Today is the 50th Anniversary of the Chronomatic – Our Top 10 Chronomatic List
In a recent installment of This Week in Watches, we mentioned that Jeff Stein – noted Heuer collector and creator of “On the Dash” and Fred Mandelbaum – noted Breitling collector would be hosting a bit of a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Chronomatic movement. Their respective Instagram accounts (@on_the_dash and @watchfred) will serve as “ground zero” for the events, but we have a feeling that some others will get in on the act. As a reminder, begin using the #chronomatic50 hashtag starting on March 3rd through the 10th to participate. First, though, we thought we’d provide a little background on the famous movement and I put together a brief Top 10 Chronomatic list of my favorite pieces that used the Caliber 11 or one of its offspring (you can read about the variants here).
To refresh your memory (and I’d seriously recommend you check out Jeff’s article on Project 99 – the skunkworks project name used during the development of the Chronomatic Caliber 11), the Caliber 11 debuted on March 3, 1969. The creation of the movement was as a result of collaboration between Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton. The movement, technically, depended on Buren (Hamilton) and Dubois-Depraz and is famous for its left-mounted crown; a signal to the owner that once the time was set that the crown was no longer needed.
The Chronomatic is significant, of course, because it ranks as one of the first automatic chronograph movements in existence. It’s well-noted that Seiko and Zenith also debuted their automatic chronograph movements in 1969, but experts and fans alike have given up trying to convince each other of which brand struck first.
While watch collectors can debate which movement was best, there’s little doubt that the Chronomatic found itself in some of watch history’s most beloved models. Of particular note, and (shocker!) it’s in the Top 10 Chronomatic list, is the 1969 Heuer Monaco 1133B made famous by Steve McQueen in the movie “Le Mans”. Whether the watch is your bag or not, it’s hard to argue about its cultural impact on both watch collectors and novices.
Amazingly, the Chronomatic soldiered on until the mid-80’s in some Heuer models (Breitling ceased using them when it shuttered in 1978). Ultimately, it was even found in brands such as Dugena, Bulova, Bucherer, Stowa, Elgin, and others. The fact that the movements were widely used makes finding one rather easy and often rather affordable with some models around the $2,000 mark or below. Servicing them can be a chore (especially on early Cal 11 models), though, so find a watchmaker who is willing and Abel (pun intended, Mr. Court) to get them back into shape.
The Top 10 Chronomatic List
Regarding the Top 10 Chronomatic list, this was a tough one to pull together because there are so many models to choose from. Now, I am a noted non-lover of these movements due to their inherent thickness (they are modular) and also because I am a hand-wind curmudgeon, but it’s hard to argue with either the significance of these engines or the bold designs that they helped foster. For sure, companies using these movements foften elt the need to take their designs into the next era and we are still enjoying the influence of many of these watches today in newer models. While the Heuers are well-known, what I hadn’t realized was that there are so many Breitling references that used a Caliber 11 or variant (you can certainly see more in our Breitling Expert Interviews article). I actually asked Fred for some suggestions, so he did have some influence. For sure, this list isn’t exhaustive and may even start a few arguments, but if you’re at all interested in a Caliber 11 family watch, perhaps this will get you even more excited.
Heuer Monaco ref.1133B
No Top 10 Chronomatic list would be complete without the Heuer Monaco ref 1133B (aka the Steve McQueen watch). It was and is a true design triumph. With a bold, and large, square case (the first water resistant square crystal watch), the watch is a head turner that’s still made today by TAGHeuer. Made in several color schemes (and also versions with the Caliber 15 and a couple manual wind movements), the signature red, white and blue is what most people consider when they think of a Monaco. Personally speaking, I don’t own a Monaco (they’re quite slabbish and not a fit for all wrists), but buying one is always in the back of my mind. They’re watches that deserve a lot of attention when purchasing as fakes, redials, and damaged dials are ever present, but it’s such a statement watch that it makes all the effort worthwhile. When I started to get into watches in the late 90’s, it felt like Heuer was undergoing its first craze. If I’d had the money, I should have purchased one then…
Breitling Chronomatic Super Ocean ref.2105
A truly recognizable (and massive at 47mm in diameter) Breitling that makes the Top 10 Chronomatic list is ref. 2105 Super Ocean. Launched in 1969, this brightly colored beast carries on the bold looks of prior manual wind watches that has made them highly prized in the eyes of collectors. I had my hands on a similarly cased 7651 recently (by the way, it was a watch that was on its way to none other than Jeff Stein!) and these are truly huge, but very different watches. The large-cased Breitlings have crept up in price, but still don’t come close to the top name Heuers from the era in terms of pricing. I’d call that a rare win for collectors. While they were never worn by famous racers, their high-quality dials and unique cases make them just as unique.
