Breitling Chronomat Comprehensive Guide: History and a Review of the Modern Collection

Breitling Chronomat Comprehensive Guide: History and a Review of the Modern Collection

The Breitling Chronomat traces its most emblematic design elements back to the relatively recent year of 1984, but the model’s roots reach much further back, to the dawn of Breitling’s role as a leading innovator of watches for pilots. On the way to becoming one of the watch world’s iconic chronograph wristwatches, the Chronomat has also been the host model for some of the most significant innovations in movement technology. Today, it remains one of Breitling’s flagship models, with an array of sizes, materials, colorways, and complications for men and ladies alike. Here is the story of the Breitling Chronomat, from its groundbreaking origins to its 21st Century revival.

The Original Chronomat (1941)

Breitling’s long and storied history in the arena of aviation begins in 1938, shortly before the start of World War II, with the founding of the Huit Aviation Department by third-generation company chairman Willy Breitling. Taking its numerical name “huit” from the eight-day power reserve offered by Breitling’s watches and clocks — an innovation pioneered by Willy’s grandfather Léon Breitling —  the Huit Aviation Department was devoted to making the most precise and robust onboard timekeepers for the cockpits of military planes. 

Breitling Chronomat original 1941

Two years later, Breitling unveiled a world’s-first invention destined to make a historical impact on both watchmaking and piloting: the first timepiece equipped with a logarithmic scale on its rotating bezel that could be used by the wearer to make vital calculations and conversions. Based on the E6B slide rule devised by mathematician Robert Marcel — which enabled users to convert between standard miles, kilometers, and nautical miles, the most important units for aviation — the multifunctional scale could be used in conjunction with the watch’s chronograph function to determine factors such as fuel consumption, distance traveled, and climb and descent rates. Breitling called this versatile tool watch the Chronomat — a  “Chronographe” with “Mathématique” — and released it to the public in 1941. It featured a bicompax dial, with tachymeter, pulsometer and telemeter scales accompanying the slide rule bezel for additional calculations, and contained the Swiss-made, manually wound Venus Caliber 175. Despite Breitling’s heavy involvement with aviation at the time, including its role as an official supplier of chronographs to the British Royal Air Force, the original Chronomat was initially aimed not at pilots but at scientists and mathematicians.

Original Breitling Navitimer (1952)Diehard fans of Breitling’s Navitimer know the next chapter. The rotating slide-rule bezel reappeared in 1952 as a signature technical element of the first Breitling Navitimer (above), a watch that was emphatically geared toward professional pilots and those who wanted to emulate their jet-setting style. The Chronomat languished on Breitling’s back burner for quite some time after the war, until it re-emerged to play a key role in one of the most epochal years in watchmaking history. 

The Chrono-Matic Era (1969)

Breitling Chrono-Matic 1969

In 1969, after several years of intensive research and development, and fierce competition throughout the industry, Breitling became one of the very first watchmaking firms to outfit a watch with a self-winding, or automatic, chronograph movement. Breitling had joined a consortium of its competitors, which included the watch firms Hamilton-Buren and Heuer-Leonidas (today’s TAG Heuer) as well as Swiss movement maker Dubois-Dépraz, to jointly develop the now-legendary Caliber 11. All the watch brands in the group shared custody of the movement and each one used it in one or more chronograph watches: Heuer in the Monaco and the Carrera, Hamilton in the Chrono-Matic and the Pan-Europ, and Breitling, in a new version of the Chronomat, bestowing upon it the new moniker of “Chronomatic.”

The Modern Chronomat (1984)

Right on the heels of the Great Chronograph Race of 1969, however, came the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s and ‘80s. (The first quartz wristwatch, ironically, came out the same year, 1969, as the first wave of automatic mechanical chronographs, the former milestone nearly rendering the latter one almost instantly obsolete.) Traditional Swiss watchmakers that adhered to using mechanical movements rather than adopting the new technology — embraced by the Asian watch manufacturers that had brought it into the mainstream — faced stiff competition and even the threat of extinction. Watches with quartz movements could be mass-produced much more inexpensively than their mechanical counterparts and priced accordingly for a wide audience. 

