BREITLING CHRONOMAT HISTORY

The Chronomat has a long and storied history. Ernest Schneider acquired Breitling from Willy Breitling in 1979 when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Beginning in 1984, the 100th anniversary of the firm's founding, Ernest Schneider sought to bring out a new mechanical wristwatch. Up until that time, Schneider's Breitling offerings were mostly quartz watches with a military flavour. The Breitling version of the story is that they consulted with the Italian air force aerobatic team known as Frecce Tricolori. The result was a chronograph with some peculiar case details. First, it had a flat profile. Most large chronographs have lugs that bend downward toward the wrist. Breitling instead put the "bend" in the lug end of the bracelet.

The second curious feature of the Chronomat design was screw-on markers at noon, 15, 30 and 45 minutes on the bezel. The rationale for attaching these "rider tabs" with screws was that the bezel could be converted to a countdown timer (although it ratchets in one direction only) by exchanging the 15 and 30-minute tabs.

Perhaps the third unusual feature of the watch was the name. When Schneider bought Breitling from the ailing Willy Breitling, he also bought rights to all registered trademarks. Schneider chose the name of one of the defunct watch lines instead of registering a new trademark. Thus the Breitling Chronomat was reborn, but with no resemblance to the original (which looked much like a present-day Navitimer Montbrillant).

The movement in the Chronomat is the now-popular Valjoux 7750. It has been reported elsewhere that Breitling began with the 17-jewel version, but upgraded during their 97/98 product line to the 25 jewel version. Some have said the Breitling version is not overly adorned or re-tuned. However, in 1997, Breitling bought Kelek and has incorporated their movement technology into their product line. The reports of Breitling's having mechanical problems have subsided. Quietly, people have stopped maligning these watches. Nevertheless, I have been told (so it is third hand now) that older Chronomat's suffered from poor quality control. Be careful when buying a used Chronomat.

Other case features: the crown is screw-down. The pushers are an interesting rounded/ridged design that keeps them from dominating the side of the watch. There are crown protectors on either side of the crown protruding from the case.

The case is available in all stainless steel, two-tone (the rider tabs, bezel screws, pushers and crown are 18k gold OR bezel is 18k gold but rider tabs are SS), and all 18k gold. Since the 1994/95 model year, the Breitling emblem on the face is either 18k yellow gold (TT or solid gold versions) or white gold (SS versions). The hands have changed somewhat over time. They are precious metal in the TT/18k gold versions, but the chronograph hands are blue metal. Early Chronomat's have a central chronograph hand that ends in a simple, squared-off tail (see the early Chronomat picture above). Newer Chronomat chronograph hands have the Breitling script "B" and anchor at the end (see the pictures below). The hour and minute hands have tritium fields for luminescence.

Chronomat GT Chronomat Vitesse
Continuing onto the face: there is two face styles currently in production. The "GT" style has large rings around the totalizers (sub dials), and large hour markers ending in tritium dots. The "Vitesse" style has block Arabic numerals for the hour markers, which in turn are filled in with tritium for luminescence. The immediately previous generation of Chronomat's came with either somewhat thinner hour markers, or somewhat smaller and non-slanted numerals.

The face styles and colours are many and varied. I've put a few favourites below, but there are many others.

There are several Chronomat variants/descendents, listed here in no particular order:

» One notable variant is the Chronomat Blackbird, a black faced Chronomat GT (technically, no, it is closer to the Chronomat's prior to 97/98), with an all-matte stainless steel case and (optional) matching pilot bracelet.

» A second variant is the Chronomat Longitude, which has a second, independent hour hand for keeping two time zones. The Longitude's bezel is also bi-directional and marked with hours, so that yet a third time zone can be kept track of.

» On the size front, there are several smaller sizes-- Chrono Sextant (mechaquartz, 36mm diameter), Chrono Jetstream (also mechaquartz, 36.6mm diameter), Chrono Cockpit (automatic, discontinued, 38mm); and, one larger size-- Chrono Crosswind (7750-based, luminous chronograph hands, 44mm)

The bracelets for Chronomat's comes in two options-- a so-called pilot bracelet or a bullet bracelet.

Pilot Bracelet in stainless steel.
Rouleaux (bullet) bracelet in stainless steel.
I only have experience with the Pilot bracelet, but have found it to be quite comfortable and of high quality. The links are solid metal and fit together tightly. It doesn't "shave my wrist" when I wear it.

Some hints on how to identify a fake:

» Most likely, the movement is quartz, since faking a chronograph movement is expensive. Thus the seconds' totalizer will have a hand that "jumps" instead of smoothly sweeping across its arc.

» Many fakes do not have the Valjoux 7750 configuration to the totalizers. The correct totalizer configuration is:
º 6 o'clock is the hour totalizer (marked 12/2/4/8/8/10 in newer Chronomat's or 12/3/6/9 in older Chronomat's)
º the 9 o'clock is the sweep seconds totalizer (marked 60/10/20/30/40/50 in newer Chronomat's or 60/20/40 in older Chronomat's)
º The 12 o'clock totalizer is the minutes totalizer (marked 30/5/10/15/20/25 in newer Chronomat's or 30/10/20 in older Chronomat's)

» Breitling has very crisp lines to the minute marks on the bezel. If you look at a real Breitling, these lines are very sharp recesses that are clearly defined. In many fakes, the lines are stamped and show deformation in the surrounding metal.

» On some fakes, the bezel is marked as though it were a Chronomat Longitude (i.e., 12/1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11), but the watch has no spare hour hand.

Second time round © 2017