Breitling Vintage-Inspired AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition, Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II, and Chronomat B01 42 Bentley: Do They Hit The Mark?
As we crawl into the seventh month of virus-driven isolation (at least here in California), I’ll confess that even though I love the pieces I’ve been fortunate enough to collect I feel from time to time that I’ve inspected and photographed them from every conceivable angle.
With no travel for me, I’ve been doubly grateful for opportunities to add variety and handle some of this year’s new watches; and I was three-times lucky recently when longtime online watch pal, vintage watch authority, and Breitling advisor Fred Mandelbaum, aka @watchfred, arranged for Breitling to lend me three of its 2020 watches.
Based on photos I’d seen, I opened the box with high expectations. I was particularly intrigued to understand the way in which each watch drew on historic references from Breitling over the years, starting with 1953’s AVI Reference 765 and rolling forward to the Chronomat look that debuted in 1984. Over the next days I spent a fair amount of time considering how well Breitling has done in balancing old and new with each design.
First in time, first in line: Breitling AVI Reference 765 1953 Re-Edition
Of the three new watches I checked out, the AVI is the one that most obviously benefits from Fred’s vintage expertise as it is the spitting image of the timepiece that launched this style of aviator watches in the 1950s.
I was looking forward to getting this watch in hand as I’m a big fan of this generation of chronographs from Breitling and others, including the Type XX military chronographs. I’ll confess that it was a bit of a surprise to me to learn that this overall style, including the prominent three-minute markers on the chronometer register, was launched by Breitling in 1953, well before similar looks were put forward by Mathey-Tissot on behalf of Breguet and others.
The intent was to be as absolutely faithful to the original as possible, and Breitling notes that the only changes made were to improve water resistance and to delete the “Geneve” notation from the dial. Otherwise, items such as the functional screws that affix the bezel, the hand-painted luminous (but, happily, not radium – one other necessary tweak from the original) indices, and the domed Hesalite crystal take us back to the 1953 launch of the AVI Co-Pilot.
While the anthracite-with-ivory aviator look may or may not be to your personal taste, it’s right up my alley. The dial texture and its juxtaposition with the grooved subdials is quite pleasant, providing a look that varies from black to grey depending on the incident light. And, as you might expect, the indications and hands are quite legible regardless of conditions. And the lume is very good – perhaps almost too good!
In many other ways, I find this watch a solid citizen. Winding feel is quite pleasant; the closed case back is appropriate for a re-edition and lends to the solid feel of the watch; the rotating bezel clicks easily and precisely; and like the other Breitlings in this bunch, the movement is C.O.S.C. certified for excellent timekeeping.
Any quibbles? Well, I’m a stickler for chronograph pusher feel, and the feel on the AVIs is not really to my taste: they are not particularly progressive, operating them takes a substantial amount of force, and the feel differs significantly between the start-stop and reset pushers.
I’d also have preferred a more “vintage” strap – something in a nice weathered tan would have been ideal for me, but that’s a matter of personal taste and something easily swapped as Breitling offers a wide variety of optional straps for purchase.
Is it possible to be too faithful to history when creating a re-edition? This is a delicate judgment – for instance, the Breguet Type XX and XXI pieces we’ve seen in recent years are in some ways over-the-top interpretations of that brand’s lovely historical Type XX pieces, which to me is not a good outcome.
But the little voice in the back of my head keeps asking whether a bit more re-interpretation of the original AVI might have created something even more exciting. Here, I’m thinking of watches like the Vacheron Constantin Cornes de Vache, Audemars Piguet (Re)Master 01, and even the brand-new Rolex Oyster Perpetual “Stella-style” pieces with their colorful dials, which clearly draw on each brand’s history while refreshing it a bit and adding a little pop.
