Breitling occupies a rather unique niche in the world of luxury watches. The brand is strongly linked with aviation, and unlike many of its competitors who focus on the clean legibility of a classic 3-hander “pilot’s watch”, Breitling tends more towards providing as much functionality as possible. Chronographs are their forte, sometimes even paired with the complex slide rule bezel to act as an analog computer in the event that a cockpit’s instruments should fail.
Although well-established as a luxury tier brand, buying into the world of Breitling can be more affordable than you would think. There are classic references in Breitling’s back catalogue that sell on the used market for hundreds rather than thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Here are five examples of iconic references that can be had for far less than the sticker price of a new Breitling at retail.
No-Nonsense Tool Watch: Colt Quartz reference A57035
The Colt line has been discontinued by Breitling, which is a real shame since this was one of the first watches that really attracted me to the brand. The Colt is all about utility and durability, with large lume-filled Arabic numerals providing easy legibility day or night, a 24-hour military time scale, date window and a unidirectional timing bezel. The quartz ETA 955.612 movement offers no-frills accuracy and an 8-year battery, while a screw down crown contributes to this reference’s 300M of water resistance. With a 38mm dial and micro-adjust clasp this watch will suit any wrist and will take a hell of a beating.
Flight Computer on a Wrist: Aerospace reference F56062
The company motto “Instruments for Professionals” is embodied most aptly by references like the Aerospace, with its combination analogue-digital display to easily reference information on the fly, if you’ll forgive the feeble aviation pun. The ETA 988.332 movement within provides a perpetual calendar, chronograph and dual timezone functionality, along with a unidirectional timing bezel and a feather-light titanium case, all housed within a wearable 40mm dial. Water resistance on this reference is rather feeble though at 30M, so this is definitely a watch for the skies rather than the deep.
Breitling’s Best Bracelet: Chronomat reference 81950 with “Rouleaux” bracelet
My obsession with bracelets is well documented, and few are as cool, comfortable or immediately recognizable as the Chronomat’s Rouleaux. The company re-launched the Chronomat this year with its signature bracelet, but those will set you back a cool $8,100 USD. For about one fifth that price you could pick up one of the original Chronomats on the used market, which is still a thoroughly reliable timepiece utilizing perhaps the most robust mechanical chronograph mechanism ever invented, the Valjoux 7750. These are easily serviceable by any watchmaker too, reducing cost of ownership long term. With 100M water resistance, a screw-down crown, and a 40.5mm steel dial, this reference offers a wonderful jump-in point to the world of Breitling chronographs without breaking the bank.
Maximum Functionality, Hold the Quartz: Navitimer reference A23322
The Navitimer is one of the most iconic Breitling references, and for good reason. It looks like no other chronograph out there with its complicated, numeral-filled slide rule bezel, which can be used as an analogue computer for multiplication, division, or more advanced mathematics like logarithms or trigonometry. I’d wager that few of its owners utilize the slide rule for more than working out how to split a bill, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Paradoxically for such a complex dial, the Navitimer manages a dressy aesthetic that makes it more at home with a suit and tie than most chronographs can manage. This reference features the ETA Valjoux 7753, a modified version of the 7750 with a different sub-dial layout at 3-6-9. With a 42mm dial this is a watch that will flatter larger wrists, but the water resistance is a rather feeble 30M so you’ll need to avoid getting it wet.
Manufacture chronograph, Panda style: Premier B01 reference AB0118221G1P1
At $5K USD, you may question how the Premier B01 could possibly be appropriate for an article about “surprisingly affordable” references. The key here is to look at the Premier B01 in context: this is an in-house manufacture, column wheel vertical clutch chronograph with a modern 4Hz beat rate and 70 hours of power reserve.
At retail this watch is priced at $8,400 USD, so the ability to acquire one on the used market for around $5K is a surprisingly affordable avenue indeed. This watch is a rarity in the market with its clean two-register “Panda” dial coupled with a thoroughly modern, high-end chronograph calibre. As a modern Breitling you get all the bells and whistles here too; 100M of water resistance and a cambered sapphire crystal for that vintage look without the fragility of mineral crystal.