Our next entrant on the Top 10 Chronomatic list serves as this brand’s wildly designed entrant using a Cal 11-variant movement. If Heuer threw down the gauntlet with its square-shaped Monaco, Breitling answered with the enormous Super Ocean (and more references using the case), then Hamilton truly went the eccentric route with its audacious Fontainebleau. Often called an acquired taste by some and “love it or hate it” by others, the Fontainebleau features a highly unique case with a crystal shape that rivals the Monaco in being innovative for the period. At 47mm, these watches come with a stark black and white dial that calms down what would otherwise be a nutty piece. The Fontainebleau is a seriously affordable early Chronomatic due to the polarity of its design, but trust me, if you own one, you’ll stand out in a crowd just as much or more than the flock wearing Monacos. Plus, since it debuted in 1969, it has just as much historical credibility as pieces from the other two brands.
Another Heuer makes the Top 10 Chronomatic list and that’s the Caliber 12-powered Silverstone. In 1972, Heuer launched yet another model named after a famous race circuit in its attempt to replace the Monaco. With another massive case and a mineral crystal in lieu of the Monaco’s acrylic, it was a definite update in terms of both materials and styling. Available in blue, fume, or a burgundy color, this is another watch that TAGHeuer reissued a few years back. Clay Regazzoni, the popular Swiss F1 pilot, was a well-known wearer of the Silverstone, which gives it even more street cred with collectors. Silverstones are popular but have leveled off in recent years in terms of values. The dials often exhibit serious aging and that gives them a unique character that some find charming.
Breitling Chronomatic ref.2130
In my opinion, one of the most classically designed (let’s hope that isn’t a bad word) watches to make the Top 10 Chronomatic list is the Breitling ref. 2130. Introduced in 1977 (and only made for a year), the watch featured the higher beat cal. 12 along with gorgeous “lyre-shaped” lugs: think Speedmaster lugs and you are on track. Plus, at 39mm, it qualifies as a watch that could actually be worn day to day. These pieces came in both panda and reverse panda variants and both are really lovely to behold. The 2130’s due to their rarity, don’t come up often in the discussion of top Chronomatics, but they’re a favorite of Fred’s and he always brings at least one example to dinner when we meet; he’s sold me on their relevance.
Breitling Chronomatic Pult/Pupitre “Bullhead” ref.2117
While they’ve never taken over the traditional right-handed pusher designs of normal chronographs, one can’t debate the form factor of a “Bullhead” type chronograph. They’re just so easy to use, so why wouldn’t there be one of these types of watches on the Top 10 Chronomatic list? Well, there is and it comes in the form of the Breitling Chronomatic ref.2117 Pult/Pupitre otherwise known as the “Bullhead”. Available in either blue or brown, these very 70’s styled chronographs are hard to ignore. Originally released as manual wind watches, Breitling adapted them to use the automatic movements. At 42mm, they’re actually not so huge and they feature a sloping case that thickens dramatically towards the top.
Hamilton Chronomatic ref.11002-3
I own precisely one Caliber 11-equipped watch and, therefore, it makes the Top 10 Chronomatic list. To me, the Hamilton Chronomatic ref.11002-3 isn’t just a great looking Cal. 11 watch, it’s a timeless chronograph. Whether you like it in blue like mine or the equally attractive panda scheme, there’s no denying the traditional looks of this round workmanlike piece. Some would say that Hamilton simply stuck to its designs preceding this model and that it lacks the craziness of many other designs, but I like the fact that the adapted the styling of their manual wind Valjoux models to the new platform. At 37mm, this Hamilton wears supremely well despite its very thick case. Values have definitely come up in the last few years, but these can still be found for very reasonable money.
