Like Tag Heuer but want to trade up to an inexpensive Rolex alternative? Breitling, one of the best entry-level brands into appreciating fine timepieces, is a country full of rich history beginning with pocket watches in 1884. Fast-forward to now, they are one of the largest volume boutique timepiece brands in their segment.
Leon Breitling began manufacturing timepieces in 1884 in the form of fine Swiss pocket watches. He focused on the incorporation of the chronograph into everyday pieces available for practical use by professionals ranging from military to athletic applications.
When his son Gaston took over in 1914, he capitalized on an unexpected circumstance: World War I. The demand for timepieces in aviation applications grew, so he switched production entirely to a focus on pilots’ wristwatches. In 1915, he introduced the first Breitling Chronograph which attained significant notoriety among pilots for their precision with a separate start/stop push button from the crown for the chronograph.
Willy Breitling resumed operations in 1934 with the invention of the second reset pusher, seven years after the death of Gatson, and he solidified contracts with the British Royal Air Force and United States Army. Activity continued as usual until the 1952 introduction of the Navitimer, the most popular Breitling to date with its iconic slide rule function.
In 1969, Breitling, Heuer, Hamilton-Buren, and Dubois-Depraz developed the world’s first automatic chronograph with a micro-rotor, a breakthrough in the industry. To the fact of who actually created the first automatic chronograph, whether it was Breitling/Heuer/Hamilton-Buren/Dubois-Depraz or Zenith, will forever be debated. This allowed for the Chronomatic, the first self-winding chronograph offered by Breitling. Unfortunately, the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s dwindled Breitling’s sales, and Willy’s declining personal health led to the sale of the company to Ernst Schneider in 1979 who would rekindle the brand in 1984 as Breitling SA.
Since Schneider’s acquisition, they released the redesigned Chronomat in 1984 as a 100th anniversary piece which has proven to be the brand’s most popular chronograph and symbolized the revitalization of self-winding timepieces following the Quartz Crisis. The Breitling Emergency was released in 1995 featuring a radio transmitter broadcasting on the 121.5 MHz distress frequency, emphasizing Breitling’s dedication to aviation based watches.
In 2000, Breitling ambitiously devoted all movement production to be COSC certified, and they developed their own in-house movement dubbed the B01 in 2009 for placement in the Chronomat and Navitimer.
Schneider expanded operations until selling 80% of the company in 2017 to CVC Capital Partners with Georges Kern, the former executive of IWC, being named Breitling’s CEO. To top it off, Breitlings are now worn by experts in their industries like Brad Pitt, Adam Driver, Charlize Theron, Bear Grylls, Andrew Zimmern, Jeffrey Immelt, John Watson, and many more.
Movements and Design
For the past 35 years, the manufacturer has had a history of modifying simple ETA / Valjoux 7750 based movements for its watches. Breitling’s purchase of Kelek, a movement manufacturer, in 1997 ushered in a new era of Breitling movement quality. Not until 2009 did they introduce their first in-house movement, the B01, and they have continued to replace outsourced movements with in-house replacements. Less in-demand models like the basic non-Heritage Superoceans are still powered by ETA based movements like the Breitling Calibre 13 and 17.
All Breitlings whether in-house or not, mechanical or quartz, are all COSC certified and accompanied upon original purchase with a COSC certificate guaranteeing they are originally sold within an average daily rate of -4/+6 seconds per day.
In regards to design, Breitlings are generalized as being the biggest, flashiest, most masculine, and highest-polished choice when looking for a boutique wristwatch. This is because the majority of models are made of stainless steel and are sized 43mm-48mm.
While this may be true, they offer a number of brushed models which command a healthy following. Also, Breitling has a variety of rubber and leather band options that have increased the diversity of their timepieces.
These are recognized as the “busier” watches produced by Breitling, most notably:
- Transocean Unitime
Breitling divers appear more casual and versatile their aviation counterparts, with thicker non-steel bezels and superior water resistance ratings.
- Superocean Heritage
Functional would be the best way to describe these watches. They can range from being incredibly busy like the Emergency to being simple like the Colt and are the most common Breitlings featured on the military-influenced canvas bands.This segment can be entered as $2,000 with the new Colt Skyracer.
