For a brand most famous for its vintage and modern aviation watches, Breitling has been no stranger over the past 60 years to branching outside its usual airborne comfort zone. It all began in 1957 with the company’s release of a dive watch constructed to compete with some of that era’s greats, the original Breitling Superocean. Upon the arrival of the Omega Seamasters, Rolex Submariners, and Blancpain Fifty Fathomses, the growing trend of hobby diving ripened the market for new players and new designs, and with this in mind Breitling sought out and succeeded to carve itself a name under the sea as well as in the sky. Today, the Superocean series (or more accurately the Superocean II series), is a collection of robust and highly visible dive watches that combines the styles of dial complexity and rugged construction the brand is best known for. Now, first in 2007 with the Superocean Heritage, and again this year with the Superocean Heritage II, Breitling is once again returning to the roots of the series to produce a watch inspired by the utilitarian pieces that started it all.
Arriving to boutiques in both 42-mm and 46-mm steel variations, the new watches feature an array of interesting color combinations — six for both sizes, 120 total if including options for straps. Offering this level of customization is a practice that has long made this brand a fan favorite. Its case uses long, slightly rounded lugs, a large crown with no guards, and a thick ceramic unidirectional bezel with bold indices at the quarter-hour marks (available in either black, maroon, or blue). On its reflective, almost sunburst dial (in silver, blue, black, or maroon) reside applied indices at each hour, bolder at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, with a double mark above the applied Breitling vintage-style logo and printed descriptors. At the 6 o’clock position rests a date window, and traveling around the dial are the historically inspired arrow and sword hands.
Powering both the 42 and 46-mm variations is the Breitling Caliber B20, based on the Tudor Caliber MT5612 used in both the Tudor Pelagos and Black Bay series, and capable of a 70-hour power reserve. Interestingly, Breitling has opted to advertise the use of Tudor’s movement with the watch, which is a true testament to its high quality and wide appreciation as both brands’ pieces are in relatively similar price categories. With that said, both sizes of the piece are being offered at $4,075, and should become more available in the coming months with the phasing out of the original Superocean Heritage from 2007.
I don’t think it would be fair to declare this watch as a direct homage to Breitling’s 1957 diver, but the modern piece obviously draws many of its influences from the first few years of the series. On its dial, especially, you’ll notice the all-lower case “superocean” script, the vintage logo (although now in applied gold instead of white print), and the slightly elongated hour and minute hands. While its bezel continues to feature bolding on the quarter hour marks, its crown offers a slight roundness and Breitling has nixed the modern addition of crown guards. Also, the lugs have a length and cut to them reminiscent of the vintage piece.
The differences between the two, however, are much more stark. Besides modern manufacturing updates like the ceramic bezel and luxury finishing, the contemporary piece has forgone a few key dial elements that distinguish it from its ancestor. Most obvious is its lack of circular, luminescent quarter-hour markers, but also noticeable is its use of rectangular and trapezoidal applied hour indices as compared to the vintage model’s wedge markers, which were both printed and applied. The date window, while certainly a useful addition (and one available due to the Tudor movement), was also not present in the earliest models of the watch. Finally, while the modern case certainly derives its influences from the mid-20th century model, its bezel is significantly more decorated through contemporary refinement, and its lugs have lost some of the thin sharpness of the past.
While vintage Breitling Superocean models are sometimes overshadowed in auction houses and private collections by its Golden Era competitors, they are still extraordinary watches to find and maintain a good name for themselves in what often seems like a mythologized period of horology. With that said, while the modern watch is by no means a direct re-creation, or even a re-interpretation — it’s more a modern watch with an array of historical influences — this may be for the better. While plenty of vintage-watch aficionados — not excluding myself — would love to see those circular hour markers on that simple and straightforward tool watch, Breitling’s choice to pay homage but not copy may well pay off in this interesting contemporary piece. Hopefully, it will at the very least raise the mystique and rarity surrounding its vintage forefather, and then we could well see the arrival of a true vintage homage piece — perhaps for its 70th or 75th anniversary.
For our most recent article, in which I compare the Oris Big Crown 1917 to its historical inspiration, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about 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.