Breitling Superocean and Superocean Heritage: The Ultimate Guide

Breitling Superocean and Superocean Heritage: The Ultimate Guide

Historically, Breitling is a watchmaker known for two horological specialties: aviation watches and chronographs. In its most famous timepieces, in fact, like the Navitimer and Chronomat, the two genres elegantly merge into an iconic whole. While this is still largely the case today, Breitling has also staked out for itself a successful and impactful niche in the category of dive watches; its robust and stylish Superocean collection, introduced in 1957 during the early heyday of recreational diving, continues to command a large and avid audience today. Now divided into two distinctively different yet historically related families — the Superocean and Superocean Heritage — and offering both three-hand and chronograph models in a steadily growing array of sizes, materials, and colorways, Breitling’s seaworthy fleet offers a sporty option for just about everyone. Here is a brief history of the Superocean and a guide to the modern collection.

1957: Ref. 1004 Diver and Ref. 807 Chronograph

The launch of the original Superocean, Breitling’s first purpose-built divers’ watch, in 1957, was timed to commemorate 25 years at the helm of the company for Willy Breitling, the only son of founder Gaston Breitling and the inventor of such enduring classics as the Chronomat and Navitimer. Commercially, it was also driven by the growing popularity of scuba diving as a hobby and the subsequent market desire for wristwatches that could be worn underwater. Several of that genre’s pioneers had already been a few years on the scene — most notably the Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster, and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms — and as per its usual mandate, Breitling was determined not to just jump onboard a burgeoning trend but to elevate it to a new level. The Breitling Superocean family began with not one but two watches: Ref. 1004, a three-handed diver in a 38mm stainless steel case containing an outsourced movement; and Ref. 807, one of the earliest dive chronographs, in a 39mm steel case, which many believe may have sported the first “reverse panda” dial, i.e. white subdials on a black background. Both versions of the Superocean were noteworthy for the concave shape of their rotating dive-scale bezels, their distinctive arrow-and-sword handset, and their long, thin triangular hour markers, different from the geometrical indexes favored by most of the watch’s predecessors. Most importantly, the Superocean’s case was water-resistant to 200 meters, double that of the Rolex Submariner at its debut. 

1964: Ref. 2005  “Slow Motion”

Never one to rest on his laurels when it came to improving his watches’ utility, Willy Breitling turned his attention to upgrading the Superocean in the 1960s, with a focus on the chronograph function. While many three-handed dive watches are designed to allow a wearer to calculate their remaining time underwater by following the minute hand along a pre-set dive time on the rotating bezel, dive chronographs often rely on small subdials to track these intervals, which become harder to read at greater depths. Willy’s solution was an all-new movement with a large, luminous central minutes hand for the chronograph, rather than a seconds hand, which made a complete rotation around an outer 60-minute scale once per hour instead of once per minute. To solve the obvious problem of how a wearer might see at a glance if the watch is running without the aid of a moving seconds counter, Breitling added a small dot-shaped aperture above 6 o’clock, which would be filled in with black to blend in with the rest of the dial when the chronograph is switched off, and filled with white to indicate when it was running. The watch that contained this movement, the now exceedingly rare Ref. 2005, debuted in 1964, replacing the discontinued Refs. 1004 and 807, and eventually picked up the nickname “Slow Motion” Superocean, for its slow-moving minutes hand, a feature not found on any other dive watch or chronograph at the time.

1969: Ref. 2015 “Chrono-Matic” Superocean

Like the Navitimer and Chronomat that had preceded it to market, the Superocean welcomed a new movement in 1969, the historic “Chrono-Matic” Caliber 11 that Breitling had developed in partnership with a consortium of its competitors, including Hamilton (then known as Hamilton-Buren) and TAG Heuer (then known as Heuer-Leonidas). The movement, whose usage was shared amongst the developers, in iconic watches like Heuer’s Monaco and Carrera and Hamilton’s Chrono-Matic, was one of the very first self-winding chronograph movements, debuting the same year as the most famous one, the Zenith El Primero. The first Superocean watch that housed the historic movement, the Ref. 2015, was huge even by modern standards — 48mm in diameter — and featured a newly patented, waterproof rotating bezel. As the model debuted at the dawn of the 1970s, a very colorful era for watches, the “Chrono-Matic” version of the Superocean is beloved by collectors today for details like its bright orange hands and “Milanese” steel mesh bracelet. 

