rates, percentages, production rates, and exchange rates. Powered by a Venus 175 movement with an atypical 45 minute chronograph minute register the Chronomat soon became incredibly popular.
Various updates of the Chronomat were composed over the next few years, including a moonphase version, and it continued to remain the flagship model for Breitling until the Navitimer was released in 1952 at the request of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). The basis of this new model named for it’s navigational and timer attributes, was based upon the Chronomat but now included an inverted outer scale so that the two logarithmic scales ran in parallel in a clockwise direction.
However, I digress, because we are here to talk about the Chronomat, which remained fairly unchanged through the 1960’s, with minor contemporary tweaks.
The Chronomat had disappeared from the catalogue by the time we reach the 1970s and the period of the mechanical watch industry sapping quartz movement. We should not confuse the Chronomat with the similar monikered Chronomatic, of course. This incredibly important watch was designed in a joint venture with Heuer, Hamilton-Bruen and Dubois-Depraz. This heralded a new era of horology as the first ever automatic chronograph movement (hence Chronomatic – an amalgamation of Chronograph and Automatic).
The next instalment came in the brand’s centenary year, 1984, when the Chronomat was re-introduced by Ernest Schneider. As previously mentioned, the advent of the far cheaper and accurate quartz movement by Seiko created havoc in the Swiss luxury watch industry, with many brands having to file for bankruptcy. Breitling were unable to avoid this dire situation with sales dropping dramatically from the mid 1970’s, despite introducing quartz models of their own. In 1977 it even produced a battery powered Navitimer with an LCD display, which would have seemed heresy a decade previous.
In 1978, with the Swiss economic system following suit, with an over-valued Swiss Franc and suppliers disappearing, Willy Breitling was forced to close the doors of his 96 year old family run business. Despite the Montbrillant factory closing and all staff having been laid off, Willy Breitling was determined to keep the Breitling name within the Swiss watch industry, where it deserved to be. Georges Caspari, Breitling’s now redundant advertising executive, recommended an old Swiss Army buddy to Willy Breitling. Ernest Schneider was an electronics engineer and had specialised in transmissions with the Swiss Army. Since 1957 he had been director of the Sicura Watch company that had a growing business of over 300 employees. This was due to innovations with solar cells and quartz watches. Schneider was also a big aviation enthusiast with a pilot’s license and his own plane. He was a fan of Breitling’s pilot’s watches and owned several at this point. Upon being approached by Caspari he did not hesitate. On 6th April 1979 Ernest Schneider bought the Breitling Watch Company and all of its rights. Willy Breitling sadly died just 39 days later but his family name would live on. Within 25 years it had grown to become one of the top five luxury watch brands in the world.
Ernest Schneider brought his considerable knowledge of quartz watches to Breitling and the company was soon gaining momentum. However, Schneider was all too aware of Breitling’s illustrious career that was founded on mechanical chronograph timepieces. It was at a time when Schneider was considering paying homage to Breitling’s legacy that, in 1983, he learnt that the Italian Army’s Frecce Tricolori, the world’s most prestigious aerobatic team, was issuing an invitation to tender for its official timepiece. Furthermore, the timing was perfect because the watch that was necessitated by the Italians needed to be a mechanical chronograph. Unlike the other watch brands that contacted the Italian display team, Schneider didn’t want to adapt an existing model but, instead, he aspired to create one from scratch. This was a great opportunity to design something new that had built in advertising and integrity from the start. In 1983 the Breitling Frecce Tricolori was revealed.
1983 Frecce Tricolori
The case, pushers, crown and bracelet were all new. However, it was the bezel markers at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 O’clock positions that were the most contemporary elements. These rider tabs, as they become known, were designed by Schneider to protect the crystal against impacts and also ensured optimal handling whilst wearing pilot’s gloves.
Schneider realised immediately that he had created a potential flagship model for Breitling. The brand’s centenary year of 1984 was celebrated with the introduction of this brand new model.
This was a brave decision because the current trend was still for ultra-thin, highly accurate, cheap quartz watches. However, the new Chronomat, named in reverence to the 1942 original, was a success and has been the brand’s main identifier, alongside its sibling the Navitimer, ever since. More importantly, it allowed Schneider to pay homage to Breitling’s innovative and successful history in mechanical chronographs.
The next defining amendment came in 2009 when Breitling’s superb in-house chronograph calibre 01 was housed in a new Chronomat. This polarising and radical new design was derided by the press and Breitling fans alike at its inception mainly due to the bezel numerals that seemed to be at odds with the rest of the watch. However, due to its immaculate detailing and finishing it has since become a popular stalwart of the Breitling catalogue.
I realise I have glossed over the enormously successful Chronomat Evo but that was really just, as the title intimates, an evolution of the 1984 model.
On first view the new for 2020 Chronomat B01 42 may seem like a radical redesign over the current catalogue Chronomat 44 but it is more pertinent to the style of the 1984 model, itself a re-introduction of the 1942 original Chronomat. For me this is the most triumphant and sympathetic interpretation of Ernest Schneider’s original vision of 36 years ago.
All steel. Black dial. Reference AB01341B1A1. £6650
The case, bezel, dial, markers, pushers and crown have all been redesigned. But, it is that outrageous reinterpretation of the classic “Rouleaux” bracelet that catches the eye first.
