By way of background, the modern version of the Breitling Chronomat debuted in 1984, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Breitling company. It was a descendant of one of Breitling’s most significant milestone timepieces, the original Chronomat, which debuted in 1941 and featured the now-famous circular slide rule bezel, a common element of today’s Breitling Navitimer watches, though not one present on today’s Chronomats. The 1984 revamped version introduced the hallmark “rider tabs” at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock on the unidirectional ratcheting bezel. And while I do appreciate the Navitimer in its many versions, one of the aspects I like about the Chronomat is the relative simplicity of its tricompax dial in comparison to the “busier” look of the Navitimer.
The case is pure Breitling — masculine and martial, measuring 44 mm in diameter and 16.95 mm thick. In profile, from the side with the screw-down crown and chronograph pushers, it projects an imposing look; if you squint and use your imagination, it almost resembles artillery pointing outward. This is, of course, helped by the sleek, “stealth” finish of the blacksteel case parts, which in certain lighting has a gunmetal glint.
Somewhat oddly for such an aviation-inspired watch, the bezel ratchets in one direction, as on a divers’ watch, rather than both, which would be more utilitarian for a pilot — though it’s not like I was planning on getting into a cockpit with the watch anyway. The rider tabs — as touted by the brand — do indeed make the bezel easier to grip and to turn. The tab at 12 o’clock has an inset dot filled with the same khaki-colored Super-LumiNova as the hands and indices, so it’s easy to figure out in the dark how to reset the bezel to zero. Rotating the bezel quickly produces a pleasant buzzing, made up of multiple clicks, that brings to mind a tiny motor. The stencil-type, Arabic numerals on the bezel, which mark the five-minute intervals between the rider tabs, are another nice military touch; inlaid in black rubber, they also provide a tactile treat as you run a finger over the bezel’s surface. Attention-to-detail alert: a tiny, cursive “B” for Breitling appears on the side surface of the bezel, subtly etched between 11:55 and 12 o’clock.
The black dial picks up the case’s military tool-watch character. The dial is surrounded by a flange with a tachymetric scale in white print. The hour and minute hand, as well as the edges of the applied hour indices, are treated with khaki-colored Super-LumiNova (which actually glows green in the dark). Bright red is used for the central chronograph seconds hand as well as all of the subdial hands (running seconds at 9 o’clock, 30 elapsed chronograph minutes at 3 o’clock, and 12 elapsed chronograph hours at 6 o’clock). The red-on-black contrast is helpful in reading the subdials’ readouts, as the numerals are tiny and otherwise somewhat challenging for the naked eye to read with precision.
About those subdials: they are square-shaped (or at least cushion-shaped) for no practical reason I can discern, but somehow they work aesthetically, adding a bit of visual interest to the dial, and subtly picking up the blocky shapes of the bezel numerals and rider tabs. Breitling’s “winged B” logo soars below the triangular index at 12 o’clock, while the brand’s “anchor B” emblem forms the counterweight of the chronograph seconds hand.
As one would expect in such a watch, the crown, which is grooved and protected by steel guards, screws down securely into the case. The chronograph pushers on either side of the crown also have a security feature: screw-down rings that need to be manually loosened before the pusher can be operated to start, stop, and zero the chronograph. This may seem an inconvenience at first, but it is easy enough to simply leave both pusher rings unscrewed if you will be using the stopwatch, especially for timing multiple events, for an extended period of time. Also, the pusher rings are surprisingly easy to unscrew even while the watch is on the wrist — a consequence, surely, of the case’s relatively thick profile, which means the pushers are not too close to the wrist, leaving the fingers room to maneuver.
The sapphire window in the caseback gives an ample view of the watch’s movement, Breitling’s in-house Caliber 01. The mechanical vista is dominated by the big, blackened winding rotor, which is graced with a circular wave pattern and an engraved Breitling logo. The rotor ties together the watch’s overall monochrome-black look nicely. Other haute horlogerie decorations include côtes de Genève, snailing, and diamond-polished bevels. The movement is a COSC-certified chronometer; I didn’t expect timekeeping reliability to be an issue with this watch, and it wasn’t. What really shouldn’t be overlooked among this movement’s attributes is the 70-hour power reserve, a 28-hour improvement over that of the ETA Valjoux 7750 movements that powered earlier iterations of the Chronomat. While there were very few days during the review period in which I didn’t eagerly strap on this watch in the morning, it was a nice feeling that I could literally leave it on my nightstand all weekend and not worry about winding it on Monday.
Breitling refers to the strap as “military rubber,” which seems to be essentially a black rubber base overstitched with some kind of suitably gritty, sturdy black textile. It is definitely a rough-and-ready military aviator look, with a tang buckle made of Blacksteel and engraved with Breitling’s winged logo. It makes the watch very comfortable on the wrist, even though it’s a look more compatible with casual wear than with formal wear. (But hey, it’s still a Breitling; no one’s going to quibble if you wear this watch with a dark suit.)
In summary — and to squeeze in one more tortured aviation metaphor — my test flight of the Breitling Chronomat 44 Blacksteel left me wanting more time at its controls. The watch is available at Breitling boutiques and other select retailers for $9,720.