Breitling for Bentley Barnato Racing
I have been generously leant this Barnato Racing by Andrew Michaels Jewellers for review.
If you have read most of my previous watch reviews you will know that I purposefully shy away from the car-watch analogies. The main reason for this is that these descriptive similes are used readily by those that frequent watch forums. It’s a universal method for explaining the specifics of a particular timepiece. I will not be making any car-watch correlations within this review but I will be highlighting multiple parallels between one famous luxury car manufacturer and a highly established high end watch manufacturer. No prizes for guessing: Bentley and Breitling, respectively.
Let’s face it: if you are of the demographic who like high end timepieces you probably also know a reasonable amount about high end motor cars. Both are highly covetable objects that go way beyond their functionality. Both are driven by mechanical engines whose designers and artisans are motivated by reliability and desirability.
I also think that this is the reason why the car-watch brand amalgamations are rife within the latter industry. Most of these are generic and irrelevant product placement campaigns that are supposedly strategic business decisions for each brand involved. The Breitling for Bentley partnership is, however, one of those rare brand marriages that was supposed to be:
This successful relationship started in 2003 when Breitling became a key sponsor for Bentley during their triumphant return to the Le Mans 24 hour race when they won this most difficult, treacherous and demanding race. This was a feat that Bentley had previously achieved in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. This accomplishment is made even more impressive when you consider that the Le Mans 24 Hour Race was first ran in 1923. To commemorate this incredible return to Le Mans winning ways Breitling created an oversized wrist watch that borrowed design cues from both the modern Bentley range and also the race cars that enjoyed multiple victories in the 1920s. This beautifully crafted and technically impressive timepiece had 30 second chronograph, for added accuracey in reading off measured times, and a 24 hour dial, to reflect the 24 gruelling hours of the famous Le Mans race. This first time piece was christened the Bentley Le Mans Limited Edition and its immediate success gave the impetus for the comprehensive range of Breitling for Bentley timepieces available today.
The Breitling for Bentley venture would result in the watch manufacture creating the in dash clocks for the Bentley range.
These two luxury marques were also both able to draw on unprecedented histories which allowed them to source inspiration from traditional values. Both brands have never lost their true virtues in their long accomplished past and have never lost sight of their roots, with both of them being started by technical geniuses; Messieurs Breitling and Bentley. Leon Breitling founded his own watch company in the Swiss town of St. Imier in 1884. Walter Owen Bentley moved away from developing aircraft engines and used his talents to make luxury cars when he founded Bentley Motors Ltd in 1919. Finally, Breitling and Bentley really do seem to be made for each other when you consider that they both have always had their own interpretation of the Flying B as their logo:
The Breitling for Bentley Barnato timepieces are also derived by significant histories:
Joel Woolf Barnato is well known as being one of the Bentley Boys that won the prestigious Le Mans race three times with Bentley, but he was so much more to the luxury car manufacturer than that:
Joel Woolf Barnato was born on September 1895. He was a British financier and racing driver. Barnato served as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery, British Army in World War I. Serving in France, Egypt and Palestine, he attained the rank of Captain in the latter stages of the war.
Barnato was a natural sportsman. He played cricket and was wicket-keeper with Surrey County Cricket Club from 1928 to 1930.
Barnato was the son of a wealthy gold miner and acquired his first Bentley, a 3 litre, in 1925. This was 12 months before he also acquired the business itself. With this car he won numerous Brooklands races.
He was a member of a social set of wealthy British motorists known as the “Bentley Boys” who favoured the cars of W. O. Bentley. Many were independently wealthy like Barnato.
Barnato was inspired by the 1924 Le Mans win by John Duff and Frank Clement and, as a result agreed to finance Bentley’s business.
With this renewed financial input, W. O. Bentley was able to design another generation of cars, the six-cylinder 6½ Litre.
Having acquired his first Bentley in 1925, Barnato won numerous Brooklands races with this car. As a driver, Barnato was the most successful of the Bentley Boys. He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race three times: In 1928 with Bernard Rubin in a Bentley 4½ Litre, in 1929 with Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin in a Bentley Speed Six and in 1930 with Glen Kidston in a Bentley Speed Six.
As these were the only years in which he entered the race, Barnato is the only Le Mans driver with a perfect wins-to-starts ratio. Whilst Barnato was chairman Bentley also won Le Mans in 1927, with Dr. J. Dudley Benjafield and S. C. H. Davis in a Bentley 3 Litre.
Barnato later won the Brooklands Six Hour Race and Double Twelve Race in 1930. Barnato was Duff’s co-driver when he set the world 24 hour record at 95.03 miles per hour (152.94 km/h) at Autodrome de Montlhéry. He was regarded by W.O. Bentley as “The best driver we ever had and, I consider, the best British driver of his day. One who never made a mistake and always obeyed orders.”
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 affected the Bentley business greatly and resulted in Barnato being unable to continue to finance the company. The Great Depression significantly reduced the demand for the company’s expensive products. In July 1931 two mortgage payments on the firm that were guaranteed by Barnato fell due, and accepting the inevitable, he advised the lenders that he was “unable to meet these debts.” On 10 July, on the application of the mortgagee, the court appointed a Receiver to Bentley Motors Limited. After a period where it appeared that Napier was going to acquire the business, the firm passed into the hands of Rolls-Royce in November 1931 for the sum of £125,000 after a sealed bid auction.
