Breitling chose its flagship Navitimer to debut the new chronograph Caliber B03 with split-seconds function. In this cover feature from the WatchTime archives (with photos by OK-Photography), we tested this manufacture caliber in a stainless-steel model with an exclusive bronze-colored dial.
At first glance it looks like a totally ordinary Navitimer chronograph, a model that has been a familiar icon for the past 55 years. Characteristic details include a fluted, bidirectional rotatable bezel, which, when turned, carries a light-colored flange marked with a logarithmic slide-rule scale. It’s positioned under the curved sapphire crystal, which has a nonreflective treatment on both sides. The logarithmic scale’s counterpart runs along the outermost edge of the dial. A tenth of an inch further inward is the tachymeter scale, which, in turn, encircles the elapsed-seconds scale with precise quarter-of-a-second divisions as imposed by the 4-Hz rhythm of the Breitling manufacture Caliber B03.
The three light-colored counters on the dial are also familiar. The first is for the chronograph’s elapsed minutes, the second for the elapsed hours and the third for the continually running seconds. The trio distinguishes the new Navitimer’s bronze-colored dial, which is the first exclusive feature of this new rattrapante chronograph. A finely crafted sunburst pattern on the face plays gently with incident light, which also sparkles occasionally on the shiny surfaces of the hands and the applied hour indexes. The time usually remains clearly legible. Despite the diverse functions and the numerous scales, the time indication dominates the dial – especially at night, when the Super-LumiNova coating on the relevant components emits a green glow.
Now we can take our time to savor the other details. As is well known, pressing the button at 2 o’clock starts the chronograph. It’s worth mentioning that in 1915 Breitling became the first brand to include an autonomous chronograph button at 2 o’clock. This world premiere was followed by another first in 1934, when a push-piece was added at 4 o’clock.
Most rattrapante chronographs are recognizable because they have an extra button, usually positioned at 10 o’clock, to trigger the split-seconds function. But Breitling opts for a different solution. Here the rattrapante button is integrated into the crown – another special feature of this timepiece. You may be concerned that the function of the crown and its integrated button will interfere with each other, but have no fear, they don’t. And while ample force is required to start the chronograph, a light touch is sufficient to stop the rattrapante hand. The pressure point is positioned so the rattrapante button won’t be accidently pressed when the crown is pushed inward, for example, after adjusting the date display or the hands. And speaking of the flyback button, this seems like a good time to explain when, and for what purpose, this little push-piece can be operated.
While the activated chronograph continues to measure an elapsing interval, the button in the crown can be repeatedly pressed to halt and restart one of the two elapsed-seconds hands, thereby enabling the user to measure lap times or intermediate times. However, this works only for an interval of up to 60 seconds while the basic chronograph can record intervals up to 12 hours. The halted rattrapante hand can be restarted to speedily catch up with its twin and then quickly halted again to measure a new intermediate time. While this measurement is in progress, the slim red hand with an arrowhead at its tip and Breitling’s “B” as a counterweight continues to move away from the motionless, steely, rattrapante hand. Only when the rattrapante hand has swiftly “flown back” and resumed synchronous progress with its partner, does the anchor on the shorter end of the rattrapante hand combine with the “B” on the elapsed-seconds hand, thus completing the brand’s insignia. This is indeed a refined solution – and it’s every bit as sophisticated as the technology inside the watch’s nearly 45-mm-diameter stainless-steel case.
Constructing a rattrapante chronograph ranks among the biggest challenges in watchmaking, which is why this complication is encountered rarely and generally in small series. As a chronograph specialist, Breitling wanted a robust and precise system that could be serially manufactured and would be simpler to fabricate than previously existing mechanisms. Achieving this goal required several years of research and testing. The result is an innovative mechanism protected by two patents. The first of these applies to the decoupling mechanism, which separates the rattrapante hand from the movement while the former is temporarily halted. Breitling eliminated the usual cylindrical pin, which is complex to fabricate, and instead installed a deep-drawn part with finer geometry. This saves energy and helps preserve the chronometer-worthy accuracy of the rate. In regard to the rate, our tests discovered that the chronograph runs even more precisely when the rattrapante hand is decoupled than when its runs synchronously with its twin. The average daily gain is 5.8 seconds with the decoupled flyback hand, compared to +6.3 seconds per day when both hands run simultaneously.
