Breitling Premier B01
Regardless of its horological contributions, we all know full well that Breitling hasn’t always put its best foot forward in recent decades. The category of things that Breitling has done that aren’t universally popular has been slowly building, the Bentley collaboration, hashtag squad stuff and not to mention those god-awful pinup manikins they had going on just to name a few. But things have been changing, and for the better, and the Premier B01 might just be the best yet. Here are three reasons why.
The Calibre B01
The debate of what makes a good movement rages on as it always will, but one thing’s for sure: in-house is where it’s at. In the modern world, to call yourself a credible watchmaker in the eyes of the public, you have to make your own movement, or at the very least, the bulk of it. There are concessions for the hardest and most specialist parts to make, like jewels, hairsprings and such, but if your movement came out of a catalogue, it’s not going to do.
It wasn’t always that way. Rewind ten years and most watches would have happily had an ETA off-the-shelf ticker, finished to a decent standard and maybe even with a bit of a custom design. It was just the way of things—and it had been the way of things for almost half a century prior.
To understand why, we need to put ourselves in the mindset of a watchmaker, but not a wristwatch maker—a pocket watch maker. In the heyday of the pocket watch, factory lines, parts-sharing and ready-made movements existed, but for the bulk of manufacturers, they had been around long enough that they were more than capable of making their own, thank you very much.
But then World War One happened, and the wristwatch, chosen for its convenience in the trenches and in the air, started to earn popularity. The pocket watch manufacturers had to jump ship to wristwatches, and they found themselves with a bit of a problem: their movements didn’t fit wristwatch cases. So, there were two choices: buy someone else’s movement or invest in your own. For Breitling, it had to be the latter.
And Breitling’s chronograph movements were legendary. They literally wrote the rule book, laid out the very foundation of how a chronograph should work. A pusher for start and stop, and another for reset—that was Breitling. It was what got the aviation business interested in the first place. But over the decades, a commercial shift dictated that Breitling moved to third party movements, and the legend that was the Breitling chronograph was gone.
So, although the pertinence of an in-house movement may not always be justified or necessary, for Breitling, it’s an opportunity to relive the golden years of its past as a watchmaker making waves and defining the scene. The calibre B01 is a return to that previous form, a thoroughbred chronograph boasting trick features like a column wheel, vertical clutch and 70-hours’ power reserve.
The Way It Looks
If there’s a watchmaker out there that could best be described as marmite, it’s Breitling. It’s not like, say, Hublot, where a few people like them and most don’t, or Omega, where the roles are reversed; Breitling is straight down the middle. Some people wouldn’t even risk looking at one through the safety of a welding mask, whereas others dedicate their entire collection to them. It’s polarising, and its polarised right down the middle.
This is no new thing. Breitling has first and foremost been a manufacturer of watches for industry, the watchmaker Rolex wanted to be. Whilst Rolex was still trying to work all that out, Breitling was already making instruments for aircraft, where its lifelong relationship with the sky was cemented. And it may have been that Breitling, like many other watchmakers alongside it, swapped to catalogue movements in the mid-20th century, but that didn’t stop the brand from pushing itself even harder.
I am of course talking about the Chronomat and the Navitimer, watches that took the chronograph to new levels of complexity and usefulness. The famous slide rule bezel, calibrated for scientists, engineers and mathematicians in the Chronomat and pilots in the Navitimer, was distinctive because of just how busy it was, rings of numbers lapping the dial in a way that had an inexperienced head spinning.
The way those watches looked followed the way they operated. They were not supposed to be pleasing to the eye; they were there to do a job. But CEO of the time Willy Breitling wasn’t completely stupid—like Enzo Ferrari knew he needed to sell road cars to fund his racing, Breitling knew there was money to be had from the public as well.
And so, he created the Premier collection, a high-end range of stunningly simple watches that did away with the complexity of its professional offerings. They didn’t need the slide rule bezel, didn’t need all those complex scales—save maybe a tachymeter—they were refined, elegant and most of all, saleable.
That’s the tack Breitling has chosen for this, the Premier B01, forgoing the heavy duty, info-packed aesthetic of the Navitimer in favour of something a bit more laid back, a bit more G&T. You get two sub-dials instead of three, applied markers instead of a shotgun spray of numbers and even the classic squiggly “B” logo instead of wings.
The Spirit Of The Brand
You know, I bet a lot of people who dislike Breitling don’t necessarily dislike the brand, just what it’s been up to of late. It’s a fantastically generous slice of watchmaking history that’s been through the mill time and time again, always somehow pulling through, but not always in the best shape. It’s been a rough half-century for much of the industry, with many big names reduced to scraping by, and it’s taken a little while for Breitling to get itself on an even keel and right the ship again.
And if it’s anything, it’s plucky. It’s a chancer, and fortune favours the brave. From the hope and a prayer that got Breitling into the aviation business in the first place, to the adaptation that got it the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association gig with the Navitimer, I think it’s a brand people want to want—and with the Premier B01, they can.
Okay, so it’s not perfect. It’s 42mm, which is generally regarded by the broadest section of owners as a bit too big. But other than that, it’s an in-house chronograph from a well-respected watchmaker at a price that’s not unreasonable—and now it looks pretty damn good, too. You take a good look at it and tell me it doesn’t.
The Breitling chronograph should sit alongside the Omega Speedmaster and Rolex Daytona—I mean, really it should sit above the Daytona since that Rolex was, at the time, a massive commercial failure—but bad luck and circumstance seems to have robbed it of that accolade. The Navitimer just isn’t as universally loved, the Chronomat has evolved beyond all recognition—which originally looked like the Navitimer, by the way—and a lot has come and gone since to muddy the waters.
The Premier B01 doesn’t fix all that, but it does provide a window back into the past to see the details that should make Breitling just as desirable as Omega and Rolex—at least from a heritage point of view. It’s like in the Terminator franchise when the filmmakers reset the timeline and start over—except not really, really, really bad.
It’s like taking the dust sheet off a pile of junk that’s been sat in the attic all these years, long forgotten until it’s uncovered to make way for a loft conversion, only to be revealed as an antique piece of furniture worth taking pride of place in the home. The Premier B01 blows off that dust, pulls back the covers and shows us all just how good Breitling can really be.
So, what’s next for Breitling? It’s not going to be easy to wean people back onto this brand after so long, and there’s always the risk of upsetting a current demographic that’s unwaveringly loyal. It’s a step by step process, and those steps may take years, and even decades. Every new release is judged in the extreme, every single one counts towards the value of the brand—and as long as they’re all as good as the Premier B01 or better, it should stand a fighting chance.
Looking for a Breitling watch? Click here to shop now