This article was originally published in the January/February 2022 Issue of the WatchTime print magazine.
The new Premier Heritage B15 Duograph 42 is currently Breitling’s most elegant timepiece and an homage to the pioneering spirit of the company’s founders. Like its predecessor from the 1940s of the same name, it can record time intervals and is breaking new ground as it goes. We take a closer look.
Three generations at Breitling made their mark in the history of timekeeping: Léon Breitling founded the company in 1884. He later submitted a patent for a simple timer with a tachymeter that could measure any speed between 15 and 150 kilometers per hour.
About 30 years later, his son Gaston created one of the first wristwatch chronographs with a separate pusher at the 2 o’clock position. This innovation made it possible to separate the start and stop function as well as the reset function from the crown — a tremendous advantage for timing sporting events.
In 1934, Léon’s grandson Willy registered a patent for the second separate chronograph push-piece at 4 o’clock. Willy Breitling was not only technically talented, he also recognized the desire people had for elegance and glamour. This inspired him to create the “Premier” in the 1940s.
At that time, Breitling was an established customer of the ébauche manufacturer Venus. Willy Breitling was already purchasing movements from this company in the 1930s. He also acquired the Venus 179 caliber and presented it in 1944 inside the “Premier Duograph” model. This was a hand-wound, rattrapante chronograph movement, which Venus produced in modest quantities between 1940 and 1952. The watch was operated using two pushers and a rattrapante button integrated into the crown.
Rattrapante Module Hidden Beneath the Dial
In 2017, Breitling picked up this loose thread in history with the Navitimer Rattrapante. The in-house automatic Caliber B03 introduced with this timepiece now also serves as the basis for the hand-wound B15 caliber created for the Premier Heritage B15 Duograph 42, our test watch.
The watchmakers initially placed the complicated splitseconds mechanism with its additional column wheel, rattrapante wheel and clamps directly beneath the dial because highly precise drilling of the long chronograph tube is challenging. With the Venus 179 caliber, the split-seconds mechanism was moved to the back of the movement.
With the Caliber B03, and subsequently, also the B15, Breitling has returned the split-seconds complication, including the rattrapante wheel, column wheel and clamps, to the front of the movement. Placing the complication directly under the dial was done for more than simple historical reasons. These days, modern watchmaking and construction methods allow for various technical solutions for a rattrapante mechanism. Breitling went its own way, resulting in two patents.
The modular construction of the B03 movement, and thereby also the B15, permitted shifting the rattrapante mechanism to the dial side of the movement, now situated between the mainplate and the date ring. Unfortunately, this makes it invisible through the sapphire caseback window. The rattrapante mechanism uses traditional gearing and a stainless-steel split-seconds wheel. The second patented innovation is an isolating system that works as an energysaving separation between the stopped split-seconds from the actual chronograph mechanism. The rattrapante wheel has a rubber O-ring that replaces the geared edge. The entire split-seconds mechanism comprises only 28 individual components.
Hand-wound B15 Caliber with No Date
From its inception, the modular design of the B03 caliber offered a variety of options. A self-winding mechanism may be used in this caliber to wind the movement, but the B15 does not offer this; instead it follows the growing trend of hand-wound watches. And unlike the B03, the B15 has no date indication, just like the original Premier Duograph from the 1940s.
The bicompax layout of the counters shows the running seconds at 9 o’clock and the elapsed chronograph minutes at 3 o’clock. In the past, the chronograph counter measured up to 45 minutes, but the modern Duograph uses the now more common 30-minute counter. Taken directly from its predecessor are the elongated line markers at 3, 6 and 9 minutes. These were once useful for timing telephone call charges. Does anyone need them these days? Admittedly, they are attractive and authentic. Less attractive are the cut off numerals 2, 4, 8 and 10, but this design does have a historical basis. Generally speaking, we find the first Premier Duograph from 1944 had clearer indications.
Expert Stopwatch Function
The box-style sapphire crystal is definitely a retro design element, but the dramatically curved edge tends to distort the tachymeter track. Otherwise, the double-sided anti-glare coating on the crystal ensures clear visibility of the trendy blue dial. The sunburst pattern shifts in color from the center, and the recessed counters have concentric circular ridging. The tachymeter track around the dial is printed on a slightly elevated ring. The stopwatch track on the inner ring has highlighted numerical 5-minute markers and, as befits an expert chronograph, accurately marked fractions of a second in accordance with the 4-Hz rhythm of the B15 caliber. The hand-wound movement is housed in a sturdy stainless-steel case with a narrow, polished, stepped bezel on top, a brushed finish on the grooved middle section, and the signature Breitling caseback with sapphire crystal viewing window, which can only be opened with a special tool. The B15 has a very high-tech look. As we saw during our test of the Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph Mosquito (see “Currents in the Air,” October 2020 issue), unfortunately we also see signs of wear from the chronograph levers here.
