As an engineer who helps put together high volume assembly and test installations I am all too familiar with the phrase Average Time To Intervention (ATTI). Simply put, this is how long a piece of equipment can run until operator intervention is required and is a great way of cutting costs if this can be made as long as possible. I also appreciate the initial elevated costs in trying to achieve this important project aspiration. Therefore, I have always been interested in the complications offered on mechanical watches by some high end brands that allow extended time to user intervention with respect to the date function.
Usually a date display on a mechanical timepiece requires altering for the months that do not have 31 days. This is because the date wheel, within the watch, has 31 numbers on it and is mechanically “programmed” to incrementally jump at around midnight every night. Therefore, for example, upon changing date at midnight on 30th April ideally the display should read the 1st (of May). However, the average mechanical timepiece does not know what the date is it only knows to move the date display on one integer. So, the owner has to adjust the date manually from the 31st to the 1st. In conclusion, these timepieces have an average ATTI of 30 days.
By adding a few components and a bit of ingenuity the date can be programmed mechanically to jump several dates if required. There are three movement designs to achieve this: The annual calendar, the four year calendar and the perpetual calendar.
The annual calendar requires just one adjustment each year. The movement can recognise months that have 30 and 31 days. Therefore, user input is required on the 1st March.
The four year calendar goes one step further and recognises that February is the odd month out and requires the date to make four increments, from the 28th February to the 1st March. The solar year lasts approximately 365 ¼ days. Hence the need for the leap year with its 366 days.
The holy grail of calendar complications is the perpetual calendar. This also recognises when there is a leap year and allows the 28th February to jump to the 29th February before jumping to the first of March the following midnight. These are, however, only accurate until the year 2100. The solar year is actually slightly less than 365 ¼ days so all years that end in 00 will not be leap years to compensate for the accumulated discrepancy.
I appreciate you may be wondering why I am waffling on about the intricacies of the Gregorian calendar in a watch review but I find it fascinating that the horologist has to overcome these obstacles to create a more user friendly timepiece. However, I’m sure the Breitling technicians and engineers responsible for the movement in the Montbrillant Olympus agree with me that if life was always easy it would be very boring.
The Breitling Montbrillant Olympus has the middle of these three date complications, the four year calendar. To give further perspective on what a great achievement this is: The average mechanical chronograph watch with date function has about 150 individual components. The Montbrillant Olympus has just shy of 250. This component count is further increased by Breitling’s decision to include another wonderful complication, the moonphase.
It could be argued that this is a fairly redundant complication these days. However, there is an almost romanticism in witnessing the waxing and waning of our nearest celestial body. Upon viewing the display we are reminded of the 42 year old global-wide goal, amalgamation and joy of visiting this ever present neighbour, for whom we rely on to survive on our own miraculous planet. There again, the moonphase complication can be achieved with a few additional components or it can be done properly. The easiest way to produce a moonphase display is to have a gear train that allows a single turn every 30 days (A ratio of 1 to 30). However, the moon cycle is actually 29.53059 days or, in other words, 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds. To achieve this actual ratio of 1 to 29.53059 would take an incredible amount of gears and would be nigh-on impossible to fit inside a watch case. It would also be prohibitively expensive. No surprise then that Breitling have opted to produce a moonphase that cycles every 29 days, 12 hours and 44 minutes. The error given over the actual moon cycle is irrelevant to you and I because it does mean that the moon phase display will have a one day error (still almost impossible to see on a moonphase display this size) in the next 122 years.
These horological wonders would be worth the admission price on their own. However, as always, Breitling have created a stunning wrist watch whereby the whole is much more than the myriad of parts.
Upon first viewing the Montbrillant Olympus the immediate reaction is “How am I suppose to know what is going on?”. There is a lot of information contained in a small amount of space. However, after very little use and practice the date and chronograph become easier to read. Note I said easier. It still is not easy compared to most chronographs on the market. Once you have come to terms with this though I feel the Montbrillant Olympus becomes the most rewarding Breitling to use. It soon becomes second nature to look for the date on the seconds sub dial, and vice versa. In fact it is this clever doubling-up of functions on to each of the three subdials that is both ingenius and yet initially daunting. It certainly possesses charm and character. Attributes that may lead to something that can be cherished for a long time.