So, after those two introductory justifications on why The Breitling for Bentley Barnato Racing is an homage to significant history let’s enjoy the wonderful details of the watch itself.
This 49mm diameter watch successfully traverses the sports/dress watch divide, in my opinion. Yes it is extremely large, too large for me sadly, but it is so beautifully realised with such exquisitely detailed design elements that it looks perfect in all situations.
The Barnato racing is also a technical tour de force as well, with it’s 30 seconds chronograph and unique subdials that utilise rotating wheels rather than depending on the usual rotating micro hands. This is made possible by Breitling’s Calibre 25B , which also incorporates a date display and is COSC certified, as are all Breitling movements, of course. This can clearly be seen through the sapphire caseback in the following image along with the superb winding rotor which utilises the modern Bentley alloy wheels as its inspiration.
The crown and pushbuttons are perfunctory. The crown is easy to grip but, at the same time, is comfortable to apply the necessary pressure required for unscrewing, etc.
The subdial totalisers are one of the main unique and stand-out features of this timepiece. Instead of the usual small dial and hand that is employed universally for a small seconds or chronograph subdial the Barnato Racing incorporates a disc-type display which rotates to indicate the reading adjacent to a red arrow head pointer. Not only is this unique display mechanism enchanting to behold but it is also visually efficient. In addition to this the chronograph, as already mentioned, is a 30 second affair. This additional unique visual feature means that the seconds hand traverses the large dial twice the velocity of a typical 60 seconds chronograph and is truly mesmerising because of this alone. Add to this the disc totalisers and Breitling have pulled out all of the stops to create something incredibly visually appealing and justifiably unique for this high end timepiece.
Remarkably, for the reasons stated above, the Barnato Racing chronograph only has three hands. The hour and minute hands are simple yet beautifully finished examples that stand out well even against the silver dial. The chronograph seconds hand lends a sporty appearance with its deep red finish.
The hour and minute hands remain visible though out the night thanks to their liberal application of superluminova.
The date display aperture is between the 4 and 5 O’clock positions, mainly due to the lack of dial real estate. This useful feature has not been overlooked in the design department and as a result is presented in a nice deep maroon hue which is, at once, classical and contemporary.
The bezel is one of the most immediate visual elements that impacts the senses when first viewing the round Bentley range of timepieces. Apart from the knurled bezel of the Bentley Motors, these have been designed in homage to the superb grill of the current range of Bentley cars. It is this kind of design thought process that lifts the Breitling for Bentley range above the myriad of generic Watch Brand/Car Brand timepieces on the market.
A similarly exquisite and nice touch is the fact that Breitling utilise the actual paint colours for the dials of the Bentley range. So, instead of flat black, white, etc or sunburst blue, red, etc at best, the Bentley timepieces are mostly metallic or pearlescent which mirrors the luxury refinement of the Bentley cars. Breitling’s own “Flying B” applied logo is also a well thought out component.
Maintaining the theme of design elements the case structure is one of the nicest I have seen. It somehow integrates bold, strong lines with soft, subtle curvatures. Another deference to the stunning coachwork of the current Bentley vehicles.
There is no getting away from the fact that the Barnato Racing is a huge watch. At 49mm diameter it is large even by today’s current trend for timepieces that are there to be noticed from a distance. With this in mind maybe the seemingly excessive size of the Breitling for Bently range is justified: It’s usually almost impossible to tell what’s on the wrist of a Bentley driver as they cruise past. If you do like large watches then this timepiece is a treat but, even with my unconventionally small wrists, the well thought-out ergonomics have resulted in a remarkably comfortable watch to wear.
The chronograph function is enhanced by the inclusion of a tachymetric scale which allows the user to perform various calculations on time elapsed, such as units per hour, speed, distance travelled, etc.
I am truly grateful and have truly enjoyed the opportunity to borrow and discover the Breitling for Bentley Barnato Racing. I was initially concerned about the size but this was totally unfounded because this oversized 49mm watch is incredibly comfortable to wear. Its 2 inch diameter does produce pre-emptive impressions that it will be an overbearing burden on the average man’s wrist but this is simply not so when considering comfort, although there’s no getting away from the fact that it still looks huge. Although, if you are going to wear a massive timepiece that will constantly attract attention then it should be beautiful to behold and the Barnato racing is most definitely so. I also had misgivings about the inclusion of the “steering wheel” subdials on an otherwise elegantly designed dial that took obvious design inspirations from the exquisite Bentley cars and the relevance of a 30 seconds chronograph. Yet again I was delighted to have been proven wrong: The unique subdials are innovative and in no way gimmickry. They fit neatly within the philosophy of both Breitling’s and Bentley’s ideals of offering the future whilst remaining true to their illustrious histories. The 30 seconds chronograph is mesmerising and exclusive.
Not only do I have reservations about using car-watch analogies but I also don’t like to use review clichés. However, I’m moved to conclude that the Barnato Racing really does offer everything a watch of this prestigious aspirations should: Exquisite design detailing, exemplary fit and finish, utilitarian functionality, large enough to be substantially reassuring but cleverly designed to allow long term comfort and, most of all, prestige. Yes this is an expensive timepiece but the breeding of two of the best artisans in their respective fields shines through. Exclusivity and prestige are expected givens. Delight in ownership and usage are not.
All words and images by Richard Atkins, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the permission of the author.