Cleared for Takeoff: The Breitling Emergency II Lands at U.S. Retailers This Summer

Breitling introduced the Emergency II — successor to the wildly popular Breitling Emergency, and the first-ever watch with a dual-frequency locator beacon — at Baselworld 2013. However, the watch’s planned U.S. retail release has been stalled for nearly two years awaiting approval from the FCC, which regulates the airwaves over which its built-in rescue signal operates. On June 23, pilots, sailors, and other adventurers who have patiently waited for the chance to purchase the Emergency II received good news. At a press conference aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid Air and Space Museum in New York, co-hosted by pilot, astronaut and Breitling brand ambassador Mark Kelly, Breitling announced that the government red tape had finally been cut: the company received its necessary FCC waiver, and the Breitling Emergency II would finally be available at retail on July 1. Here’s what you need to know about this world’s-first timepiece.

Breitling Emergency - Intrepid Orange Dial - wrist

The original Breitling Emergency, introduced in 1995, was the first wristwatch with a built-in emergency microtransmitter. Designed to enable accurate homing in on pilots or passengers following a plane crash, it operated on the 121.5 MHz international air distress frequency. Pilots prized it for its utility: it could be worn constantly on the wrist and serve as a supplement to standard onboard aircraft equipment. Around 40,000 Breitling Emergency watches have been sold since their launch. The Breitling Emergency II represents the next generation of its predecessor’s life-saving microtechnology. The very first wristwatch equipped with a built-in personal locator beacon (PLB), its dual frequency transmitter is compliant with the specifications of the Cospas-Sarsat international satellite alert system and can be used both to issue alerts and to guide search-and-rescue missions.

Breitling developed the Emergency II in conjunction with major scientific institutes, and the watch includes three innovative new features developed specifically for it, including a new rechargeable battery, a miniaturized dual frequency transmitter and an unprecedented integrated antenna system. With the integration of these microelectronic and microtechnical inventions, Breitling set out to create “a safety and survival instrument in all distress situations on land, at sea and in the air.”

Breitling Emergency II Intrepid Orange dial - front

The international Cospas-Sarsat system, whose mission is to provide accurate and reliable distress alert and homing data, uses a network of satellites in low-altitude earth orbit (LEOSAR) and in geostationary orbit (GEOSAR) as well as ground receiving stations and control and coordination centers. Search-and-rescue (SAR) teams use this information to assist persons in distress; since its launch in 1985, the system has helped save more than 26,000 lives. Up until 2009, Cospas-Sarsat used the 121.5 MHz analog frequency for the alert and homing phases of the rescue process. That year, it decided to phase out the 121.5 MHz frequency and began receiving alert signals on the new, digital 406 MHz frequency instead, to provide better security and to reduce the number of false alarms. Hence the need for a new Emergency watch that complied with the new satellite frequency. Making matters a bit more complicated, the 121.5 MHz frequency is still used on land, by ships at sea and by airborne aircraft, so modern distress beacons must offer dual frequencies for the most accurate homing. (See the illustration below for a bit of clarification.)

Breitling Emergency-II Cospas Sarsat

Breitling accepted the challenge with the invention of its microtransmitter PLB, which alternately operates on two separate frequencies over a 24-hour period. The watch first transmits a digital signal on the 406 MHz frequency, intended for satellites and lasting 0.44 seconds every 50 seconds, then an analog signal on the 121.5 MHz homing and rescue frequency, lasting 0.75 seconds every 2.25 seconds. To accomplish this task, Breitling worked with an institute that developed technology for the aerospace and defense industries to create the watch’s ingenious antenna system, with two miniature antenna sections housed in the lower part of the watch and activated by a knob in the lower right side of the case. To deploy the antenna, which automatically activates the transmitter, you unscrew and pull out the knob’s cap. The cap automatically comes free of the antenna when it is deployed to the right length, at which point the cap of the second section of the antenna is automatically released. The antenna length varies according to the wavelength; depending on the circumstances, the transmitter uses either one antenna section or both; this is a first for a locator beacon.

Breitling Emergency II Intrepid Orange dial - side
Above: the knob to deploy the antenna is located in the lower part of the case. Below: the watch with both sections of the antenna fully extended


Breitling Emergency II with antenna

Breitling also had to address the issue of energy and durability to meet Cospas-Sarsat’s standards, which demand that beacons must be capable of transmitting for up to 24 hours and at temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius. Also, the antenna’s two frequencies operate at vastly different power levels: the 121.5 MHz signal at 30 milliwatts and the 406 MHz signal at 5 watts, 170 times higher. In collaboration with another industrial partner, Breitling developed a brand-new, robust rechargeable battery created specifically for the watch. Each Breitling Emergency II is, in fact, delivered with a charger-tester device to periodically recharge the battery and check the operation of the transmitter.

