Updated: Apr 4
The first time I remember hearing about Breitling was probably somewhere around 2003 in a music video, where it represented an oversized, gaudy accessory, which undoubtedly left a lasting impression on me. Admittedly, this was a long time before I started gaining any significant interest in watches. Several years later I remember being asked what I thought of Breitling as a first great watch after college and I very quickly dismissed the idea. I have to admit, Breitling never truly captured my attention until more recently.
I didn't engage with Breitling again until I found out that my father-in-law’s grail watch was and remains a Breitling. About two years ago I did manage to talk him out of buying a Colt, but he remains fiercely captivated by the brand. As my father-in-law approaches retirement, he is again considering his grail watch purchase, and so I have capitulated. I decided to spend some time digging into the brand in an effort to provide some educated advice ...
Once I started exploring, it turned out that Breitling has a lot more to offer than I thought and a very strong following. If you happen to fall into that Breitling enthusiast category I recommend checking out the Breitling Forum at Watchuseek. They have a lot of interesting folks that are eager to talk anything Breitling. That being said, here are a few things I thought I'd share with you:
A Brief History of Breitling
Leon Breitling, who founded the company in 1884, and his son Gaston, were obsessed with the measurement of time. In 1915, Gaston developed the first chronograph with a separate push button beside the crown. It was only a few years later when he also developed the first chronograph with two separate push buttons. Consider, that in the 1920s this was a revolutionary innovation and still remains the way most mechanical chronographs are used today.
Breitling’s pursuit for the best measuring tools, led Gaston’s son, Willy to develop the company’s most iconic watch. Many of you will, of course, be familiar with the Navitimer. This watch, which is a tool-watch in the truest sense of the word, was introduced in 1952. In addition to its standard chronograph functionality, the watch incorporated a slide rule. This allowed the wearer to make complex multiplications. (I recommend checking out The Watch Lounge if you want to find out more about the Navitimer and its various models). During the same decade, Breitling also released the first series of its Superocean line, a diver that was water-resistant to 200 meters. It is fair to say that during the middle of the last century, Breitling was battling it out with the best watchmakers in Switzerland. One of these battles also included working with Heuer to create the world's first automatic chronograph. If you are interested in some more details, check out Race for the First Automatic Winding Chronograph.
More Recent Developments
Regrettably for Breitling, as for many other Swiss watch manufacturers, the 1970s proved to be unkind. Five years short of their centennial and shortly before his death in 1979, Willy Breitling sold the family business. Breitling did, however, manage to survive the quartz crises and is of course still around today. The company still produces premium timepieces and more recently, impressive in-house chronograph movements that even Leon Breitling would be proud of. The company has also entered several strategic partnerships. An example of this is the relationship Breitling has with Tudor. While there are varying opinions on the topic the overall sentiment is positive (more here: Joining Forces For The Best?). Tudor receives a chronograph movement based on Breitling's now B01 for use in its new Heritage Chronograph, and Breitling gets Tudor’s three-hand MT5612 movement, to power its Superocean Heritage II. I think it is fair to say that Breitling is currently on a good path.
So, now that I’ve spent some time with Breitling you are probably wondering what advice I’ll give my father-in-law. To understand my suggestion, you must also know that his passion is sailing, which he intends to spend most of his retirement doing. So, considering that, I think he would love the Superocean Heritage II. The watch is inspired by a period when Breitling was truly in its golden age. It has a beautifully clean dial surrounded by a ceramic bezel, and inside the case, it has a reliable B20 movement (Tudor MT5612). It has a comfortable, attractive bracelet with a solid clasp with and with its robust 200m water resistance he won't have to worry about taking it for a swim. I am confident that it will suit him well when he enjoys retirement on his sailboat.
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