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Feature: 3 Vintage-Inspired Chronographs

Since the whopping $17.8 million sale of Paul Newman’s Paul Newman, the world’s—or what seems like it—attention has been turned to vintage chronographs. Thing is, vintage chronographs can be pretty expensive. There are some great options out there if you’re willing to do a lot—a lot—of research, but even those can be costly. A Longines 13ZN can fetch as much as £15,000 for example. If all that sounds too much like hard work, then perhaps we have the answer for you …

Bell & Ross BR 126 Sport BRV126-BL-BE/SCA

The answer—or certainly an answer—is to find a watch that borrows those appealing vintage cues and marries them together in something that’s more reasonably priced and readily available. Bell & Ross, the extension of a University project by duo Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo, wouldn’t necessarily be the first place to go looking for something like this, but somehow, here we are.

You may know the company best as the manufacturer of those big, square, fighter jet-cockpit inspired instrument watches, but it turns out that Belamich and Rosillo have a, shall we say, subtler side as well, as demonstrated by this BR 126 Sport. It’s a surprise, certainly, albeit a rather pleasant one.

There’s a lot on loan from the pages of history here, from the Speedmaster-style bezel to the deeply domed crystal, absent crown guards and simple, square cut lugs. It looks functional and it looks vintage, because, well—a lot of vintage watches were purely functional. As if to confirm that, the BR 126 provides a healthy 100m of water resistance as well.

The design cues on the dial bring us back around to familiar Bell & Ross, with a twist in the twin dial chronograph and dual finish hands. The 43mm steel case utilises the ETA 2894-based calibre BR-CAL.301 to space the dial furniture accordingly, finding a balance that closely imitates the aesthetic of the sixties. It’s a lot of watch for just a few thousand pounds.

Breitling Transocean Chronograph AB0152

Think of Breitling, and you’ll likely either conjure a mental picture of the Navitimer or of a chunky, rugged adventurer’s watch. It’s a fair assessment, the brand very much in tune with the outdoors, famous for hard-wearing, big water resistance watches that can even be spec’d with an emergency beacon.

But Breitling’s history was a little more diverse than perhaps the modern stereotype lets on. In the 1950s, the dawn of Transatlantic travel, Breitling wanted to replicate its popularity with those who flew the planes with the passengers who were now being flown. Simple maths, really—for the two pilots in the cockpit, there were many more in the cabin behind to sell watches to as well.

And so, the Transocean was born, sold on aviation expertise but with a more luxurious—read: less busy—appearance than the pilot’s favourite, the Navitimer. It’s a name that’s re-emerged in the Breitling stable for much the same reason, a more relaxed entry to Breitling ownership that isn’t burdened by any connotations with adventuring or other general outdoorsiness. Less Lara Croft, more Learjet.

Immediately the polished finish tells you this watch wants nothing to do with anything athletic, better suited to being nestled in the arm of a Chesterfield sofa than smacked up the side of a cliff face or dropped into the ocean. I’m sure it would do that admirably with its build quality and 100m water resistance, but … it just doesn’t seem right to try.

For around £6,000, Breitling furnishes the watch with its own in-house calibre B 01 chronograph, introduced in 2004 and replete with a column wheel, 47 jewels and a 70-hour power reserve. This model is 43mm, but there’s a twin sub-dial 38mm version available too.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Chronograph Cermet 208A570

But a watch heavily inspired by historical examples doesn’t have to be shackled to them—case in point the Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Chronograph Cermet. This watch is also available in steel for the traditionalist, but here is something a bit more interesting.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was made of ceramics, because that is at least partly true; cermet is in fact metal reinforced with ceramic—ceramic metal, cermet, the metal in this case being aluminium—benefitting in both lightness and resistance to damage.

I’m sure the cynical among you are at this point thinking, ‘Well, that’s just an aluminium case with a ceramic coating, nothing more than a marketing exercise,” and I’m equally sure that you’d be pleased to be wrong, because cermet is so much more than that.

Originally developed for and still used today in the combustion chambers of jet and rocket engines, cermet blends high thermal conductivity with ductility and strength by blending particles of metal with ceramic, creating a composite matrix of the two materials at a microscopic level. If it’s good enough for a space rocket, it’s good enough for a watch case.

The design of the Deep Sea Chronograph borrows a lot from the 1959 Deep Sea Alarm—which utilised a vibrating alert instead of a dive bezel to warn divers of elapsed time—but of course gets a chronograph instead of that same alarm function. In usual Jaeger-LeCoultre style, however, there’s a twist in the tale, a small indicator on the dial clearly demonstrating chronograph readiness, white; chronograph running, red and white; and chronograph stop, red.

The massively over-engineered 340 parts of the calibre 758 stretch power to 65 hours within the 100m water resistant, 42mm case. Prices start at £10,000 in steel and £12,500 in rocket-proof cermet.

A vintage chronograph may not be for everyone, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t shared benefits that can’t still be enjoyed with something a bit more modern. If you’re tempted by a vintage chronograph, but aren’t ready to commit yourself just yet, a modern-vintage chronograph might be just the thing.

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