In particular, the work done on the AVI to match the original color of the radium indices has resulted in a soft, vintage look that some have incorrectly labeled “fauxtina.” But underneath it all perhaps the critics are on to something: that the modern eye is looking for something different than in times past, and/or that new technology (in luminous materials, for instance) allows us to overcome the constraints of historical techniques and give a slightly “fresher” look to the face of the watch.
Overall, though, if I hadn’t had the good luck recently to consummate my search for a vintage Type XX three-register piece, I’d have seriously considered buying this watch. I suspect that this reference will be popular with Breitling loyalists, and it should also pull in some new customers for the brand who are intrigued by its historical links and vintage look.
Moving forward all the way to 1957: Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II
Who wouldn’t love the Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II? Fresh, creative, slightly edgy – and yet totally consistent with the original that inspired it.
For me this watch pulls off the challenging goal that the AVI just barely misses: it is faithful to the principles and codes of the original while not being a direct re-edition or re-creation. The colors are great, the sunburst dial pops, and the ceramic material of the bezel is both structurally robust and eye-popping.
The Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II watch is a great example of making something old new again – and relevant, I am guessing, to many buyers who would not have considered a Breitling purchase previously.
The best part: it’s not like everything else out there! The dished bezel is distinctive – and yet works (as with the original) on the wrist due to the slender look of the body of the case, keeping the overall watch from appearing to be too bulky and allowing it to slide easily under the cuff.
The thin case, curved lugs, and steel mesh bracelet on the piece I handled worked in concert to make this a very pleasant wearer – and for me the mesh bracelet adds to the “cool factor” of the watch.
Speaking of cool, how great is it that when the watch is at 10:10 the colors of the hands match the colors of the adjacent applied indices?
As with the AVI, the solid case back on the Superocean is consistent with a “heritage” piece, keeps the emphasis on the watch, not the look of the movement, and is nicely engraved to boot.
As for quibbles: I like the mesh bracelet and it certainly feels solidly made, but in a way I wish it were more “mesh-like” and less opaque – and that it had a more liquid feel on the wrist.
And while I understand the concept using small links near the clasp to adjust the bracelet length, the visible joining lines are disruptive to the eye (in my view). I’d almost prefer a form of folding clasp that allowed for a single, unbroken mesh bracelet rather than a modular one.
I also inadvertently nudged the bezel several times and ended up with a bunch of photos that needed to be re-done as the triangle was not positioned at 12 – I am guessing that the same thing happens during normal wear on the wrist. It would be nice to have slightly more tension overall – or even one small click at 12 to hold the bezel in place.
Overall, I think this one’s a real winner. To me the price point is right, too – it’s much easier to spend $5,000 for a “fun” watch that is well made than to stretch to the $8,000 level for a similarly appealing watch that you don’t “have to” have, in my opinion.
For those fortunate enough to get in on this specific limited-edition variant, there’s the added plus that Breitling will be donating CHF 500,000 from the revenues it generates to charities benefiting COVID-19 first responders: another reason to feel good about what is already a feel-good watch.
And if you missed out on the limited editions, there are other color combinations readily available.
Big boy: Breitling Chronomat B01 42 Bentley
Of the three historically inspired pieces in this assortment, the Chronomat has the most recent roots as it’s based on the 1984 Chronomat line that celebrated Breitling’s centenary. It comes in a large variety of colors and metals. Given my choice, I decided to check out the green-dialed Bentley version.
The Chronomat B01 42 Bentley is a tank! It’s super weighty even in steel (200 grams without strap), and the rouleaux bracelet, modified from the 1984 original by being made more angular but still clearly recognizable, is substantial as well as classic Breitling.
I also like the skillfully concealed bracelet closure: it provides a smooth and continuous look under the wrist – although it could be even that little bit better if the look of the small sub-links that break up the other links continued all the way through the clasp.
On the edge of the watch that protrudes from under the cuff, the pusher shapes and the angles of the pusher/crown guard give plenty of visual interest. While the characteristic fluted oignon-style crown is retained from the original design, I think it was a good call to go with simpler ovoid shapes for the pushers rather than the fluted 1984 style to keep things from being “too” ’80s.
