Breathing new life into something old is a special talent in today’s Swiss luxury watch industry. The formula is simple. Take something from the past, adopt it for today’s tastes, and make sure that when people see it, they’re not quite sure what era it was made for. Breitling’s reintroduction of the Chronomat with its tubular “Rouleaux” bracelet largely reflects what watchmaking does best today. Breitling quietly shelved the previous Chronomat model (it had been in production for a decade or more) and brought back something from the Breitling world that I don’t think retailers have seen in their stores since the 1990s .
The bad news is that terms like “Chronomat” have become a lot like “911” (in Porsche parlance). They do mean a kind of car/watch, but they don’t necessarily refer to any one specific item. So let’s call this watch by a slightly more precise (though equally vague) name, the Breitling Chronomat Bo1 42. Launched in 2020 during a pandemic, we couldn’t possibly meet Breitling at an inclusive event.
The question I would like to answer myself with the Breitling Chronomat B01 42 is how well does it fare against the competition, given the work of collectors today. Starting at just over $8,000, the Chronomat is not just another fun aviation-inspired tool watch, but a serious luxury item buyers need to compete with Rolex, Omega, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Tag Heuer, IWC, and more. The challenge for Breitling was to produce a product that does three things at once. The first is that the watch needs a mold that fits a traditional tool watch. The second is that the watch needs to be visually handsome and complement the wearer’s style. Third, the watch needs to come from a brand that is attractive and popular today, worthy of a luxury positioning and buying confidence.
Many would argue that Breitling is more about these things than competition compared to many other brands – especially when it comes to branding and luxury positioning. Currently, under the leadership of Georges Kern, Breitling is fortunate to have a head start on other brands by releasing multiple new watches in late 2019 and early 2020 (while most competitors are waiting to release new watches) cancelled due to the pandemic). Before the pandemic, Breitling also invested heavily in marketing, and the buzz continued into the first half of 2020. At present, Breitling is quite popular among collectors.
The core story behind the Chronomat is the military style, which is the basis of many great timepiece stories. Around 1984, Breitling produced a watch for the Frecce Tricolori of the Italian Air Force, which eventually became the first Chronomat watch. This was when Breitling first introduced the Rouleaux bracelet and the rotating bezel with the “rider’s tag” (what I call the “bezel claw”). This look (especially the bezel) dominated the look of Breitling watches for almost a decade. When Breitling started making its own in-house caliber B01 automatic chronograph movement, the Chronomat lost the bezel and bracelet – becoming something more versatile (though still very good) and helped Breitling through a major era. On aBlogtoWatch I reviewed the previous generation Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT her e. The Breitling Chronomat B01 42 has the same movement, but it is a very different watch. I find it interesting that while it was inspired by almost all generations of Breitling Chronomat watches, it ended up being something entirely new.
Case size has always been a topic. People are trying to gravitate towards watches that are more comfortable and easy to wear – which means some of the larger Breitling watches are more dated in style. The previous generation Chronomat’s largest case size was 47mm wide – obviously huge for many wrists. The 2020 Chronomat B01 42 is 42mm wide and about 15mm thick. In my opinion, it wears big but not too big. The sense of size is actually a function of all the polished steel and wide lugs combined with the striking taper of the Rouleaux bracelet. Like the Breitling, the stainless steel case (also available in two-tone or all-gold versions) is well-crafted with an excellent finish.
Breitling now also has a discount watch that can compete with the “steel watch of the integrated bracelet market”, at least in appearance. For me, this is the best trick the Chronomat B01 42 plays, as it wasn’t traditionally considered a watch for this style – and now it is. From a structural point of view, the new bracelet is completely different from the traditional Rouleaux bracelets of decades ago. These new products are manufactured more like contemporary luxury, with parts that are individually machined and polished, often using stronger sheet metal. Old Rouleaux bracelets will flex and stretch over time. This bracelet doesn’t seem to show any of this type of wear and tear over time. The fresh form of the bracelet is important. Very comfortable yes, but more importantly it stands out and helps make the experience of wearing the Chronomat B01 42 even more distinctive. For many consumers, this will only help increase the value of the watch, as people don’t want the average luxury watch experience at these price points.
The new rotating bezel designs are clearly inspired by the original Chronomat watches, but they lack a lot of funky features. There’s no doubt that Breitling has done a great job of making them feel refined and high-end. That said, the weirdness of the screwed-on “rider tab” and protruding peripheral screws is gone. The bezel of the new Chronomat collection even has these screws on the perimeter, but they are effectively minimized to the point that you can’t really call them a key part of the piece’s personality. Not that the bezel missed its chance, but Breitling made the concrete decision that it shouldn’t be a major part of the new Chronomat’s unique feature – they left it to the bracelet.
Many brands, including Breitling, are delighted with the updated old-fashioned “hot dog on a stick” style hour and minute hands, making them feel more modern and angular. Likewise, the hands of the new Chronomat take the shape of vintage Chronomat watches and are rendered for today’s tastes. The tri-compax array chronograph dial of the Chronomat watch is very refined and elegant, showing a simple conservatism enjoyed by Breitling today. The dial experience works because of the familiar look and good use of colors and materials. Breitling hasn’t innovated much in this regard, but I don’t think the dial makes anyone feel “that’s a nice watch“.
I do like how Breitling managed to come up with a screw-down chronograph pusher. This residual element is designed to provide more water and elemental resistance, but largely just prevents more people from using the chronograph. Without the screw-in chronograph pushers, the watch is still water-resistant to 200 meters – a success in my opinion. I also like the slightly oversized look of the crown and the design of the entire crown and button area on the right side of the case. Depending on your taste and budget, Breitling offers the Chronomat B01 42 case and bracelet in all-steel, or in varying degrees of gold for the two-tone model. All gold models exist, but I don’t believe there is a solid gold bracelet option yet. Eventually, there will be,
With variety in mind, Breitling designed the Chronomat B01 42 to be available in dozens of vintages. Just by changing colors and materials, the Chronomat B01 42 case with chronograph movement can be presented in many interesting ways. I happen to love those dials with contrasting subdials, and now, I happen to prefer all-steel watches. Movements aren’t new, but Breitling’s in-house B01 Automatic Chronograph performs well and performs well. Its execution still looks great, and while it’s not industry-leading in any way, it’s a solid 4Hz movement with about 70 hours of power reserve. You can view the movement through the sapphire crystal aperture on the back of the watch.
The Breitling Chronomat B01 42 is new. I think most watch lovers will love it because it combines conservative masculinity with sleek and high-quality construction. Yes, the base price is over $8,000, but these are good-looking and sturdy watches that don’t stand out at all for the price. If he can keep the momentum going, it will be another blow for Mr Kern for a brand that is doing well. How likely that is during the pandemic remains to be seen, but at least for him, Breitling has an edge over most others. The three Breitling Chronomat B01 42 watches photographed in this chronowrist.ru article are the Chronomat B01 42 Stainless Steel Bronze (ref AB0134101K1A1) and Silver (ref AB0134101G1A1), and the Chronomat B01 42 Stainless Steel and 18k Red Gold – Anthracite (ref UB0134101B1U1).