Breitling Chronomat Airborne Special Series

Angus Davies provides an in-depth review of the Breitling Chronomat Airborne Special Series. This latest watch from Breitling has been created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary pilot’s chronograph.

This detailed watch review of the Breitling Chronomat Airborne Special Series includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

In a former life, I worked in marketing. My role was to identify needs and refine a product, accurately targeting a specific market segment. I would expend many hours clinically honing an image to manipulate the buyer’s perception of said product. This is a brief no doubt recognisable to many of my fellow marketing professionals.

Now, I have swapped sides. Today, my occupational role is to surgically remove the advertising puffery, employing a discriminating eye to establish the kernel of a product, appraising its relative advantages and disadvantages and convey its merit to would-be buyers.

Those products which I consider not to pass muster are set aside and left for other magazines and websites to discuss. The opportunity cost of writing about a product devoid of virtue is to miss the opportunity to convey the wonder of a horological gem.

Breitling has produced many models which justify praise. I have owned several of the brand’s models and suspect there will be further models sporting the company’s logo which will encourage future acquisition.

The Swiss brand has a long established relationship with the aeronautical industry and has produced some incredible pilot’s watches. The brand’s strap-line is “Instruments for Professionals™”, but unlike some brands which employ vacuous statements devoid of substance, Breitling has legitimacy in employing such words.

The Navitimer, launched in 1952, features a slide rule device for performing calculations. It was conceived for pilots, proving especially helpful when flight plans necessitated arithmetical computations. It ultimately became the official watch of the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), the “world’s largest grouping of pilots”.

However, despite having one successful collection of pilot’s watches in its repertoire, the brand went on to create a further line of pilot’s watches, the Chronomat. In the early 1980s, the owner of Breitling, Ernest Schneider, heard that the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian airforce aerobatics team, had invited tenders for its first official watch.

Schneider set about creating a brand-new chronograph, tailored to the exacting needs of the flight professional. Every aspect of the design was distilled to perfection. Breitling worked closely with the squadron to ensure legibility, ease of operation and optimal wearer comfort. In 1983, the exhaustive efforts of the Swiss watch brand were rewarded when it was selected to provide the official Tricolori watch. A legend was born.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Thirty years of the Chronomat. The evolution from 1984 to 2014

In 1984, Breitling, the Grenchen based watchmaking concern, celebrated its 100th anniversary and launched its mainstream Chronomat collection for sale to the general public. The model has become a great commerical success and understandably so. It exhibits a sturdy mien but with an abundance of style. The masculine aesthetics are both functional and highly attractive. Moreover, the watch has always been a byword for legibility with its user-friendly layout and peerless anti-reflective treatment applied to both sides of the sapphire crystal. Ease of read-off is assured.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Early Breitling Chronomat with “bullet bracelet” (circa 1980s)

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Breitling Crosswind, a large cased sibling of the Chronomat (produced 1997 – 2004)

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series – 44mm versions (2014)

This year, the brand is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Chronomat by launching a “special series”, the Breitling Chronomat Airborne Special Series, featuring the company’s Manufacture Breitling Caliber 01. It is available with two dial options, Onyx black and Sierra silver. Would-be buyers can select one of two case sizes, 41mm and 44mm. Moreover, Breitling has conferred additional choice with the option of a metal “Pilot” bracelet or a black “Military” fabric strap.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Often, when reviewing a selection of models laid out in front of me, I ask myself which model would be my favoured variant, as if I’m about to flex my credit card and indulge in a moment of retail therapy. In this instance, and without hesitation, I would favour the Chronomat 44 Airborne with Onyx black dial, presented on a black fabric strap. This is a stunning watch and the focus for the rest of this review.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

The dial

Three silver-toned subdials contrast with the Onyx black dial canvas, arresting the wearer’s attention. A 30-minute chronometer register is positioned at 3 o’clock, a 12-hour chronometer resides just above 6 o’clock and a small seconds display is presented at 9 o’clock. The sublime contrast of the subdials and the exquisite snailed detail of each counter confers much eye-appeal.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

The hour and minute hands shine resplendently. They are lined with beige luminous fill, enhancing visibility in restricted light.

