A few household names dominate the luxury watch market. Brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex are the go-to for people who want a luxury watch. But, there are also some brands with tons of history and heritage that have, unfortunately, lost their popularity over the years. A great example of such a brand is Breitling.
Breitling has been an established name in the world of luxury timepieces for over 130 years. However, the brand has fallen behind other luxury watch giants in the last few decades. This has resulted in a significant popularity drop.
So, is Breitling worth your time? Are Breitling watches as good as other luxury watches, or should you look elsewhere?
Keep on reading if you want the answers to these questions!
In 1884, Swiss watchmaker Léon Breitling established the brand Breitling in Saint-Imier, Bernese Jura, Switzerland. His successor was his son Gaston in 1914, and after him came his son Willy in 1935. That’s where the heritage stops, as Willy’s family wasn’t interested in the brand and sold it in 1979.
The new owner, Ernst Schneider, who also owned the Sicura Company in Grenchen, moved Breitling’s production to the same factory as Sicura. Breitling was a part of the Schneider family until 2017 when they sold 80% of the brand to CVC Capital Partners. In November 2018, Schneider’s son, Theodore Schneider, sold the 20% to CVC.
What Makes Breitling Unique
In a sea of luxury watch brands, each must be unique to stand out from the crowd. These few traits make Breitling unique compared to other luxury watch brands.
The First Chronograph
Breitling is known as the chronograph brand. Chronographs are a massive part of the brand’s legacy, as it developed the first chronograph as we know it today.
In 1915, Breitling moved the start/stop pusher of the chronograph from the crown to the 2 o’clock position. In 1932, Breitling separated the reset function from the start/stop function.
They placed an additional pusher at 4 o’clock and essentially created the template for chronographs that is the same to this day. Breitling was also the first brand to devise the flyback chronograph function.
Chronograph timepieces are among the most well-known and highly coveted within Breitling’s catalog. People love them for their unique aesthetic and their functionality as a tool watch. In fact, Breitling timepieces have played a significant role in the world of aviation.
Ties to Aviation
Before the age of electronic instruments, pilots had to rely on their timepieces to measure certain parameters. The term ‘pilot’s watch’ usually refers to timepieces with huge watch faces and additional complications and functions that are easy to operate even while wearing gloves. Nowadays, oversized timepieces are having a comeback, which bodes well for Breitling.
Breitling has always been an avid supporter of the aviation industry. In fact, the Navitimer (arguably its most famous timepiece) is a true aviation watch with a highly complex set of functions.
Also, the brand usually undertakes special orders for groups of pilots or military forces. It creates special edition iterations of its timepieces that feature logos or names of specific pilots or military groups.
Breitling used to source its calibers from other brands like ETA and Valjoux. Since 2009, however, the brand has produced its own in-house movement, the B01. In any case, Breitling ensures that all movements that go in its watches are COSC certified for precision and accuracy.
Breitling has had two significant collaborations when it comes to calibers. The most important one was in 1969 when Breitling collaborated with Heuer to create the first-ever automatic chronograph movement.
The second involves an exchange partnership between Breitling and Tudor. Breitling offered its B01 chronograph movement for Tudor to use in its chronographs, and Tudor offered its in-house MT5612 movement for Breitling to utilize. This exchange program has benefited both brands significantly.
Top Breitling Watches
If Breitling as a brand has piqued your interest, here are some of the most noteworthy lines in the Breitling catalog.
The quintessential Breitling watch. An iconic and instantly recognizable timepiece that is synonymous with the brand. The Navitimer was released in 1952, an era when flying started to become very popular. Due to its design and functionality, pilots favorite it instantly.
The Navitimer stands out from other aviation timepieces because of its slide rule bi-directional bezel. This bezel was able to make several calculations before electronic equipment was prevalent in planes. In conjunction with the chronograph function, it could do anything you needed as a pilot.
The current version of the watch is the Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 (ref. AB0138241G1P1). Its design has remained largely unchanged, and as the name suggests, it features Breitling’s in-house B01 caliber. Despite its 43 mm case, it has great wearability thanks to its curved lugs.
