History Surfacing: Breitling Unveils New Superocean Heritage ’57 Capsule Collection

As part of its Spring 2020 launches announced today, Breitling unveiled its latest vintage-inspired family: the new Superocean Heritage ’57 Capsule Collection, a sub-series within the Superocean Heritage line that includes three new additions to the permanent collection and one new limited-edition timepiece. The new collection takes its inspiration from the first SuperOcean (on vintage models, the “O” in “Ocean” was capitalized) watch unveiled in the namesake year of 1957, and works to faithfully channel that original design (pictured below, via Phillips). In 2017, Breitling released the Superocean Heritage II, which offered a more modern take on the historic design and predated Breitling’s modern push into the neo-vintage design trend that has gained a large following in recent years.

It might seem surprising now, but in 1957 a dive watch was one of the last things the industry was expecting from aviation-centric Breitling. Even 63 years ago, 1884-founded Breitling was still best known for its pilots’ watches and chronographs, having released the Premier and Chronomat models in the 1940s, as well as the now-iconic Navitimer in 1952. Still, Breitling looked to capitalize on the era’s hobby-diving trend, unveiling a marine-focused dive model at the peak of the surf rock movement — a memorable diver that rode the waves of its time but ultimately went out of production a few years later due to steep competition in the category.

Taking a look at the new collection, we find four dive watches, each using the same general design scheme and 42-mm steel case. The non-limited-edition models are available in either a blue, black, or rose-gold-and-black colorway, while the limited-edition watch opts for a black design with rainbow dial features.

The new watch uses a bidirectional, oversized, convex dive-scale bezel, with the ceramic insert conspicuously using a more minimalist design and eschewing Arabic numerals or the 15-minute countdown common in the diver category. Moving to the dial, we find a white printed minute ring on the outer edge with applied numerals for each hour, and each quarter-hour opting for a hybrid tick/circular styling unique to the vintage SuperOcean design.  Sweeping over the dial are a distinctive pair of hands, with the hours indicated by a stylized arrow pointer and the minutes by a slim, tapering sword hand; the seconds hand is a simple stick counter. Toward the top of the dial we find the recognizable applied Breitling logo, while near the bottom is the script “SuperOcean” (inclusive of the capitalized “O”) logo recalling that seen on the vintage model.

Inside each of the new watches is the Breitling Caliber 10, an automatic movement which uses a brand-finished ETA 2892-A2 as its base and is capable of a 42-hour power reserve. Pricing for these new watches has been announced as the following: $4,380 for steel on black leather, $4,835 for steel on steel bracelet, $5,225 for steel and gold on leather, and $5,690 for steel and gold on a bracelet. Availability is expected through Breitling and authorized dealers later this year.

Comparing the new Superocean Heritage model to the historic dive watch that inspired it, we do see a common vein of design. Most noticeably, we see the oversized convex bezel with its triangle tip and minimalist design lacking more details in a complete minute ring or Arabic numerals. This bezel also quite conspicuously uses a bi-directional rotating mechanism — a fairly outdated feature for a modern dive watch, but historically accurate to the original design from 1957. The early SuperOcean used such a bezel because Blancpain owned the patent on unidirectional diving bezels until the late ‘60s thanks to its debuting on the first Fifty Fathoms, released in 1952. Also on the case, we see similarly slim, polished lugs and a signed push/pull crown — two more features in-line with diving watch trends at the time before the arrival of sturdier models in the following decades— though it seems the historical models opted for a domed crown rather than the flat, textured one used on the modern re-edition.

Moving to the dial, vintage influences are evident in the overall design scheme, especially in the shape of the hour markers, the hands, and the vintage “SuperOcean” script. However, it is also evident throughout that Breitling worked to elevate each of these features, with the hour markers all being applied, as compared to the printed/applied hybrid seen on vintage editions; the hands being slightly more stylized; and the vintage-style script accompanying a number of other dial descriptions. A number of other modern updates are also notable, such as the use of a sunray-style dial rather than the vintage model’s matte finish, the small Arabic numerals added to the quarter hours to indicate each 15-minutes, and, of course, the various colorways being offered, which speak to contemporary tastes.

Dive watch enthusiasts might take issue with the new model’s dive rating of 100 meters, which is fairly unimpressive compared to those of other luxury dive watches, especially when the model is being communicated as such. The 100-meter standard is, of course, sufficient for light water activities and even snorkeling, but it certainly isn’t in line with the collection’s competition, nor even comparable with the vintage SuperOcean, which was marketed as boasting an uncommon 20 atmos (600 feet, or about 180 meters) water resistance. Admittedly, of course, the primary consumers of these watches will likely be vintage-inclined collectors rather than serious diving hobbyists, especially those who recall the incredibly rare Ref. 1004 dive watches that inspired them.

Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition with a black vintage-inspired leather strap

Whether or not the new Superocean Heritage ’57 Capsule Collection will prove successful remains to be seen, especially in an already incredibly crowded market of vintage-inspired dive watches. Nonetheless, the new watch collection channels an interesting era of divers’ watch history, and for a certain subset of collectors may prove to be a major hit, especially when the vintage watch that inspired it typically goes for over $25,000 on the rare occasions when it comes up for auction.

Further, judging by its being labeled as a “capsule collection” rather than as simply a new watch, we may well see Breitling develop another Superocean Heritage time capsule model within this new collection, perhaps even a reissue of Ref. 807, the supremely rare dual-register chronograph diver that was unveiled alongside the dive-only vintage SuperOcean in 1957 (vintage ad above). Currently, Breitling only offers the historically-inspired triple-register models first unveiled at Baselworld 2018. This move would be in line with the brand’s larger push into vintage-inspired designs, but with the last Superocean update previously coming in 2018, we may need to wait a couple years before we see if this prediction has any legs.

Hands-On Pictures:

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  1. A. G. (Alex) Tsakumis

    Georges Kern’s destruction of Breitling continues. Gutting the brand hasn’t renewed anything. He’s doing the same thing with Breitling that he did at IWC. When he left there, celebrations abounded–and for good reason. The much smaller case sizes and the over simplification of the face and logo doesn’t represent the ethos of this once great watch brand. Shame of Kern!

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