The subdial at 12 O’clock displays both the seconds and the date.
The subdial at 6 O’clock displays both the day and the 12 hour counter for the chronograph.
The subdial at 9 O’clock displays both the month and the 30 minute counter for the chronograph.
Added to all this is Breitling’s iconic slide rule calculator, which adds a further 60 numbers to the dial…….
………..and a tachymetric scale that adds yet another 27 numbers to the dial.
One of the main reasons the Montbrillant Olympus is able to display so much information without looking cluttered or fussy is the individual details. Breitling are renowned for designing tool watches that are also, arguably, elegant. A feat that requires deep understanding of horology and aesthetics to achieve.
High on the list of these exquisite details is the “beads of rice” bezel. This is no designer’s whimsy to add a little class to this watch. This is a well thought out homage to the first AOPA Navitimers of the 1950s.
Another stunning design feature that reflects and captures Breitling’s illustrious history is the best solid case back I have ever seen. A true work of art that depicts the first Breitling factory built by the founder Leon Breitling in 1892 on Montbrillant Street, La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Other historically significant design features are the hands which are representative of one of the designs of hands that were used on the original 1942 Chronomat, the first Breitling watch to incorporate the patented slide rule calculator, as can be seen in the 1940s advert below, and the use of the original Breitling logo on both the dial and the clasp.
Despite the organised chaos on the dial, that is a given from the chronograph, date and moonphase displays, the time is very easy to read off both day and night due to the bright elegant hands and the high-contrast arabic hour markers.
The complicated date function is made easy to set by the use of push buttons within the side of the case. One criticism I would level at the Montbrillant Olympus is that it does not come with a tool for pushing these small buttons that adjust, in turn, the moonphase, date, day and month. A pen, toothpick, strap adjuster, etc will suffice but it would still have been nice.
The dial is wonderfully detailed with the subdials each having their own circular engraved finish and depth which alludes to an almost 3d effect.
The moonphase display is silver on black and gives a great representation of the night sky. There is a nice depth to the display which also reflects the seemingly infinite realms of space.
The diameter of the Montbrillant Olympus is 42.1mm which reflects both its tool and dress watch aspirations. The depth, which is a given from the complicated movement is 15.1mm. Substantial enough to know you are wearing something designed for a purpose and yet not too big to make it look out of place when dressed up.
This particular example comes with the beautifully designed and finished Navitimer bracelet. Incredibly refined and comfortable.
However, as with all of the few wrist watches that can equally pass as tool or dress watches , the Montbrillant Olympus also looks fabulous on a crocodile leather strap:
One criticism I would have of the Montbrillant Olympus is that the crown is particularly low on the side of the case.
As someone who likes to wear their watch high on the wrist this can dig into the back of the hand quite a bit. I have found that wearing it above the knuckle removes this issue altogether but it is still worth mentioning. Any other criticisms? Well, apart from the calendar being difficult and timely to set up, not at all. I honestly wouldn’t change anything. Which I why I am so bemused that these glorious timepieces are no longer being made by Breitling.
Yes, that’s right, the Montbrillant Olympus is now sadly discontinued having been present in Breitling’s catalogue from 2006 to 2009. The Montbrillant wasn’t the first watch to incorporate the awe-inspiring chronometer rated Calibre 19 four year calendar movement having initially been introduced in the, now collectable, Navitimer Olympus. This was mine, which I now sadly regret moving on:
So, if you get a chance to buy either of these amazing timepieces I would fully recommend doing so. There’s an almost smug reverence felt when wearing one of these as you look upon standard mechanical date complication watches and wonder how long it will take the owner, when the time comes, to realise that it is the 1st already and not the 31st as their watch has led them to believe. These beautiful highly complicated tool/dress watches are destined to become classics very soon in my humble opinion.
As always, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Andrew Michaels Jewellers for their trust and generosity in lending me this Montbrillant Olympus for this review.
All words and pictures by Richard Atkins (unless otherwise stated). Please ask if you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article.