The contrast of color and black on the dial is pleasing to the eye as are the radial brushing of the main dial and the splashes of red on the chronograph second hand and chapter ring. I also appreciated how the intensity of the color and the brightness of the dial changes quite a bit depending on the light.
If I could change one thing visually about this watch, it would be to do a bit of tuning where the bracelet meets the lugs. From what I can tell from photos, the historical Chronomat rouleaux bracelet did not extend horizontally all the way to the outer edges of the lugs – the final link before the bracelet seems to step out perhaps halfway from the width of the main bracelet to the lug edges.
On the 2020 version, the final link reaches out to the lug edges. This “semi-integrated” look is very hard to pull off, and on this watch the visual effect to me is that the lugs look too slender and the transition from bracelet to case is a bit awkward.
Mechanically, as with the AVI, the chronograph pushers on this watch lack the progressive feel I like. Although I suspect that buyers who prefer the decisive pop of chronographs using the Valjoux 7750, or of the Tudor Black Bay based on a version of this B01 movement, will be more than happy.
As you may have guessed by now, as a matter of personal taste I’m not taken by this watch the way I am by the other two. I’m wondering whether the styling of this one isn’t still just a touch in the past and could benefit from more of a refreshed view, particularly on the broad, polished bezel.
Of course, that could easily lead to losing the identity of the Chronomat line at some point – one more reason why watch designers have such a tough job!
While ultimately the design of new watches, even those based to some extent on past classics, has to be left to the professionals, it’s great to see that Breitling has directly included the views of its loyal enthusiasts and collectors, including the inimitable @watchfred, in the process of updating its product line.
It was also fun to add a new dimension to my brand awareness. While Breitling was not a brand that was previously in my consideration set, it is now very much on my radar – and from the three watches I handled, I think that its leadership and design teams seem well equipped to navigate the tricky path between tradition and innovation.
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Quick Facts Breitling Ref. 765 AVI 1953 Re-Edition (steel version)
Case: 41 mm, stainless steel case with polished lugs and screw-mounted, bi-directional bezel and brushed case band; domed front hesalite crystal; screwed-in solid case back; water resistance 3 bars
Dial and hands: anthracite dial with frosted finish and grooved subdials; hand-applied Super-LumiNova on hands, indices, and Arabic numerals
Movement: manually wound Breitling B09; 70-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds; chronograph with semi-instantaneous 15 minute and 12-hour totalizers
Limitation: 1,953 pieces
Price: $8,600; optional straps available from $75 to $550
Quick Facts Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II
Case: 42 x 10 mm, stainless steel case with dished ceramic bezel; cambered front sapphire crystal with two-sided antireflective coating; screwed-in solid case back; water resistance 100 m
Dial and hands: sunburst blue dial with applied indices; multicolored luminous indices and hands
Movement: automatic Breitling 10 (modified ETA 2892-A2); 42-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, central seconds
Limitation: 1,000 pieces; donation to COVID-19 front-line charities for each watch purchased
Price: $4,520 (calfskin with tang buckle); $4,770 (calfskin with deployant); $5,025 (steel mesh bracelet); optional straps from $150 to $550
Quick Facts Breitling Chronomat B01 42 Bentley
Case: 42 x 15.1 mm, stainless steel case with polished and brushed surfaces; cambered sapphire front crystal with two-sided antireflective coating and screwed-in case back with sapphire crystal; unidirectional, ratcheted bezel; screw-in crown
Dial and hands: green sunburst dial with black grooved subdials; date window with black background; steel hands with luminous accents and red chronograph seconds hand; applied baton indices with luminous accents
Movement: automatic Breitling 01; 70-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds; date; chronograph with semi-instantaneous 30-minute and 12-hour totalizers
Price: $8,100; optional straps from $75 to $550