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Breitling wowed the world (Baselworld to be precise) when they announced the Emergency II in March 2014. Not only was this watch the first ever to carry a SARSAT Personal Location Beacon but it was also over twice as expensive as the outgoing Emergency and a customer base reducing 51mm in diameter. However, the press and public alike loved it. There was no question that the Emergency II is a stunning looking timepiece.
Fast forward 1 year and Breitling stole the show again with the all new Cockpit B50 using the very same aesthetics as the much heralded Emergency II.
Grey and Black Dial versions are also available.
This was such a clever introduction as it allowed those customers who could not wear the 51mm Emergency II and, let’s be brutally honest, couldn’t afford it, to have the very same gorgeous case and dial design. It also allowed the biggest initial fanfare for their first ever in-house quartz movement which, typically for Breitling, is the most function rich movement ever.
The B50 was, quite understandably, an immediate success. Nothing else on the market was even close to the complexity of this ultimate professional tool watch.
Here are a few details of this remarkable wrist instrument:
The Lume is very bright and long lasting
The Grade 5 Titanium case is beautifully sculptured
Applied numbers and Breitling logo add a hint of luxury to this tool watch
Cockpit B50 Caseback highlights Ground to Air Visual Signal Codes
We are blessed with the B55 Exospace Connected. The title is a giveaway in that it highlights the upgrade over the B50 whereby your watch can be operated and read from your smart phone via a free to download app.
I do believe the Super Watch is finally here.
The instructions on functionality and personalisation for the Cockpit B50 and B55 are covered in vast detail within a 50 page manual. I shall do my best to simply extol the highlights:
- Time and 2nd timezone are all simply set as hour increments and decrements from UTC. 15 minute and 30 minute timezone differentials are also accommodated.
- The 2nd timezone can be swapped with the main time with a press of a pushbutton. This is then reflected in the alarms and times being recorded in the Pilot’s log function.
- The minute and hour hands can be effectively “parked” at a time of 9:15 to allow an uninterrupted view of the digital display, should the information portrayed be of particular interest or importance.
- The watch can be “Locked” onto a function by double pressing the crown. This allows the current function to remain undisturbed even if any of the pushbuttons are pressed.
- The alarm can be set to weekly, weekend or any permutation of days within the week.
- The alarm has a vibration option which can be used with or without the audible alarm.
- The analogue time display can be displayed with a combination of digital time, date, day of the week or number of week in the year.
- The B50 and B55 are recharged from the magnetic connector on the left side of the case. This takes a few hours and then lasts about three months, depending on usage. A display option highlights the battery level as a percentage.
- Once the charge level has reached 10% all functionality of the watch is removed and is entered into a time-only mode. This allows the watch to still be used if the user is away from a charger.
- The 100th/second flyback chronograph has a split seconds function.
- The backlight can be programmed to come on when the wrist is moved to a position of 30 degrees from the horizontal (in other words the usual position a watch dial is moved to so it can be viewed).
- The tachymeter for the chronograph can be set to a multitude of measurement types. KM/hour, Meters/second, knots/hour, etc.
- The Pilots functions include a 20 record log for flights which includes take off time and date, landing time and date and duration.
- There is also a Mission Elapsed time function that allows a preset countdown timer to then switch automatically to a count up operation.
- A 100th /second Lap Timer with a 50 Lap memory can record individual events up to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
- The countdown timer can be set up to an impressive 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
Again this is covered in detail within the manual so I shall simply hit you with the bullet points:
- There are four levels of back light intensity available.
- The backlight can also be set to three preset durations of illumination; Short, Medium or Long.
- The back light can be set up come on with a flick of the wrist only between the hours of 24:00 and 6:00. The backlight is also reduced during this period if selected.
- The watch can be placed into Sport mode, whereby all Pilot’s functions are removed to make accessing the everyday functions easier.
- The digital display can be set to only come on when activated or with the backlight.
- The alarm can be set to vibrate/sound, vibrate only or sound only.
- The Hand Park mode can be set to revert to time after 5 mins or when the crown is double pressed.
- An optional audible “tone” can be programmed to sound for each button press.
Not a brand to sit on their Laurels, Breitling have now introduced the definitive multifunctional wrist watch with the aforementioned B55 Exospace.
This cleverly takes all that the brilliant B50 can do and allows the owner to operate and personalise the watch using a free Ios or Android app for their smart phone.
The only negative aspect of the B50 was as a result of its most positive aspect: The sheer depth of functionality and personalisation from two pushbuttons and the crown. Trawling through the myriad of menus never becomes a chore but it can become time consuming. Likewise, it can be difficult to remember all the contents of the 50 page manual. (A manual is included in the app for the B55).
So, having all of this interaction in an easy to use, easy to view and easy to follow large screen format is a godsend.
The case aesthetics are slightly different whilst the dial remains almost identical to the B50. The pushers now have faux screw in security collars and the immaculately LASER etched bezel has polished rider tabs which, along with the applied Breitling logo at the 12 O’clock position, reflects the high end status of this digital/analogue watch. The overall appearance is more clinical and utilitarian but both designs are just as purposeful.
