Two chronographs with in-house movements — Breitling’s pilot-styled Chronomat B01 and IWC’s rugged Big Ingenieur Chronograph, designed for earthbound adventure — go head-to-head in this comparison test from our April 2010 issue, with photos by Nik Schölzel.
A watch with an in-house chronograph movement is something quite special. Even many well-established brands do not offer their own factory-built movement with a stopwatch function. One notable exception is Patek Philippe, which developed one for its collection only recently. It’s no wonder such movements are so rare: a chronograph is a huge complication whose implementation requires enormous care and attention. The existence of cheaper chronographs is explained by the wide distribution of simpler movements that have been built for decades, like the Valjoux 7750 from ETA.
For the longest time sports-watch brands like IWC and Breitling didn’t produce their own chronograph movements, either. But things have recently changed at these two companies: at the 2009 Baselworld watch fair, Breitling introduced its long anticipated in-house movement, the B01, and the first and only watch model to contain this movement, fittingly named the Chronomat B01. IWC presented its Big Ingenieur Chronograph at Geneva’s SIHH watch fair in early 2009, with an in-house movement that debuted in 2007 in the company’s Da Vinci chronograph. (Click on watch photos for wallpaper images.)
The Chronomat B01 faithfully follows the Breitling pilot-watch tradition. Its contemporary design includes functional details like a rotating bezel as well as other design elements that are purely decorative. An extreme attention to detail is evident on the dial, whose central element is a square with its edges defined by the center points of the three subdials. The ridged patterns in the subdials change according to which half falls within this square area: outside the square, the pattern is radiating circles; inside, it is vertical ridges. The hour-counter subdial at 6 o’clock is divided into quarters. The hands on the subdials incorporate the square shape, and the quarter-hour markers on the bezel are also square. Even the angular typography of the numerals on the subdials and bezel (with its square “zero”) reinforce this bold style. The three different numeral fonts add interest, but in this case, more restraint would have made a stronger overall statement, and the font style of the numerals on the bezel takes some getting used to. Generally speaking, though, we liked the design of the Chronomat B01 very much.
The IWC watch makes an even sturdier overall impression due to its larger diameter. All the numerals are executed in the same type found on other Ingenieur models. The standout features of the Big Ingenieur Chronograph’s dial are the subdials located at the top and bottom, with a silver ridged structure that sets them off from the rest of the black main dial. A geometric pattern fills the inner section of the dial. Luminous coating is applied deep within the grooves of the silver-colored markers, whose shape reflects the elongated hour and minute hands. The Ingenieur case has rectangular pushers that are neatly integrated with the crown guard and bezel.
The Big Ingenieur is only available with a single dial type and in two case materials (steel or rose gold). The Chronomat B01 is available with a wide range of different dials, with markers or Roman numerals, in steel or gold (or various combinations), and with a number of different straps and bracelets.
The time and date are easy to read on the black dial of the Breitling watch. However, it’s a bit difficult to read the elapsed minutes and hours on the small subdials with their silver hands. The IWC chalks up double the points in this category. First of all, and rather surprisingly, here the silver hands provide terrific contrast with the silver subdials. Also, the elapsed minutes and hours are cleverly combined on the top subdial with easy-to-read 12-hour and 60-minute divisions, as in a second-time-zone display. The effect is more striking over longer timed periods than shorter ones, and numerals on the hour track would have been helpful. But the sheer size of the dial aids in legibility.
The other side of the coin? The Big Ingenieur’s 45.5-mm case needs the width of a large wrist as a counterbalance. The watch overwhelms a normal wrist and doesn’t fit snugly. On a steel bracelet, it feels top-heavy and so must be worn tightly to keep it from sliding around. In contrast, the Chronomat B01 does not appear overly large despite its diameter of 43.5 mm, and it’s also more comfortable to wear. It lies snugly against the wrist, thanks in part to the supple rubber strap and adjustable strap extension integrated into the clasp. The Breitling clasp has a two-button deployment system that is attractive, easy to use and nicely finished. The rubber strap appears quite plain in comparison; luckily, the Chronomat also comes with a crocodile or calfskin strap or a metal bracelet.
The Big Ingenieur Chronograph is also available with a crocodile strap or a stainless-steel bracelet. The bracelet can be adjusted without a screwdriver, and the single-button deployant clasp is surprisingly flat. However, the two hinged parts of the clasp are made of thin metal and shouldn’t be subjected to excess pressure when open. Both bracelet and clasp boast superb finishing: the bracelet’s carefully beveled and polished edges highlight the line finish on all other surfaces, perfectly matching the extraordinarily fine finishing on the watch case.
The Big Ingenieur’s two large pushers are easy to use. The screw-down crown is also large enough to easily grasp and turn. The hack mechanism and quick date adjustment simplify the accurate setting of the time and date.
Breitling’s watch also includes both of these useful features. In contrast to the Valjoux 7750, these two manufacture movements allow the date to be changed right before 12 o’clock without running the risk of damaging the movement. The fluted crown on the Chronomat is easy to grasp and turn, and the pushers are also screwed. Although this makes using the chronograph function somewhat more awkward, it does provide greater protection for the pushers and increases the water-resistance of the watch to 500 meters. Unfortunately, you’ll have to press the button rather firmly to start the chronograph, due to the design of the chronograph levers. The Chronomat’s unidirectional rotating bezel has 240 ratchets and turns smoothly but should be easier to grasp.