The new Breitling Chronomat is an all-purpose sports watch that recalls the return of mechanical timekeeping in the 1980s and Breitling’s role as a chronograph pioneer. The unique Rouleaux bracelet brings a trendy retro look to the wrist, while modern manufacture Caliber 01 points the way toward the future. We review it in this feature from our March-April 2021 issue.
When Breitling relaunched the Reviewing the Breitling Chronomat B01 Chronograph 42 in 1984, it sent a clear signal — it heralded the return of the mechanical watch, which had all but disappeared during the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s. Breitling had already used the name “Chronomat” in the 1940s, as a combination of “chronograph” for the stopwatch function and “mathematics” for the slide rule, which would later become the hallmark of the Navitimer. But in 1984, the term gained additional meaning: the first two syllables continued to refer to “chronograph” for the stop-time function, but now the third syllable alluded to “automatic” for the mechanical automatic movement that drove the timepiece, at a time when quartz watches were the order of the day. Originally, Valjoux Caliber 7750, which had been launched in 1973 and whose production was later resumed by ETA, provided the power. The version used by Breitling had undergone various specific modifications.
Another quarter of a century would pass before Breitling launched its own chronograph movement. Caliber 01 premiered in 2009 inside the prestigious Chronomat. This robust caliber is almost taken for granted nowadays and is hard at work, in various modifications, inside numerous Breitling chronographs, so we’d like to remind our readers of a few of its remarkable qualities.
Caliber 01 is a column-wheel chronograph with vertical coupling. Thanks to the modern technologies used in the production of contemporary column wheels, fabricating them is a much less daunting task than it used to be. Vertical coupling ensures a clean start for the stopwatch function without the notorious initial shudder of the elapsed-seconds hand. Unlike conventional systems with independent counters for the elapsed hours, here the coupling itself creates the connection to the counters for elapsed seconds, minutes and hours. The patented self-centering system of the heart lever for the zero-return function is also innovative. This mechanism also ensures that the chronograph cannot be damaged by faulty operation, for example, by triggering the zero-return command without first stopping the chronograph. The calendar mechanism is similarly secured against mishandling. It is designed so that the user can reset the date at any time of the day or night without damaging the mechanism. The basis for this is a nearly instantaneous date change: our test watch automatically advanced to the new date at approximately three minutes before midnight. With an eye toward future GMT and world-time models, the basic construction of the date display supports the option of resetting the date backward via the hand-setting function.
Caliber 01 inside the Chronomat not only offers 70 hours of power reserve, which is now considered state-of-the-art in modern calibers, but has also earned a chronometer certificate, as is usual for all Breitling watches. Visible through a pane of sapphire crystal in the case’s screw-down back, Caliber 01 kept time in our test watch for days and weeks with almost no deviation, regardless of whether the mainspring was fully wound or already somewhat slackened and also regardless of whether the chronograph was switched on or off.
The facade is made up of a 42.94-mm-diameter and 15.23-mm-high case of solid stainless steel with a rotating bezel that clicks into place in half-minute increments and can only be rotated counterclockwise. This feature — along with pressure resistance to 20 bar (200 meters) and a screw-down onion-shaped crown — qualifies the Chronomat to be a divers’ watch. The four distinctive cursors have returned from the 1980s. They not only make the bezel easy to grip and therefore secure to use, but are also interchangeable. It takes a bit of force and effort to remove and reinsert them, but if you interchange the 15- and 45-minute cursors, the rotating ring can be used as a countdown bezel. To-the-minute calibrations in the bezel’s upper section make the countdown easy to read. In the past, the Chronomat’s countdown function was used by yachtsmen. Together with the tachymeter scale on the steeply sloping flange, it can also serve its purpose for motor sports.
If you take a close look below the tachymeter scale, you will see red numerals and strokes dividing the minute into 100 increments. Connoisseurs will recognize this detail from earlier Breitling models. It can be useful for industrial timekeeping because it displays the minutes in decimal format. For example, it shows a workday as 7.75 hours instead of 7 hours and 45 minutes. In combination with the central seconds hand, an elapsed interval of 36 seconds, for example, can also be viewed as 0.6 minutes, during which time a car was driven at an average speed of 100 kilometers per hour.
The elapsed seconds are shown precisely by a slim red hand that extends exactly to the flange and ends in a kite-shaped tip filled with luminous material. As befits a chronograph pioneer, all the other hands associated with the stopwatch function also glow in the dark. The indicators for the ordinary time display, including the continually running seconds hand and the faceted hour appliqués, are similarly luminous — a welcome but rather rarely found detail.
Two oval push-pieces trigger the chronograph’s functions. Their styling has a modern look and, unlike their counterparts on previous models, they are no longer screwed down. This modern detail contrasts with the retro touch added by the integrated Rouleaux bracelet, which has returned for the first time since 1984. The rollers are elliptical cylinders with a brushed matte finish; their edges, like the connecting elements, are polished. The rollers lead to a functional double folding clasp with lateral push-pieces. The Chronomat 01 thus meets the requirements of a sporty all-rounder down to the very last detail.