All Steel. Copper dial. Reference AB0134101K1A1. £6650
The pushers and crown are more reminiscent of the ‘Schneider’ 1984 Chronomat than any others that have been produced by Breitling since. They are housed in a billet section on the case side that rises from the case to become a sculptured crown protector. I am certainly glad they have made the screw down pusher collars redundant. It made fast access to the chronograph impossible, unless you left them open all the time, and then it just looked awkward. The half onion crown continues to serve its design purpose by offering excellent grip without any discomfort to the user. It also looks exquisite, with a discrete flying B logo on its outer surface.
The dials are dynamic without being ostentatious. The recessed subdials have a circular pattern that ripples from the centre and stops one third short of the periphery. These small details add distinction and topography to the dials. The sunburst colours employed are kaleidoscopic as they capture the differing light.
The bezel is uni-directional and moves with just enough resistance to allow ease of use without compromising security of pre-ordained positioning. The rider tabs still enable optimum grip, despite the integrated redesign followed through from the Chronomat 44. It is a much classier design as well. I’m not sure why there are one minute integer markers on the top half of the bezel only. I guess it is to maintain symmetry because it serves no practical use I can think of. Only the first 15 minutes of a diver’s bezel need have each minute identified. There are some subtle design nuances using polished chamfered edges that really lift this bezel from the norm.
The rest of the 200m water resistant case is meticulously polished throughout. I particularly like the 45° top edge that swathes the entire length of the case sides.
The diameter reduction of 2mm from the Chronomat 44 doesn’t sound like much but it aids comfort through size and weight and makes the Chronomat 01 42 less fatiguing and, therefore, more enjoyable to wear long term.
The glorious and technically proficient in-house 01 movement can be witnessed through the sapphire exhibition case back. This voyeuristic porthole was a pre-requisite of any Chronomat redesign, in my opinion, because the Chronometer rated 47 jewel 01 calibre is one of the most beautiful and well thought out chronograph movements of the new millennium. Breitling created this calibre from scratch which allowed them to incorporate incredibly useful, but surprisingly rare, features such as a safe date change, a patent that allows the reset pusher to be accidentally pressed whilst the chronograph is running without having the potential to cause catastrophic damage, a 70 hours power reserve from a single barrel and a modular construction that allows easy access to vital components for servicing and regulating without disturbing the chronograph architecture. Please see my overview of this mechanical marvel below:
Interestingly, unlike all other previous Chronomats, there is not an option to buy the new model (apart from the solid 18ct Red Gold) on a strap. The lug width remains a standard 22mm, so you can purchase leather, rubber or crocodile straps retrospectively and have them fitted. But, why would you? The bracelet on the new collection is an absolute show stopper. It takes the stunning original design and redefines it for today’s market with remarkable sympathy. It begs the question: Why did it take Breitling half a century to do this?
The all new Chronomat B01 42 will be available in all steel, steel and 18ct red gold – with steel bezel and steel bracelet – steel and 18ct red gold – with full gold bezel and bi-metal bracelet – and full 18ct red gold on strap and folding clasp unit.
Below is a flavour of the Chronomat B01 range. A full list of dials, materials straps and bracelets that are available can be found here.
Steel and 18ct Red Gold. Silver dial. Reference IB0134101G1A1. £7590.
Steel and 18ct Red Gold. Blue dial. Reference UB0134101C1U1. £9750
18ct Red Gold on folding clasp. Anthracite dial. Reference RB0134101B1S1. £15950
Frecce Tricolori Limited Edition. Reference AB01344A1C1A1. £6780.
Only 250 pieces will be made.
Chronomat B01 42 Bentley. Reference AB01343A1L1A1. £6650
I appreciate that all design is subjective. We are all uniquely discerning in our tastes, preferences and perceptions. The world would be a boring place….yadda…..yadda. However, there is so much to like about the brand new Breitling Chronomat B01 42 that I defy anyone not to appreciate it.
It is beautifully striking to behold. It is unerringly accurate and reliable. The design is at once alluring through its considered detailing and durable construction. The case is a rare blend of utilitarian sophistication. Every single observable detail is singularly delightful and yet they all come together with their component associates to create a spellbinding and handsome entity.
It is even difficult to balk at the price. For your hard earnt six and a half grand you are receiving, arguably, one of the best sub £10000 chronograph movements available, from one of the highest regarded luxury watch brands in the world who are famous for numerous innovations and technological breakthroughs with said movement. The five year warranty is peace of mind and a reflection of the confidence Breitling has in its movement and case assembly expertise.
Functional ownership of the Chronomat B01 42 is a rewardingly tactile affair, through the wonderfully efficient crown and pushers to the confidence inspiring and accurate bezel. And, as breathtakingly gorgeous as it is, the new bracelet really starts to make sense when you have the Chronomat 01 42 on your wrist.
If I have any criticisms it is only the insignificant fact that I prefer the outgoing hour markers. Other than that, I love everything about it. For a brand that manages to sell 700,000 timepieces per year, from an eclectic assortment of styles, the Chronomat B01 42 is my favourite Breitling watch for a long, long time.
When customers come to purchase a luxury watch from me, I always ask them to consider two main criteria. Do you like the look of the watch? Do you like the feel of the watch? I will be recommending the Chronomat B01 42 to a lot of my customers.
The Chronomat B01 42 is not only inspired by a 36 year old icon, but also a desire to place the Breitling chronograph back to the top of the horological tree, just like the star that it is.