1983: Ref. 81190 “Deep Sea”

Dive watches started getting more extreme in the late 1960s and into the ‘70s. Rolex released its first Sea-Dweller in 1967, with an envelope-pushing water resistance of 500 meters, a rating doubled to 1,000 meters in 1978. Omega launched the original Seamaster “PloProf” in 1970, boasting a 600-meter depth rating that would eventually also double to 1,200 meters in later versions. Breitling didn’t shy away from the challenge of playing with the category’s big boys in the ultra-depths, releasing the “Deep Sea” version of the Superocean (Ref. 81190) in 1983. The model achieved an astonishing 1,000 meters of water resistance thanks in part to a patented innovation, a helium-release caseback that acted as a valve to release pent-up helium atoms before their buildup could damage the watch. Breitling wouldn’t stop there, releasing models of the Superocean that pushed the limits of water resistance to 1,500 meters and eventually to 2,000; by 2012, the family even included a chronograph whose pushers could be safely operated at 2,000 meters under water. Along the way, the case and dial of the Superocean was updated, with the overall collection becoming larger and thicker, and large Arabic numerals displacing the familiar hour markers. 

2007: Superocean Heritage Marks a Half-Century

As the Superocean collection evolved to a more modern look in the early part of the 21st century, Breitling anticipated the now-dominant trend toward vintage designs among timepiece enthusiasts with the launch of the Superocean Heritage in 2007. The model marked 50 years since the debut of the first Superocean and featured retro-inspired elements drawn from the original. The dial featured thin indexes rather than bulky Arabic numerals, albeit in a more understated style than the sharp triangular wedges of the 1957 watch; similarly simple markers on the rotating bezel, a date window at 6 o’clock; and a 1950s-style steel mesh bracelet or a color coordinated rubber strap with a faux-mesh-bracelet texture. In 2017, as part of the new direction for Breitling ushered in by incoming CEO Georges Kern, the company introduced the next generation, originally called the Superocean Heritage II, which offered an extended range of case size options, an increased water resistance of 200 meters (like the original) and, most notably, chronograph versions. 

2022: A Colorful Revival


With the Superocean Heritage successfully upgraded, Kern and his team turned their attention to a major reboot of the core Superocean line in 2022. To jump-start this new era of the collection, they mined the archives for the rare and largely forgotten “Slow Motion” models of the 1960s. On the new models, the central chronograph minutes hand has given way to a more conventional running seconds hand with a circular tip that pays a subtle tribute to the  6 o’clock “dot” on the dials of the 1960s and ‘70s models. The large, luminous square now finds a home on the main minutes hand, paired with a wide sword hour hand. The chunky square indexes, also a nod to the vintage models, are luminous-coated for optimum legibility. The dive-scale inserts on the bezels are made from scratch-proof ceramic. Despite boasting a very robust 300-meter water resistance, the latest generation of Superocean models are seen by Breitling as something beyond just a dive watch — suitable for surfing, swimming, or even just rocking at a beachside bar, as evidenced by the range of colorways available in the new collection, one that is sure to expand in the coming years. Here is a comprehensive look at the current models in both the Superocean and Superocean Heritage collections.