- Aerospace Evo
- Avenger and Super Avenger (especially the Blackbird, Blacksteel, and Hurricane models)
- Chronomat Blackbird
- Cockpit B50
- Chronospace (brushed)
- Exospace (a simpler Emergency)
Dress pieces serve less of a purpose than the rest of their counterparts; therefore, they have a greater focus on elegance, refinement, and grandeur.
- Breitling for Bentley
My Favorite Models
The Breitling Chronomat was redesigned in 1985 following the Quartz Crisis and has continued being the brand’s best-selling chronograph. Its roots in aviation are in the original design for the Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team of the Italian Air Force. It is offered in polished, brushed, and blacksteel finishes with its most common finish being polished. Personally, I enjoy the Chronomat Blackbird A44360 as its brushed finish lays emphasis on the watch as an aviation tool, assisted by its exclusive date window at the 12. The Chronomat 01 Limited Edition also has a brushed finish but has red subdial hands and the only exhibition caseback featured on a Chronomat.
Breitling’s longest lasting piece to date originating in 1952, the Navitimer, has become a staple of the brand and is found in any true enthusiast’s collection. With the slide rule function, it remains one of the most demanded wristwatches in aviation. It is easily identifiable by the “busy” dial and slanted pilot bracelet that is 7 links in width. Today, the most popular models are the Navitimer World and Navitimer 01 offered in 43, 46, and 48.
Superocean Heritage and Chronograph Variants (SOH & SOHC)
The Breitling Superocean Heritage has consistently been one of the hottest watches since I entered the hobby in 2017. Compared to other boutique brands, it is one of the only companies to offer a variety of their models on their mesh band known as the Ocean Classic- one that has done great favors to attain new millennial clientele.
In 2015, the II models were introduced bringing this hot model up to speed with a ceramic bezel and Tudor based movement. With this, they extended their international manufacturer’s warranty from 2 years to 5 years from the original purchase like the Navitimer and Chronomat counterparts.
After owning the Transocean Chronograph in both steel, rose gold, and red gold variants, I have found this elegant watch is best configured as a 43 with a bronze dial, rose gold bezel, and brown croco strap. However, I will admit the watch is still stunning on the Ocean Classic bracelet! The Transocean Chronograph is a perfect watch for those seeking a dress option from Breitling.
Best Models to Buy
- Avenger 45mm (and II in 43mm)
- Colt Skyracer
- Chronoliner 46mm
- Chronomat 44 and GMT
- Chronomat 47 GMT
- Chronospace 46mm Automatic
- Navitimer World, 01, and Limited Edition 46mm
- Super Avenger (and II) 48mm
- Superocean Heritage 42mm and 46mm
- Superocean Heritage Chronograph 44mm and 46mm
- Transocean Chronograph 43mm
- Transocean Unitime 46mm
Models to Avoid
- All Bentley variations
- Chronomat 38mm-41mm
- Galactic 36mm
- Skyracer Raven (rubber bezel)
Breitling Pre-Owned Pricing
For most general consumers, a good rule is to be under half of a Breitling’s original MSRP. I would estimate that eight out of 10 Breitlings I have sold sell within the 45%-55% of MSRP bracket, so being at or under 50% of the MSRP is safe if you just want to minimize costs of ownership and/or wear Breitlings for free.
For dealers and those that want to make money, target $0.25-$0.45 on the MSRP for any given pre-owned Breitling. Undesirable models can be worth as low as $0.20; however, this is uncommon and most pieces will be in the $0.30-$0.40 range. For “hot” models like the Superocean Heritage and Navitimer World, $.40 can be acceptable if full set and up to $0.45 on occasion. It is best to consider every watch as its each individual situation when coming up with a value. I do not use MSRP as a golden rule; I base 75% of my target price on market comparables, the MSRP rule is just great to make sure you are in the correct ballpark. I almost never pay the same dollar for a watch, many times more and sometimes less. It is important to remember watches at the higher end of this $0.40-$0.45 range should be full set. If you were curious what makes a Breitling full set, keep reading.
Breitling has had many Breitling box variants over the years; I will focus on that of the 2000-2017 model years and provide photos at the bottom of this article. The oldest boxes are those with the inner bakelite box, travel case, and outer box. The newest models exclude bakelite boxes in favor of only a box and travel case. Since the 2000s, some Breitlings include outer white shipping boxes.
Below, I will provide examples of inner and outer boxes I have encountered that are authentic; however, first, I will address the most common counterfeit I have seen circulating in the market.