Breitling Chronomat Frecce Tricolori (1984)Breitling, like so many other watch firms of the era, hit upon hard times during the Quartz Crisis years. In 1979, an ailing Willy Breitling sold the struggling family firm to Ernest Schneider, a Swiss army veteran, watchmaker, and avid amateur pilot. Schneider shut down the company for a major retooling and relaunched it in 1984, the 100th anniversary year of its founding. One of that milestone year’s most notable new releases was a heavily redesigned version of the Chronomat (above), which introduced the now-emblematic “rider tabs” on its rotating bezel (the groundbreaking slide-rule function having by now migrated over to the Navitimer line, which spun off from the Chronomat in 1952). 

This new version of the Chronomat was unmistakably a watch designed with piloting in mind: Schneider developed it in cooperation with Italy’s Frecce Tricolori aerobatics team — the model’s first customers before it was released to the public. The rider tabs, placed strategically at the quarter-hour markers, were designed to be easily gripped by a wearer who wanted to set a countdown time with the integrated chronograph function, making them as useful for sports like yacht racing as they were for aerial maneuvers. The second-generation Chronomat’s versatile appeal also spoke to motorsports enthusiasts, with its tachymeter scale flange. Behind the three-register dial was an automatic chronograph movement, the Valjoux 7750, which was ubiquitous throughout many high-end chronograph watches of the era. Despite launching right at the heart of a quartz-dominant era, the Breitling Chronomat found a large and enthusiastic audience — including actor/comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who famously wore one on many episodes of his legendary, eponymous 1990s sitcom. 

The Chronomat B01 (2009)

Breitling Chronomat B01 (2009)

Luxury watches with mechanical movements would weather the Quartz Crisis era to enter a triumphant renaissance in the 21st Century, and many historical Swiss watchmakers, including Breitling, would vigorously pursue a higher level of vertical integration. In 2009, Breitling introduced its first in-house movement of the modern era, the column-wheel-chronograph-equipped, COSC-chronometer-certified Caliber B01. The first watch to contain that movement, appropriately, was the Chronomat, the model in Breitling’s lineup with the most history. The Chronomat B01, as the newer model was dubbed, took its place alongside other popular models like the Navitimer and Superocean as a flagship of the collection while Breitling continued to build upon the B01 movement with additional complications. 

The Retro Redesign (2020)

Breitling Chronomat B01 42 Bentley Edition

Ernest Schneider’s son Teddy, who had become majority shareholder, sold Breitling in 2017 to an investment group. One of the group’s shareholders, former IWC executive and luxury watch veteran Georges Kern, took over as CEO, and with new management once again came a new generation of Chronomats, one heavily inspired by the original “Frecce Tricolori” 1980s models. The most notable “retro” feature of the new Chronomat models are the distinctive “Rouleaux” integrated bracelets, which debuted on the earlier versions but had been discontinued under the previous regime. The most recent wave of Chronomats — which offer case options in all-steel, steel-and-gold, and, at the highest end, all-gold — have also added a clever and useful element to the ratcheting bezel and its rider tabs: the tabs at 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock are interchangeable, which means the first 15-minute interval on the scale can be used for either counting up or counting down. The Chronomat B01 42, which derives its numerical suffix from its case diameter, has since begotten a wide and diverse range of offspring, from the robust, wrist-dominant dimensions of the Super Chronomat B01 44 models to the understated elegance of the three-hand Chronomat 32. 

The Collection:

Chronomat B01 42 

Breitling Chronomat B01 42

Price: $8,750 - $32,900, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 15.1mm, Lug-to-Lug: 50.5mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 200m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber B01

The first, and still the leader model, in the revamped Chronomaster collection that rolled off the runway in 2020, the Chronomat B01 42 offers a substantial but not overly imposing case diameter of 42mm and a profile slightly over 15mm. The tricompax dials, with subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock for chronograph minutes and hours and running seconds, respectively, are in a variety of two-tone and tone-on-tone colorways. The chronograph pushers flank a fluted crown that screws down securely into the case for a 200-meter water resistance. All Chronomat B01 watches contain the Breitling Caliber B01, which holds a lengthy 70-hour power reserve. 

