Last year Breitling, led by CEO Georges Kern, released a number of new watches and series in its effort to refocus and hone the image of the brand. Among them were the Navitimer 8 collection, a refreshed Navitimer 1 collection, a new chronograph design within the Superocean Heritage series, and a revived Premier collection. Together, these changes are meant to help the brand better walk the line between its two primary consumers: those attracted to the masculine and technology-driven aspects of Breitling watches, and those with a more collector-minded interest in the distinctive, rich history of Breitling and its vintage designs.
Today, we’ll be focusing on what may have been the most important of all the brand’s 2018 releases, the Premier B01 Chronograph 42. The piece has been described as “modern retro,” featuring more subtle proportions compared to the bulkier designs of many of the brand’s current offerings, and referencing, with its two-register “panda” dial, the classic configurations of Breitling’s past. The watch is strategically placed within the new Premier collection, which shares the same name as a collection founded in 1943 by Breitling. “The Premier collection will serve as the stage for much of Breitling’s vintage-look designs going forward,” Kern said in WatchTime’s report report on the collection’s launch, instead of as a pure revival of that 1940s-era collection.
The watch itself uses a 42-mm steel case with engraved fluting on its sides, integrated chronograph pushers, and a prominent signed crown tight to the body. On the face of the watch is an outlining curbed black tachymetric scale, featuring a small addition of color in the red “tachymeter” script toward the top of the dial. Within the outer ring is the white dial, with applied indices for each hour, a 6 o’clock date window, and an applied corporate logo towards the 12 o’clock position. On either side of the dial are the two black subdials for running seconds and a 30-minute counter; while sweeping over these are the two simple swords hands for the hour and minutes, and red-tipped pointer for the chronograph seconds. The B01 Chrongraph 42 is also available in two more color options: first in a blue and black colorway (above), and also in a special green-and-black “Bentley” edition meant to celebrate Breitling’s partnership with the luxury automotive brand (below).
Powering the watch is Breitling’s in-house Caliber 01, an automatic movement capable of a 70-hour power reserve and hosting an impressive 47 jewels in its construction. The movement, visible through the watch’s sapphire caseback, also includes a jumping minutes mechanism, which means the minute hand only moves in single motions at the end of each 60-second period. The feature is uncommon among watches in general, but especially rare in chronographs. Upon its release, Breitling priced the watch at $8,400, though depending on the dealer you may be able to find it for a bit less.
As far as its place within the new vintage-oriented Premier collection, the B01 Chronograph 42 doesn’t apparently doesn’t draw its design elements from any specific past models. Still, based on its coloration and configuration, we can see at least two prominent influences. Most directly we find echoes of the 1969-produced Breitling Chrono-Matic series (below), which was one of the earliest watches to use the first mass -produced automatic chronograph movement, the famed Caliber 11. These watches used the same color configuration with red detailing, the same date-window placement, and similar hour markers and dedicated outer tachymeter, as today’s modern watch. These vintage Breitlings used the same Caliber 11 movement popularized in the past by the Heuer Monaco, and frequently known today in vintage-watch circles as being the base movement in the vintage Hamilton Chrono-matic. Both Heuer (now TAG Heuer) and Hamilton were Breitling’s partners in producing that market-shifting technology.
The second vintage influence is more general to the “Caliber 11 era.” The late ‘60s and 1970s were a time of experimentation for the brand, and more significantly it was a time when Breitling wasn’t known just for pilots’ watches, but also for racing watches and sports watches more generally. It was a time that’s looked fondly upon by collectors, and this B01 Chronograph 42 does well in hearkening to the era with its tachymeter, balanced sizing, and sleek case and pushers, which would be the envy of any ‘70s watch designer.
Breitling is shifting what “new vintage” means. A few years ago, it was common for watch brands to receive heavy criticism for a perceived failure in living up to some vintage design standard on some specific watch. Now, with most major brands having revived their most famous historical watches in some form or another, that critique begins to lose its punch: the market, after all, can’t live in the past forever. It can, however, begin to learn from the past’s best elements and move forward with them. Rolex has long done this well, integrating allusions to its famed “Paul Newman” model into 2016’s Cosmograph Daytona, and more recently doing so last year in the “Pepsi”-bezel steel model of the new GMT-Master II. Each of these, like Breitling’s Premier B01 Chronograph 42, are distinctly modern watches, yet each feature just a dash of vintage styling. With luck, the watches both give rise to consumer nostalgia and draw contemporary attention. If the strategy works out for Breitling, we can expect so see many more watches in this vein in the future.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Certina DS PH200M dive watch to its historical predecessor, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first discovering horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.