The applied hour markers are rectangular in profile and feature the same aforementioned beige luminous fill to their centres.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

A date aperture on the Breitling Chronomat Airborne Special Series is positioned between 4 and 5 o’clock. The date disc sits close to the aperture opening, a small clue that this is a fully integrated movement. The white text is highly legible against the black date disc and is depicted in a traditional font avec serifs. Framing the aperture is a white border, providing demarcation and guiding the eyes to the prevailing date.

A red central-chronograph seconds hand moves in ¼ second integers, denoting this watch has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz). This hand is highly visible, courtesy of its vibrant colour, and interfaces with the tachymeter scale depicted on the inner flange.

There is much detail on the dial of the Breitling Chronomat Airborne Special Series with many elements synergistically contributing to the composition. However, at no stage does the dial appear anything other than eminently legible. Indeed, it is the sublime readability of the dial that repeats the winning formula of the 1984 original.

The case

Breitling is renown for creating robust timepieces capable of everyday wear. Numerous aviators have entrusted timekeeping to the brand, safe in the knowledge that their chosen watch will shrug off minor scrapes with minimal fuss. Indeed, it is for this reason Breitling has earned its status as a maker of professional instruments.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

The Chronomat Airborne special series upholds this reputation with a sturdy exterior and features many of the usual Chronomat design codes. The screw-locked push pieces of the original are retained as is the domed, fluted screw-down crown.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

The unidirectional ratcheted rotating bezel is satin-brushed and features the brand’s iconic raised rider tabs positioned at noon, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. The bezel turns with smile-inducing tactility, aiding pilots to count off flight times. Moreover, the bezel is designed to be rotated with gloved hands. The handsome appearance of the bezel is a magnificent example of form following function with ease of use granted with thoughtful design.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

The remaining surfaces of the case are highly polished, providing a comely contradistinction. The difference between the finishes of the steel components enhances the appearance of the watch, harmoniously fusing together to pleasing effect.

Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series - in-depth review by ESCAPEMENT

Adorning the case back, an engraved description in relief, states, “Edition Spéciale 30? Anniversaire”, together with an outline of an Aermacchi, one of the ten planes flown by the Frecce Tricolori. Whilst the case back is attractive, it is the only area of the watch I would change.

This watch deserves a sapphire case back. The movement beating within this Chronomat is a beauty. It is the Manufacture Breitling Caliber 01. A few months ago, I wore a Breitling Navitimer Caliber 01 Limited equipped with the same movement which revealed its magnificent form via an exhibition caseback. Breitling should not be shy, the movement within the Chronomat should be revealed. I would recommend reading my detailed explanation of the movement contained in my review of the Breitling Navitimer Caliber 01 Limited. This is a movement for the purist.

The movement

The Manufacture Breitling Caliber 01 is self-winding, denoted with red text on the dial, stating “Automatic” in italicised text. It is a movement crafted at the company’s La Chaux-de-Fonds atelier and is fully integrated.

This is an exceptional movement. It is finished to a high standard with Côtes de Genève motif adorning the bridges. Sadly, this is hidden from view. However, the single biggest regret is the inability to see the vertical clutch engage with the column-wheel. Perhaps this says more about my predilection for horological voyeurism than any major shortcoming of the watch.

Closing remarks

I am not surprised to hear that the Chronomat is Breitling’s best selling model. This is a fantastic timepiece. Furthermore, in this particular guise, it is my favourite member of the Chronomat family. Breitling has carefully refined the model over the last 30 years without loosing the essence of the original resulting in a great watch being continuously improved.

Few watches are perfect but, despite coming pretty close, I lament the absence of an exhibition caseback on this particular timepiece. The spectacle of seeing the vertical coupling engage and disengage with the column-wheel is a sight I never tire of.

Nevertheless, if I was seeking a legendary chronograph featuring a fully integrated movement, delivering peerless legibility and offering exceptional wearer comfort, I would definitely consider the Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series. This is a top flight professional instrument with much in its favour.

Technical Specification

  • Model: Breitling Chronomat Airborne special series
  • Reference: AB01154G/BD13/101W/A20D.1
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 44.00 mm; water resistant to 50 bar (500 metres); sapphire crystal to front and solid caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; date; chronograph.
  • Movement: Caliber 01; self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 47 jewels; Power reserve over 70 hours.
  • Strap: Black military-type fabric strap secured by a folding clasp
  • Price: £6000 (as at 23.7.2014)

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