Breitling Chronomatic ref.2116
Chronomatics were made in a variety of case materials including steel and PVD, but very pieces came in solid gold. We’d be remiss if we failed to include the Breitling ref. 2116 on the Top 10 Chronomatic list because it’s a lovely watch. It comes in at a highly wearable 38mm and contains a highly traditional case with long, slender lugs. In fact, I’d say the case qualifies as a bit “un-Breitling” like. With its black ovoid sub registers, orange/red hand and corresponding tachymeter track, this is a gorgeous watch. It’s also a rare watch that has essentially remained under the radar and was definitely in the shadow of the next watch that we’ll mention on our list.
Heuer Carrera Chronomatic ref.1158
The other gold watch on our Top 10 Chronomatic list comes in the form of the Heuer Carrera Chronomatic ref.1158. Heuer made this 38mm watch over a period of years and in a number of different variants. It’s been publicly stated that this is Jack Heuer’s favorite watch of all time and perhaps due to this, the pieces were gifted to several drivers. If we want to talk rare, take a look at the early first execution model we’ve pictured above with the “Chronomatic” script above the Heuer logo. It’s a gorgeous piece and if I am not mistaken, I can still recall when Jeff located and bought this rare piece.
Heuer Autavia GMT ref.1163
I’d be remiss if I had forgotten to mention the Heuer Autavia GMT Automatic on our Top 10 Chronomatic list. It’s hard not to like a watch with a Pepsi bezel, but these Autavias bring a lot more in terms of styling with their colorful handsets. These watches add a GMT feature with a 24-hour hand to the Cal. 11 movement and they’re highly priozed by collectors. Whether in the original 1163 guise, later 11630 or final 11063, these watches are real lookers. Head here for a great rundown on all the models.
But Wait, There’s More
In America at least, when you hit the bakery and order a dozen of something, you usually walk away with a freebie. I’m a fan of that little surprise, so let’s add a few more pieces to our Top 10 Chronomatic list. Let’s call these the oddities because they are very different, but well worth a mention!
Heuer Bundeswehr Caliber 12 Prototype
Let’s kick it off with the Heuer Bundeswehr Caliber 12 Prototype, a rare piece that never made it to production. Based on the regular manual 1550 SG, a number of these were made and somehow were kept. A few of leaked into private colelctions. Rare and tremendously expensive, it takes the eyes a bit of time to get used to seeing such a familiar chronograph with its crown on the left side. A big thanks to Darren (@go_chrono_go) for sending us a picture of his lovely example!
Bulova Chronomatic “Parking Meter”
Next up, we have the uniquely styled Bulova Chronomatic from 1973 that has earned the nickname of “Parking Meter” for obvious reasons. Like the Breitling we mentioned before, this piece features a Bullhead style with its pushers up top and crown at 6:00. Unlike the Breitling, though, the Bulova contains an anodized “bezel” on top of a stainless case. Bulova made a number of collectible watches in the 70’s and this one ranks near the top. A nice little article can be found here – out of Poland!
Hamilton Count-Down Chronomatic “Echo”
Finally, in what might qualify as the zaniest Caliber 11-based watch, we have the Hamilton Count-Down Chronomatic “Echo” Chronograph from 1975. Extremely rare and valuable, Hamilton shifted the caliber 14 180 degrees to come up with this wild watch. The crown sits on the right and is flanked by 2 crowns that rotate an internal timezone bezel and 24 hour bezel for use with the GMT hand. At 48mm, this is a massive watch, but one can’t deny the great colors and the kooky functionality. Once again, head to Poland for a little rundown.
There’s no doubt about the significance of the Caliber 11 and its variants. We hope you’re similarly impressed by the wide breadth of models featured on our Top 10 Chronomatic list. Still, we’d implore you to go out and research other models from the brands we mentioned and the list of others who chose to employ these groundbreaking movements. For now, though, don’t forget to post your #chronomatic50 pictures on Instagram!