While Breitling main theme is around aviation, the brand also produces excellent dive watches in the Superocean Heritage line. The Superocean Heritage B20 Automatic 44 (ref. AB2030161C1A1) is a dive watch with a simple design, similar to the original Superocean from the 1950s.
The Heritage has several different size options, with 44 mm being the most popular. It comes on a high-quality mesh strap and features the B20 automatic movement. This movement is essentially Tudor’s MT5612 in-house caliber with a huge 70-hour power reserve.
If the design or size doesn’t appeal to you, have a look at the Superocean Automatic line. It features a more contemporary design, 500 m of water resistance instead of 200 m, and additional sizes, including a 36 mm option. You will get a downgrade on the movement, though, as this line comes with the caliber 17, which is basically a repurposed ETA 2824-2 movement.
One of the oldest lines of Breitling watches, the Chronomat line has been around since the 1940s. Breitling reintroduced the Chronomat in 2020 with an updated design that resembled the 1984 version of the watch.
The 2020 Chronomat (ref. AB0134101B1A1) has a very appealing design with several dial color options and various materials, including 18K red gold. It also comes in several sizes and features Breitling’s COSC-certified B01 movement.
There are two features that distinguish the Chronomat from other Breitling watches. The first one is the rider tabs, which are trapezium shapes on the bezel's 0, 15, 30, and 45 indicators. These tabs originally assisted pilots who wore gloves by providing a better grip on the bezel.
The other telltale sign is the “Rouleaux” bracelet, a signature bracelet only available in the Chronomat line of watches. It’s effectively a stack of cylindrical links with increased flexibility and comfort.
Who Owns Breitling?
Breitling’s original owners were its founder Léon Breitling and his family. After them came the Schneider family, who eventually sold the brand to its current owner CVC Capital Partners.
The fact that a single group owns it makes Breitling one of the few luxury watch brands that are still independent.
CVC Capital Partners is a private equity firm from Luxemburg that thrived during the early 2000s. The firm has held shares in several different fields throughout the years. One of the most notable ones is the majority stake of the Formula One Group, which Liberty Media bought in 2017.
Is Breitling as Good as Rolex?
While watch fans regard Breitling as a luxury watch brand, it belongs in the entry-level tier in terms of quality. Despite its excellent build quality, the lack of in-house calibers for several decades hasn’t done the brand any favors.
A high-quality in-house movement is very important for any high-end luxury watch brand. It symbolizes the craftsmanship and attention to detail that is necessary at this tier of luxury watchmaking.
On the other hand, Rolex has maintained an exceptional build in its watches and has used its own movements since its inception. A few Breitling watches have quality equivalent to Rolex, but, in general, Rolex has the upper hand on Breitling.
Do Breitling Watches Hold Their Value?
In general, Breitling watches do not hold their value as well as other luxury watch brands. This comes down to their lesser popularity and the fact that they are slightly overpriced. While the quality is there, and they are certainly very high-quality timepieces, they can’t stand up to horological giants like Rolex.
On the bright side, this means that you can usually find them for reasonable prices in the second-hand market. You can also ask your local Breitling retailer for a discount, which might save you a bit more money on a brand new Breitling watch.
An Aviation Brand You Should Have On Your Radar
Overall, Breitling watches deserve to be on your radar if you’re on the hunt for a new luxury watch. The brand certainly has tons of history and heritage, as it’s been around for almost 140 years.
Also, let’s not forget about its remarkable quality. After all, most Breitling watches are tool watches at heart, meant to be beaten around by pilots or divers. Furthermore, the fact that the brand has started to produce its own movements shows a commendable desire to offer its customers the best possible timepiece.
Like Breitling, we at Operandi Firenze care deeply about giving our customers the best possible product. That’s why we ensure that our watch rolls go through rigorous testing to make sure your watches stay safe. Consider picking one of our premium watch rolls, made out of Italian leather, to accompany your next new watch.
So, go out there, give Breitling a chance, and don’t forget to keep an eye on the time!