During the 126 years of Breitling’s illustrious horological history there are three main events that stand out, for me, as a reflection of the brand’s ability to create “Instruments for Professionals”, which is their own befitting tag line. I appreciate that Breitling makes some wonderful and class leading tool watches that focus on requirements not at all intended for pilots. However, in my opinion it is their pilot’s watches that are the soul of Breitling’s identity.
The first significant event takes us all the way back to 1942 when Breitling incorporated a circular sliderule into their new Chronomat model. This innovation allowed pilots to calculate important, even life saving, calculations.
The second event took place in May 1962 when NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter wore his own Navitimer “Cosmonaute” wrist watch during his orbital flight aboard the Aurora 7 space capsule. This made the Cosmonaute the first ever space-worn wrist chronograph. The Cosmonaute had been designed by Breitling to show the time in a 24 hour display, whereby the hour hand made one complete rotation of the dial every 24 hours. This was opposed to the usual 12 hours. This allowed space travellers to be able to differentiate between day and night, being experienced by their colleagues, friends and family on earth. An impossible task in the complete blackness of space with a simple 12 hour display.
The third, but in no way final, important event occurred in 1969 when Breitling, in co-operation with Hamilton-Buren, Dubois Depraz and Heuer-Leonidas, released the very first automatic winding chronograph timepiece.
Being an engineer I herald any great technical achievement and in my opinion the three mentioned above deserve celebratory recognition.
So, it should come as no surprise that my ideal Breitling would incorporate all three of these technical, groundbreaking and historically significant features. Well, would you believe it, there is such a watch. I must thank Breitling for being aware of their achievements and releasing a beautiful wrist instrument that celebrates these momentous events and acts as a solid reminder of Breitling’s position at the top of the pilot watch manufacture tree. Such a watch could easily have become a mismatch of design elements but I am happy, well ecstatic really, that Breitling have managed to create a timepiece that looks like it was always meant to be. This is the very limited edition Rose Gold Chronomatic 24H:
As can be seen from the above shot the use of Rose Gold has allowed this watch to become a passable dress watch whilst, at the same time, realising it’s aspirations as a genuine tool watch. This really is one of those rare wrist watches that is able to straddle both genres with ease. This is due to the wonderful warmth of the Rose Gold, which has to be seen in real life to be truly appreciated and will never be given it’s true character and depth in photographs. Whilst I appreciate the plastic bezel guard of the new Chronomatic 49 models reflect the original 1969 design I am so pleased that Breitling have decided to emphasise this original design element by incorporating a textured finish to this part of the bezel that perfectly counterbalances the polished gold of the rest of the watch. The amalgamation with the luxurious hand stitched brown crocodile strap further highlights this deep and lustrous material.
With all Navitimer styled watches that incorporate the proprietary circular slide rule this Chronomatic can look a little busy and even over designed at first glance. However, nothing is superfluous. No element of the design is additional to anything other than providing a 24 hour dialled chronograph wrist watch with the aforementioned built in calculator. With very little use both the time function and the other features become very user friendly. The time may take that little longer to work out but I view this as a bonus and an excuse to gaze upon this truly gorgeous timepiece for extended periods.
Designing a watch that is at once a utilitarian tool and a beautiful object to behold requires meticulously finished and well thought out details. I honestly get the impression that the designers had to dig deep into their repertoire of techniques to come up with this design that allows six complications on a 35mm diameter dial without looking cluttered or without having any one complication either becoming lost or overbearing.
So, let’s address those six complications, and stimulants to the senses, separately.
Date: The usual aperture display is used here but it becomes a highlight due to the matt rose gold window. This is very attractive against the black dial. The date changes quickly and very close to the passing of the day.
24 hour display: This is the second feature that most people notice, after the stunning rose gold case. It is not only of interest that reflects its unique look but is also historically significant, as already mentioned above. I confess that it has thrown me a few times, but I love this added playful, almost impudent,nature that requires that little extra from the user.
Seconds sub dial: I love the fact that the second hand is the same retro 1970’s profile of the original 1969 Chronomatic. The fact that it is now in rose gold gives a great juxtaposition between old (original 40 year old design) and new (modern material).
Chronograph with flyback: This is my first watch with a flyback chronograph. This added function is not only a unique and premium additional feature, as far as practicality goes, but it also reflects the high end status of this timepiece. The minute counter for the chronograph is unique in the fact that the elapsed time is a true display. In other words, the minute does not simply incrementally step to the next minute once a full minute has passed, as per the usual method.
Slide Rule: Some functions are redundant for me on many watches. I love the fact that this watch has a fly-back chronograph but, if I was being perfectly honest, I play with it more than I use it. The slide rule on my Chronomatic, however, does get used. Mainly for transposing mph into kmph when watching motorsports on TV but also for quick multiplications and currency conversions. I agree with most opinions that the circular slide rule does make for a busy looking dial, but I like my dials to have a lot going on. Not only is there the benefit of added utility but also it adds to the tool look of a watch and, as mentioned previously, I like the fact that sometime you do have to look fixedly for extended periods to realise the time. A point worth repeating with this watch.