The second patent applies to the mechanism that halts the rattrapante hand. Most manufacturers rely on either a smooth or very finely toothed wheel, into which the clamp engages. This wheel in the Navitimer is sheathed by an O-ring, against which the clamp presses. The welcome results are precise stopping and a system that’s simpler to manufacture. Stopping time occurs with on-the-dot precision. However, when the halted hand hurriedly rejoins its companion, it begins its flyback journey with a large motion in the opposite direction: even an unaided eye can readily observe this phenomenon. Fortunately, Caliber B03 tamed the resulting forces in each of our many test runs.
Breitling’s rattrapante mechanism, which needs only 28 components, is installed as a module on the dial side of the movement between the base plate and the date mechanism. This architecture not only simplifies fabrication and assembly, it also makes maintenance easier. The mechanism traces its ancestry to the intelligent constructive approach used in Caliber B01, which serves as the basis for the B03. Other useful functions have already been installed atop this platform. The B03 accordingly enjoys all the advantages of the modern basic movement, e.g. column-wheel control, 70-hour power reserve, and chronometer-worthy rate quality, which it upholds both when fully wound and while the energy reservoir decreases.
The technical-looking movement can be viewed only in the limited-edition rose-gold model, which has a window of sapphire in the back of its case. The caliber remains hidden behind Breitling’s characteristic caseback on the stainless-steel watch that we tested. Despite the screws that firmly join the back to the case, the Navitimer Rattrapante resists pressure only to 30 meters, which is perhaps too little pressure resistance for a modern sports watch. But the opaque back is engraved with a temperature-conversion table, thus giving this timepiece an extra function that’s wholly independent of the chronograph.
The Navitimer Rattrapante arrived for our tests affixed to a calfskin strap that can be steplessly lengthened or shortened with the one-sided folding clasp. This is a very handsome solution and the strap’s supple leather cuddles around the wrist like a second skin and contributes to the comfortable feeling when wearing this watch. Speaking of good feelings, one can also enjoy positive emotions when purchasing this chronograph, which integrates a rare but newly conceived and serially manufactured function into a modern caliber with chronometer quality. Some other manufacturers have either stopped making rattrapante chronographs altogether or offer them only in limited editions with gold cases and costly price tags. Breitling’s clients need only be prepared to pay $10,465 for the privilege of ownership.
Manufacturer: Breitling SA, Schlachthausstrasse 2, 2540 Grenchen, Switzerland
Reference number: AB031021/Q615
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, date, rattrapante chronograph with central split elapsed-seconds hand and counters for 30 elapsed minutes and 12 hours, tachymeter scale, slide-rule function with aid of inner bidirectional rotatable bezel, temperature-conversion table on caseback
Movement: In-house Caliber B03 based on Caliber B01, automatic, COSC- certified, 28,800 vph, 70-hour power reserve, copper-beryllium balance, Nivarox hairspring, eccentric fine adjustment, Kif shock absorption, 46 jewels, diameter = 30.0 mm, height = 9.15 mm
Case: Stainless steel, curved sapphire crystal above the dial with non- reflective treatment on both sides, water resistant to 30 meters
Strap and clasp: Brown leather with stainless-steel one-sided folding clasp
Rate results (Deviation in seconds per 24 hours, fully wound/after 24 hours):
Dial up +0.5 / +1.6
Dial down +3.3 / +5.0
Crown up +5.5 / +5.9
Crown down +2.7 / +6.3
Crown left +7.0 / +8.4
Greatest deviation 6.5 / 6.8
Average deviation +3.8 / +5.4
Flat positions 301° / 281°
Hanging positions 280° / 257°
Dimensions: Diameter = 44.89 mm, height = 15.65 mm, weight = 138.0 grams
Variation: With black dial on steel bracelet ($11,870); in rose gold on black rubber strap (limited edition of 250 pieces, $32,895)