The stopwatch function is operated using elongated pushers with secure pressure points. Despite the column wheel, starting the chronograph requires more effort than the stop and reset. The rattrapante pusher has a supple feel to it and works consistently well inside the crown. The deeply grooved crown itself is very easy to grasp for daily winding. And should you forget to wind the watch, the B15 caliber, like all modern in-house movements produced by Breitling, has a 70-hour power reserve with good rate results and reliable amplitudes, even when the chronograph is engaged for an entire day.
A Shimmering Dial with Long Hands and Applied Markers
Since only a few manufacturers offer this complex rattrapante technology, it’s a pleasure to see and experience it on the dial of a watch. As a reminder, rattrapante is from the French word rattraper, which means “to catch up.” A rattrapante chronograph has two stopwatch hands that can be stopped independently and rejoined at a later point. One chronograph hand can “catch up” to the other. If both hands are running simultaneously, the actual stopwatch hand carries the second one along, which is why one often speaks of a split-second chronograph. The two long needle-like hands differ very little in appearance but their short ends are easy to tell apart. The thicker top stopwatch hand ends in a ring, while the slightly thinner rattrapante hand below it has an arrowhead tip. These symbols were already part of the Duograph from 1944. Sometimes the steel hands and applied markers shimmer and reflect light so you have to move the watch a little to read the elapsed time. In the dark, only the main time with hours and minutes is visible, glowing bright green.
The strap is lined with a vibrant yellow that contrasts with the golden-brown sheen of the alligator leather on top, which recalls Willy Breitling’s notion of fulfilling people’s wishes for elegance and glamour with the Premier collection. Today, the Premier Heritage B15 Duograph 42 is being offered to those who are seeking a sophisticated chronograph, just as he intended.
Breitling Premier Heritage B15 Duograph 42 Specs:
Manufacturer: Breitling Chronometrie SA, Allée du Laser 10, 2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
Reference number: AB1510171C1P1
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph (central stopwatch seconds, 30- minute counter), rattrapante, tachymeter
Movement: Breitling B15, hand-wound, based on Breitling 03 automatic, COSC certified, 28,800 vph (4 Hz), 27 jewels, copperberyllium balance, Nivarox hairspring, fine adjustment via eccentric screw, Kif shock absorption (balance and escape wheel), 70-hour power reserve, diameter = 30.0 mm, height = 8.68 mm
Case: Stainless-steel case, domed sapphire crystal with anti-glare coating on both sides (top), sapphire crystal caseback, water resistant to 100 m
Strap and clasp: Alligator leather strap, simple folding clasp
Rate results: Deviation in seconds per 24 hours (Fully wound / after 24 hours)
Dimensions: Diameter = 42.11 mm, lug width = 22 mm, height = 15.57 mm, weight = 124 g
Variations: With 18k red-gold case with black dial (Ref. RB1510251B1P1, $22,850)
Strap and clasp (max. 10 points): High quality strap, unusual shine, functional folding clasp. 9
Case (10): Solid case, quite thick with box-type sapphire crystal and curved caseback, a very authentic look. 8
Dial and hands (10): Historical design in trendy blue, nicely finished; some numerals are partly cut off. 8
Design (15): The watch recalls the design of its historical predecessor with an attractive retro appearance. 13
Legibility (5): Clear view with anti-glare crystal, the time is easy to read both day and night; reflections on the markers and hands, and the tachymeter track is distorted. 3
Operation (5): Chronograph and rattrapante pushers function perfectly, the crown is easy to grasp, the clasp is very easy to use. 5
Wearing comfort (5): Despite its thickness, it sits well on the wrist thanks to the comfortable strap. 4
Movement (20): Modern movement with a rare, patented rattrapante mechanism and an appropriately technical look; small scratches on chronograph levers. 17
Rate results (10): Chronometer-level results, stable amplitudes with decreasing power reserve and while the chronograph is engaged. 8
Overall value (10): Very good price-performance ratio for a rare and sophisticated complication from a popular sports watch brand. 9
TOTAL: 84 points
To learn more about Breitling, click here, and to subscribe to the WatchTime print magazine, click here.