Breitling Emergency II - exploded view
Exploded view of the Breitling Emergency II

In addition to all of its survival functions, the new Emergency II is also a multi-function electronic chronograph watch, powered by the “SuperQuartz” Breitling Caliber 76, which powers a 12/24-hour analog and LCD digital display,  1/100th-second chronograph, alarm, timer, second timezone, multilingual calendar and battery end-of-life indicator. Like the movements in Breitling’s mechanical chronographs, this extremely accurate quartz movement meets the chronometer requirements of the Swiss testing agency COSC. The Breitling Emergency II has a case made of lightweight titanium, a metal used regularly in aeronautics; the watch weighs only 140 grams and is water-resistant to 50 meters. The caseback is inscribed with instructions on how to use the watch in a rescue situation, and the satin-brushed, bidirectional rotating bezel has an engraved compass scale. The analog hour and minute hands are luminescent and the sapphire crystal above the dial is glareproofed on both sides. The Breitling Emergency II comes with a choice of three dials: “Volcano” black, “Cobra” yellow, and “Intrepid” orange. It is offered on either a rubber Diver Pro strap or a Breitling Professional steel bracelet. Prices range from $15,825 to $18,745. There is also an “Emergency Night Mission” model in Breitling’s “blacksteel” case and Black Pro Diver strap for $18,910.

Breitling Emergency II - Cobra Yellow Dial
Breitling Emergency - Volcano Black Dial - side
Breitling Emergency II caseback

This article was originally published on May 22, 2013, and has been updated.



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  1. Saleem

    I habv the Breitling Emergency (Night Mission), Special edition.
    after 3 months of use, the buckle fall a part while washing my hands.
    I ran to the nearest Breitling shop , they asked for €880 to replace it even that it is still under warranty.
    It is a shame for such a brand and such a watch to have this diffract in the buckle, any other normal company would be a shamed to see this happens for a watch that is few months old, but they found it a chance to make more money on a low quality product with abnormal price.

    I thing I learned my lesson very good, and now I know what Breitling watches stand for. (high price & cheap quality).

    I can’t put this watch any more on my hand it is a shame., I will use another watch and keep this only as an emergency tool in my pocket or my ket chain.

    I thought I bought one of the best watches, but I was wrong.

    No Breitling ever again.

  2. Robinoz

    It’s a very interesting watch and would be highly useful for mountain bike riders, walkers, etc who are travelling in places where mobile phone doesn’t operate (much of Australia).

    When I travel out of mobile range, I carry a $366 (AU) Personal Locator Beacon. Several tourists on walking trails have been saved using them in Central Australia within the past couple of months … one person fell down a crevice on Ayres Rock (Uluru).

    A watch-based PLB would be easier to carry, although the price means that few people will be able to take advantage of it and will need to consider the cost-benefit compared with a cheaper portable PLB like I use.

    Like all Brietling gear, it’s a lovely piece of engineering.

  3. Gerard

    Beautiful and desirable quartz watch. Could be a life saver.
    The price, though, is far too high; should start at $6,000.00 (because of the Breitling brand name).

  4. Bert Kanne

    How will a 50 meter depth rated watch with a distress beacon that requires a knob to be unscrewed and an antenna deployed work reliably? There is currently a commercial airliner at the bottom of a very deep ocean, we believe. In a panic situation under those conditions, it would seem this $16,000 watch would be of no value.

    • The purpose is rescue, not recovery

      The watch is called “Emergency”. If you are strapped into a crashed plane, at the bottom of the ocean, the situation is no longer an “Emergency”. Hint, if you can not activate the watch, the watch is not designed for your particular scenario.

      • ExplEngineer

        Quite honestly, no device can be “all things to all people”. In the case of the Breitling Emergency, and Emergency II, the watch was initially designed to be used by downed pilots (who either survived an “emergency” or “crash” landing, or who have ejected from the aircraft and parachuting to the ground). No, it cannot, nor should it expected to, be activated by an unconscious pilot, or one whose trauma/injuries have made the use of his hands and arms impossible. Sometimes, it just won’t be able to help in the rescue, simple as that. The point being that the watch can aid in the rescue of such downed pilots who either remained conscious, or regained conscious, an aircrew in which either individually, or in combination can go through the procedures and actuate the transmitter. In addition to wearing the watch during both military, and civilian flying missions, I am “religious” about wearing this watch when off-roading and exploring in remote locations, when hunting, exploring and mapping/confirming military and engineering surveyors and cartographers. In some cases, the watch may not help for any of these reasons, or perhaps because it was damaged or destroyed in the event. I bought it to use in these activities, and am quite satisfied with the probability that it will be functioning, and that I will be capable of actuating it. Otherwise, I most probably need a Breitling “Recovery” (sic) watch instead. I am curious to know if the original Breitling Emergency can be retrofitted with the modifications for dual band transmission, as at some point in the future it may become a useful modification to my original watch. I would comment that when flying, where the use of UTC (Zulu, or Greenwich Mean Time) is used virtually exclusively to preclude the need to constantly reset times utilized in flight plans, departure and and arrival time zones, etc., I find the separate UTC Timepiece, co-located on the watch bracelet extremely useful as it eliminates the need to make the format changes that would be otherwise required on the main timepiece, as it should be noted that despite being a “dual time-zone watch”, the changeover in timezones while trying to air file an IFR Flight Plan while approaching deteriorating weather, navigating and communicating simultaneously, maintaining operations to alloted airspace boundaries, as well as maintaining proper separation from other aircraft using visual means. Multi-tasking in an aircraft environment seems no more difficult than talking on a cell phone while driving an automobile.

  5. Matt Jenkinson

    I wonder if it retains its waterproofing with the antennas extended?
    Thinking of the ‘lost at sea’ scenario…

  6. Don Crenshaw

    Question: Can the original Emergency be retro-fitted with new Emergency II mechanize?

    • Tom S

      I think I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I highly doubt it.

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