Tachymeter: Not only does the watch incorporate a full slide rule, and all of the mathematical functionality that goes with it, but there is a tachymetric scale to calculate units per hour, etc when combined with the chronograph.
Other highlights that make this Chronomatic ultra special include that glorious rose gold watch case*, the very limited production run of just 250**, the extraordinary luminosity*** and one of the most beautiful wooden boxes I have ever seen****.
* I would never buy a gold watch just to have a timepiece that is made from a precious metal. I am a self confessed watch freak so the movement and complications of a timepiece are of far more importance to me. That is why this Limited Edition Chronomatic is perfectly acceptable in a precious metal: Multiple complications applied to a Chronometer rated movement with the added mouth watering garnish of the rose gold. I have to say, however, that I may be a convert because the rose gold is simply stunning to behold. This Chronomatic isn’t simply enhanced because it is made of a metal that is purer and more difficult to work with than stainless steel, and therefore far more costly, it is enhanced because it is aesthetically better. The combination of large tool-oriented rose gold case with the thick large scale crocodile strap is the ideal marriage for enhancing the looks of this already great looking timepiece.
** There are many so-called limited edition watches on the market. This is always going to make a watch feel at least a little bit special. However, when that numbered edition is just 250 this does truly represent rarity and exclusivity. I would feel smug, in a non offensive way of course, with ownership of this watch regardless, but knowing that I am part of a very lucky few people who get to admire this watch first hand on a daily (hourly………….minute by minute?) basis makes me feel positively prudish.
*** The Luminosity is not so much extraordinary because of it’s brightness but because of the application, which gives a unique night time display. However, having said that the lume is bright enough to allow it to glow a different colour during low light conditions. The colour is a slight blue hue which I really like, although the jury is out as to whether it balances well with the rose gold. Having a luminous tip to the chronograph minute hand is zany in the extreme.
****This watch box is presented with all gold Breitlings. I feel it is a reflection of how Breitling view their own precious metal collection. Many brands chuck out gold and blinged up watches at random, in my opinion, whereas Breitling only seem to do so when they have something special to place inside the purer metal case.
I’ve waxed lyrical to the point of gushing so far in this review but nothing, as we all know, is perfect. So, what would I change about this watch? Well, trying to remain realistic and without adding any cost to the watch, for example adding a minute repeater, rattrapante chronograph, perpetual calendar, etc, (now that would be the ultimate watch but would, inevitably, cost fifteen times as much) these are the only issues I have with this watch:
1) The water resistancy is only 30m. I would prefer to have a screw down crown and, as a result, have the WR increased to at least 100m. Although I still wouldn’t take it in the water, due to the crocodile strap, but it would give the peace of mind of having a case that is almost hermetically sealed.
2) I prefer folding clasps over tang type buckles. The buckle on this watch is very difficult to operate, when removing and putting on the watch, due to the thickness and stiffness of the strap. However, with the folding clasp being manufactured in gold this would certainly increase the price of the watch dramatically and I know I wouldn’t actually be prepared to pay the extra for this. I’m sure the current strap will become more malleable with time making either operation easier.
3) I originally wasn’t sure about the red chronograph seconds hand. It took on the appearance of plastic in certain lighting, which I didn’t feel was in keeping with the rest of the wonderful high end materials utilised in the rest of the watch. However, I can appreciate the historical significance of having a red seconds hand on a Chronomatic and it does give it a great retrospective character. Also, I suppose the only alternative material for the chronograph hand would be rose gold. I actually think this would look worse and I know it would reduce the practicality.
4) The Chronomatic has a bi-compax dial. This means that the chronograph has only 30 minutes worth of individual timing. This could, obviously, be made more practical by adding a third sub dial for a 12 hour counter. However, I do appreciate, once again, the historical significance of the bi-compax dial, with respect to the original 1969 Chronomatic, and I do have the mental capacity to remember the time that the chronograph was started when timing longer events, ie parking meter times, etc. In retrospect it may actually push the dial over to a congested look which would considerably detract from the aesthetics.
Well there you go: I’ve just realised that all of the items that I’ve listed above, in an attempt to be subjective, I wouldn’t actually change any way, given the choice. It seems this 18K Rose Gold Chronomatic 24H Limited Edition is perfect for me after all.
As one final testamonial I would just like to say that I have been unable to take this watch off since I got it. It is remarkably comfortable. The 44mm diameter suits my 6.5” wrist perfectly and the added heft given by the gold case is reassuring without becoming fatiguing. I have monitored the regulation over the last three weeks and I am happy to announce that this certified chronometer is worthy of this particular horological award by virtue of being just 15 seconds fast in all of this time. I’ll allow you to do the maths on it’s average daily performance. Suffice it to say that this performance is a reflection of a watch that, even someone as fastidious as I, can find no fault.
All words and pictures by Richard Atkins (unless otherwise stated). Please ask if you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article.