Breitling Superocean Automatic

Price: $4,950 - $22,400, Case Size: 36mm/42mm/44mm, Case Height: 12.2mm/12.5mm/12.6mm, Lug to Lug: 42.4mm/47mm/50.5mm, Lug Width: 18mm/22mm/22mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 300 meters, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber 17 (ETA 2824-2 or Sellita SW200-1 base)

Described in more detail directly above, the most recent version of the Breitling Superocean Automatic (there’s no chronograph version as yet) speaks to a wide swath of consumers with three case sizes and a variety of materials and material combinations, from all-steel, to steel and gold, to a special alloy of bronze that combines a high degree of corrosion resistance with a tendency to develop a unique patina over time. Beating inside all the cases is the automatic, Swiss-made Breitling Caliber 17, built on a reliable ETA or Sellita base, and mounted on either a three-row metal bracelet or rubber strap.

Breitling Superocean Heritage ‘57

Price: $4,750 - $6,250, Case Size: 38mm/42mm, Case Height: 9.3mm/9.9mm, Lug to Lug: 42mm/46mm, Lug Width: 18mm/20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber 10 (ETA 2892 base)

Introduced in 2020, the Superocean Heritage ‘57 (taking its numeral, of course, from the model’s debut year) is the most retro of the current Superocean series, focusing on vintage style over diving functionality: the water resistance is a standard 100 meters and the crown doesn’t screw into the case. The dial distinguishes the watch from the rest of the line with vintage details like the “Christmas tree” hour hand and the double-layered quarter-hour markers with a wedge index over a lumed circle. The case has a period-appropriate box-style crystal over the dial and fits neatly into either a leather strap or (for the true purist) a mesh-style bracelet.

Breitling Superocean Heritage B20 Automatic

Price: $5,200 - $20,650, Case Size: 42mm/44mm/46mm, Case Height: 14.3mm/14.5mm/14.9mm, Lug to Lug: 51.5mm/54.5mm/46mm/56.6mm, Lug Width: 22mm/22mm/24mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 200 meters, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber B20

With case sizes ranging from 42mm to 46mm, the Superocean Heritage B20 Automatic models offer a very similar aesthetic to the Heritage ‘57 — minus the “oven-dial” quarter-hour indexes and “Christmas tree” handset — along with an increased water-resistance of 200 meters. The “B20” in their name refers to their most significant difference from the ‘57 Automatics, namely the in-house Breitling Caliber B20 instead of the outsourced Breitling 17. Caliber B20 is based on the Tudor Caliber MT5612, which the two Swiss brands co-developed several years ago; its notable attributes include a 70-hour power reserve and a COSC chronometer certification.

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronograph 44

Price: $6,500 - $7,850, Case Size: 44mm, Case Height:15.6mm, Lug to Lug: 54.5mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 200 meters, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber 13 (ETA Valjoux 7750 base)

The more entry-level of the two Chronograph options in the Superocean Heritage collection, the Superocean Héritage II Chronograph 44 contains Breitling’s Caliber 13, which is based on the ubiquitous ETA Valjoux 7750, and can be easily distinguished from its sibling by its 12-9-6 subdial configuration and a 3 o’clock date window. The self-winding movement provides the watch a solid 42-hour power reserve and has been (like most all Breitling-branded calibers) certified for chronometric accuracy by COSC. The 44mm case comes in steel or a steel-and-gold combo and several dial color options are available.

Breitling Superocean Heritage B01 Chronograph 44

Price: $8,300 - $9,950, Case Size: 44mm, Case Height:15.5mm, Lug to Lug: 54.5mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 200 meters, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber B01

Described by Breitling as the “flagship” of the Superocean Héritage collection, the Superocean Héritage B01 Chronograph 44 features the same 44mm case dimensions as the model covered above, but its three-register dial layout is different, with subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock and a date window tucked away at 4:30. This more classically symmetrical design is a telltale tip-off to the presence of the Breitling Caliber B01, the brand’s first manufacture movement in the modern era, inside the case. For the higher price of admission, the self-winding B01 movement offers a 70-hour power reserve and a classical column-wheel-driven chronograph function in addition to the expected COSC chronometer certificate. Another bonus, and another visual and functional difference from the Caliber 13 models, which have a solid steel caseback, is the sapphire exhibition caseback through which you can admire the movement while still resting assured that the case can still resist water pressure to 200 meters.


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