Left is counterfeit, right is authentic.
The outer box illustrated with planes (second part of outer box is yellow) is the most common box to be counterfeited. The best way to discern the genuine from counterfeits in this specific model is to take into consideration a couple of points.
- Is there the Breitling logo on one side of the outer box? There should be.
- Is the Breitling logo on the top of the inner bakelite box raised, or is it flush like it has been stamped on top? No authentic boxes are stamped. The authentic logo is raised.
Let’s take a look at some of the box sets Breilting has had for it’s models in the past two decades…
Late ’90s to early 2000’s
Early 2000’s to 2008 (travel cases and inner box degrade extensively)
2008 – 2012
2012 – Present
2018 Skyracer (most new limited editions are similar style)
Most Breitlings come with one of two variants of papers:
- COSC, manual, and international warranty booklet with the back two pages noting serial and reference numbers. The serial and reference numbers in the international warranty booklet can either be handwritten or stamped.
- COSC, manual, electronic international warranty card, and warranty/maintenance booklet. The electronic international warranty card commonly fades over time and was introduced in 2013 to non-NOS (New Old Stock) pieces.
Models with Slide Rules like the Navitimer and Skyracer will also include a booklet labeled “Slide Rule Instructions” as well as an additional tool used for the Slide Rule.
In some cases, I have seen gray market watches include the international warranty booklet, leaving a very large questionable area in regards to which watches are covered under warranty. This has not yet been something I’ve been able to solve.
Papers are very difficult to be faked and are uncommon. Below are the best tips for prospects examining papers:
- In the interior of the COSC, where it says “Montre Nº”, has the serial number been entered from the factory, or is this space blank/handwritten? These are only filled from the factory.
- Is any ink fading? I have only seen Breitling’s ink fade on occasion (very rarely) due to heat, and it is typically smearing. Look on the COSC and verify the consistency of ink on the big Breitling logo- if it appears faded, it is not genuine.
- For owners of Breitling, you will notice the texture of the material is very different. You can even see it in the paper versus the bold flat yellow factory papers.
As general information when purchasing a Breitling, make sure the serial number on the watch matches that in the international warranty booklet and COSC.
Warranty and Servicing
Breitling authorized dealers offer their watches with one of two warranties. The two year warranty is fully valid through both years and applies to ETA / Valjoux based movements. The second warranty offered is a five year warranty on in-house movements. Unbeknownst to me until owning 60 breitlings, I learned that the five year warranty is not valid unless serviced every two years. Rest assured, Breitling covers this periodic service and maintenance, all you have to do is cover one-way shipping. A perk to getting the watch serviced before resale is the watch’s exterior refinish before being returned, saving the cost of a polish.
Most movement issues excluding those due to human error and (my favorite) “Acts of God” are covered under the warranty. Exterior components like the bezel and crystal are not covered. Expect most official services to be in the $600-$800 range. Parts are surprisingly cheap while having the watch serviced, and crystals are around $200.
OEM authentic Breitling parts can only be attained through an authorized Breitling service center’s servicing. They do not offer parts to owners or individual watchmakers.
A good method to determine if a Breitling has been serviced by an independent watchmaker (or is a fake) is to examine the crystal in various lighting. All Breitling crystals are double coated with an anti-reflective (AR) solution that makes the crystal often appear blue. If the crystal never has a blue tint, the crystal has either been replaced, buffed, or you are not dealing with an authentic Breitling. Do not be quick to jump to conclusions and assume the watch is fake, most often the crystal has just been replaced at an independent watchmaker.
Breitling is a perfect entry level timepiece brand to own. Easily recognizable by watch enthusiasts and collectors, they provide models for any desire you have whether you are looking for a sporty diver, an aviation tool, a functional professional piece, or a pure of elegance.
With their heavy versatility, they are excellent choices for a one watch collection. I will always keep a Chronomat Blackbird, Superocean Heritage 46 Chronograph blackeye blue, and Transocean Chronograph rose gold in my personal collection. Their pre-owned value is unparalleled at under half of MSRP in the $1,800-$4,500 range. The best part is I can wear any one of my currently 13 Breitlings and sell when I want to for a $500+ profit at a return of 25% or higher, for just wearing and listing a timepiece.
Like what you heard? Don’t stop here, go get a Breitling for your collection!