There is also now a choice of black or blue hands, depending on the model.
All Titanium, Titanium on Rubber and Night Mission versions
The B55 is more comfortable on the average wrist than the B50 simply due to length and girth. The new Diver Pro III rubber straps from Breitling with their patented synthetic material have always been comfortable, especially when married to the incrementally adjustable Pushbutton Clasp Unit.
B55 Exospace on the wrist
Cockpit B50 on the wrist
The new rubber strap, designed specifically for the B55, is the nicest rubber strap I’ve seen from Breitling. The blue hue is well chosen and I would also like to think a reflection of the Bluetooth connectivity, as are the new design hands.
Bluetooth connection to my smart phone was simple as I followed the easy-to-understand instructions included. Once the Ios or Android app is downloaded to the phone, and Bluetooth connectivity is enabled for both devices, a password is displayed on the watch which then has to be entered on the phone.
The app is easy to use and controls all aspects of the B55. Personalisation is also carried out to the nth degree through the app. Information for the Lap Timer, Mission Elapsed Time and Flight Logs can be stored on the phone if required. There is no paper manual supplied for the app but each page has its own instruction panel.
Each time you enter the app on your phone it automatically turns your Bluetooth on (because as we all know you shouldn’t leave this on unless you need it). With the B55 set to Connect all the time the two will automatically synchronise.
Even my wife, who normally stifles a yawn when I break into one of my horological monologues, declared the B55 very cool when a notification of an incoming email lit the display up, sounded the buzzer and vibrated the watch.
Caller ID is shown on the top display with time stamp on the lower display.
Lume is just as impressive as for the Cockpit B50
In addition ICAO codes for various airports can be picked up by your smart phone and transposed to the log on the B55. These can also be entered manually. I have no idea what an ICAO code is but if you are a professional pilot you will be aware of the benefit of this which is also another reflection of the level of thought and detail that has gone into this uber watch.
So here’s a quick challenge after you have read the above: If you were to design a multi-function analogue/digital watch could you improve on the Cockpit B50 and B55 Exospace? Unlike mechanical movements, we all know that, with the constant miniaturisation of electronics, incredible functionality can be performed within a very small microprocessor. So, your limitations are pretty much your imagination.
The Breitling developers and designers took this to heart more than any other watch manufacturer to date.
Even when I give my passionate (some say nerdy) presentations on Escapements, Perpetual Calendars, Tourbillons, etc, I can wrap up easily within a couple of minutes or so. With the Cockpit B50 or B55 Exospace I simply try to offer the listener an introduction to the vast functionality and personalisation. This can take over ten minutes! For the lucky purchasers of these fine wrist instruments it will take over an hour to read and consume the manual to its fullest. Trust me I have done this myself.
So, how long did it take to first conceive a wish list for the Cockpit B50 and then implement it? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way, but it makes my mind boggle at the level of engineering and design thought processing that have gone into the B50 and B55.
Breitling’s attitude of continuous improvement has resulted in the B55 Exospace. It is their clever answer to the connected watch, or smart watch as it is commonly referred. Because the Cockpit B50 is aimed at the professional, especially Pilots, who require a multifunctional timepiece with an easy-to-use interface there is no real need for heart rate monitors or number of steps performed in a day, etc. (Incidentally, these latter functions in smart watches are notoriously inaccurate and susceptible to interference). Instead, Breitling created the Ios and Android apps that allow complete control of your B55 from your smart phone.
The other bonus of this option for connectivity is that the watch will never be obsolete, unlike all other smart watches, because there are no firmware updates and any software updates are related to the phone itself.
Both watches have sapphire glass, titanium cases and are water resistant to 100m, which is all you’ll ever need if you’re not a professional deep sea diver. So, you can wear these smart timepieces wherever and however you like with very few concerns. They really are the only watch you should ever need.
One negative point I need to point out is that the range for the Bluetooth connectivity is only about 10m. This, of course, isn’t normally a problem as your smart phone will usually be in your pocket, rucksack, jacket, etc. But I do feel that if this range were to be expanded it would allow you to be charging your phone in one room with the freedom to then roam your house, offices, etc and still receive notifications.
Also, the app is not currently available for some older smart phones. I had no issues running the app on my non-current Samsung 5 Neo.
If there are to be any upgrades in the future I would like to see the GPS functionality of every smart phone transposed over to the B55. This could take flight logging to another level as one of many potential benefits.
One benefit, which is not mentioned in the marketing material issued by Breitling, is that if you should misplace your B55 around your home you can set the alarm off from your phone and locate the watch as a result.
So, in conclusion, if you desire, or even need, the most accurate, functional rich and yet, easy to use wrist watch available then the Cockpit B50 or B55 Exospace were designed for you.
The B50 and B55 are the ultimate digital/analogue watches and will, most probably, remain so for a long time.
Never before in Breitling’s long and illustrious history has their tag line “Instruments for Professionals” been so relevant.
My thanks go to Andrew Michaels Jewellers for lending me the watches highlighted above for review.
All words and images by Richard Atkins unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part with permission from the author.