Super Chronomat B01 44

Breitling Super Chronomat B01 44

Price: $9,450 - $26,000, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 14.4mm, Lug-to-Lug: 53mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 200m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber B01

Just about a year after the relaunch of the Chronomat B01 42 came the somewhat inevitable debut of a bigger, bolder version in a 44mm case, the Super Chronomat B01 44, described by Breitling as its “supercharged, all-purpose sports watch.” The “Super” versions of the Chronomat also stand out from their siblings in their use of colored ceramic inserts for the unidirectional, ratcheting “rider tab” bezels, and in their range of bracelet and strap options, from the hallmark Rouleaux-style steel bracelet to a selection of rubber straps with three distinctive textures from state-of-the-art injection molding — matte, slick, and woven-look. The in-house, chronometer-certified Caliber B01 ticks inside the Super Chronomat models, behind a screwed-down caseback that secures the 200-meter water resistance.  

Super Chronomat 44 Four Year Calendar

Breitling Chronomat Four Year Calendar

Price: $15,000 - $18,500, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 14.5mm, Lug-to-Lug: 53.5mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber 19 (ETA 2892-A2 base

The most complicated member of the Super Chronomat family combines the signature chronograph function with a so-called “semi-perpetual” calendar display. The Super Chronomat 44 Four-Year Calendar contains the self-winding Breitling Caliber B19, which melds an ETA base movement with a proprietary module that powers its multiple functions: central hour and minute display of local time, small seconds, 1/4-second chronograph, plus a calendar function with day, date, month, and moon-phase that requires adjustment only during leap year — or precisely every 1,461 days. It is a user-friendly complication that settles nicely into the middle ground between annual and perpetual calendar. The model is available in two versions, both in steel, with two-tone dial executions, on either a Rouleaux bracelet or a rubber strap. 

Chronomat Automatic 40 GMT

Breitling Chronomat 40 GMT GroupPrice: $5,950 - $7,950, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 11.7mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47.4mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 200m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber 32 (ETA 2893-2 base)

Branching out from the Chronomat’s signature stopwatch functions, Breitling introduced the dual-time version of the model in 2022, a stylish and functional traveler’s undoubtedly timed to appeal to enthusiasts just beginning to get back to their globetrotting groove after several years of pandemic-era restrictions. Still a relatively small sub-family, the Chronomat Automatic 40 GMT (the 40 refers to the case diameter; the GMT, for “Greenwich Mean Time,” a hint to the watch’s main complication) consists of stainless steel models on Rouleaux bracelets with colorful dials displaying the local-time hour and minute plus a second time zone via a 24-hour scale on the flange and a central arrow-tipped GMT hand. Inside the GMT models is an ETA-based automatic movement, the Breitling Caliber 32, offering a 42-hour power reserve and a COSC chronometer certification (Breitling takes pride in all of its movements, in-house or outsourced, meeting these chronometric criteria). 

Chronomat Automatic 36

Breitling Chronomat Automatic 36 South Sea

Price: $5,100 - $27,500, Case Size: 36mm, Thickness: 10mm, Lug-to-Lug: 43.3mm, Lug Width: 18mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Breitling Caliber 10 (ETA 2892-A2 base)

On the heels of the first Chronomat B01 42 models in 2020 came two iterations of the watch in smaller executions aimed at women. The larger of the two, the Automatic 36, is outfitted with the ETA-based automatic Breitling Caliber 10, with a 42-hour power reserve, and features simple three-handed lacquered dials in a range of colorways. Several models also feature diamond-set bezels and indexes. In 2023, Breitling added the Chronomat South Sea capsule collection, which takes its inspiration from “the beauty of tropical land and seascapes.” The South Sea models have metallic or mother-of-pearl dials in ice blue, green and pink, diamond hour indexes, and multicolored gem-set bezels and come on either color-coordinated alligator leather straps or the signature “Rouleaux” bracelet.

Chronomat 32

Breitling Chronomat 32

Price: $4,250 - $21,500, Case Size: 32mm, Thickness: 8.5mm, Lug-to-Lug: 39.4mm, Lug Width: 16mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Breitling SuperQuartz Caliber 77

Launched alongside the Automatic 36 models were the most dainty and understated versions of the Chronomat, with steel cases measuring 32mm in diameter and just 8.5mm thick. Like their self-winding bigger sisters, the Chronomat 32 features a dazzling array of dial colors and several gem-set options in steel, two-tone, or gold. The movements in these smallest members of the Chronomat family is Breitling’s thermocompensated “SuperQuartz” Caliber 77, which is 10 times more accurate than a traditional quartz movement and carries a four-year battery life.

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