We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Chronomatic. The watch portals and mostly watch enthusiasts such as Jeffrey Stein (@on_the_dash) have already summed up everything factual about the Caliber 11, its development, its originality and break-through meaning. So, I think we can allow ourselves to be a bit sentimental now, right?
You know that RJ sold a car to get his first Speedmaster? Well, the time I wanted my first Breitling I didn’t do that. Not that I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have a car or anything else I could sell for that matter. It was in 2002. I came to the capital city of Slovakia as an 18-year-old student with just enough money to cover the rent for a couple of weeks. I always liked writing, so I tried to land my first job as a journalist.
I remember that interview with the editor-in-chief like it was yesterday. It was a hot day in early July when he welcomed me into his spacious corner office. While sitting across the table, briefing me on my potential assignment, I noticed a big Breitling watch on his wrist. I knew I had to get the job if only to see his watch again.
I liked the way he dressed, the way he wrote and spoke. He was my perception of success back then and his Breitling watch was a representation of that success to me. Not his car – his watch. Two months ago someone next to me uttered that Breitling sounds like a cheap brand to him. Oh, man, you should have seen my look. If we’d been alone I’d probably have given him a piece of my mind.
Later during review meetings, my chief-editor would patiently read all my texts, explaining every little detail about my syntax errors and how to build a better narrative. He invested a lot of quality time into my early beginnings. During all those educational meetings I always waited for the right moment when he wasn’t looking so I could look at his wrist and secretly study his Breitling. While he was doodling into my articles with a red pen, I dreamt about owning a Breitling.
And how long did it take for me to get one? 15 years. My Breitling ref. 2110 comes from its original owner in Germany. It was my first Breitling and I never plan on selling it. Why? Because it reminds me of my career beginning, the hard work and years of endeavour to result in a final sweet reward. When I came across it last year it was love at first sight and despite some other notable acquisitions, I think ref. 2110 was the watch that saw the most wrist time.
Some think the Chrono-Matic is a bit chunky, but the unusual 19mm lug width and special lug angling makes for a surprisingly balanced look and comfortable wear. Some watches that I put on get a bit dull after some time; their charm fades. This never happened to me with that Chrono-Matic – I consider it the most universal, practical wear and of the most photogenic watches I own. Translation: if you take a photo by mistake in shitty light conditions it can still make the cover of Vogue.
True story: very few watches give me such a rich visual experience as the Chrono-Matic ref 2110 when I look at it. I’m not only referring to the crown that you find on the left side of the case on every model. Try to find a combination of a white dial, closed tip hands and full black bezel today. I still haven’t made up my mind for the color of the numbers on the date ring, but every time I see another Chrono-Matic with black numbers my eyes feel a bit better. You can’t have it all as they say.
The bezel design has the most significant impact on the Chrono-Matic visual experience. I consider Vintage Autavia bezels in harmony with the style, presenting a more gentle design component. But the contrasting black bezel with an inner silver ring (more common on Chrono-matics in my observation) gives the watch a feeling of a bigger diameter, which is, in my opinion, a less desirable effect. The problem is that the busy bezel ends up having a slightly disturbing effect in my view. It’s a simple example of how a bezel can affect the overall design of the watch. I had a few options to opt for this style, but am happy I resisted and waited until I landed a nice full black bezel Chrono-matic. To each their own.
A lot of hands. Visually. Functionally. Even though there is no time second hand, it is busy with hands. Every hand type is unique in style, a true original. The hands look like they come from different watches, yet they turn around their axis in amazing harmony. I prefer the big hands with a closed or full-front orange tip: otherwise they give off the impression of unfinished business to me. The open-ended hands often miss at the tip a bit of luminous material.
Best detail about my Chrono-matic? The 12-hour counter. I consider it to be one of the most functional, yet artistic designs out there. I have a sweet spot for printing all 1 to 12 numbers for counting hours. When there is only 3-6-9-12, I struggle to read the records quickly while driving or moving about. On this Breitling ref. 2110, the short indexes perfectly balance with the wide easily legible numbers. Looking at the generous width of each number, the sub-counter looks surprisingly spacious too. The last detail contributing to easy reading is the chunky little hand that copies the indexes perfectly and never touch the numbers. Heart on my sleeve, reading half an hour out of the sub-register was never easier. By the way, did you notice the sub-register on the recently presented NAVITIMER 1 B01? It nearly made me want one.
Let’s look under the covers. The movement is surprisingly silent. With no running second, I’m sometimes not sure it the watch is even alive. I was a bit puzzled when I saw the CAL112 engraved on the movement. After some research, I found there were two iterations of the Cal. 11 and Cal. 12 – namely the Cal. 11-C and 11-2. A significant and visible update for the 11-C was a replacement of the rapid calendar by a slow calendar. Another alteration of 21.600 beats instead of the basic 19.800 beats was coded into the Cal. 11-2. It came together with a new mainspring, plus 6 teeth on the fourth wheel, changing the escape wheel, frequency of the balance and the hairspring. The movement markings for Breitling watches were 11, 112 (with the frequency change) and 12 (gilded).
My Breitling Chrono-Matic came with a spare Breitling bracelet. It was heavily worn and so loose that I could push it up to my thigh. That being said, I couldn’t just throw it out and I put a lot of effort into restoring it. I contacted a well known Rolex specialist Michael Young who restored it for me. It was a challenge as he needed to develop special tools for it first. When I started to work on this article, I didn’t even plan to mention bracelet at all as I thought it didn’t come with the watch and was just some later addition.
Was it a big surprise for me to learn from Fred Mandelbaum that this specific bracelet was fitted on Breitling Chrono-Matics and most probably might be original to my watch. As visible on the catalogue shot, this bracelet style was also available in a bigger 22 mm size. As Fred remarks: ‘Bracelets weren’t a ‘precise art’ at Breitling, it was mostly an afterthought.’
It took me some time to finally allow myself to start spending money on watches a few years ago. I’d rather not think about how many Breitling Chrono-Matics (and in what condition) I might have bought in 2002 for the price I paid for it a year ago. No regrets though and I still think they are being slightly underrated. Depending on the condition, it is hard to get them below 3.000 euros lately. If you like it, I recommend searching for one now. I expect things to only go up the curve for ‘B’ as long as Kern is behind the wheel and Fred Mandelbaum keeps sharing the knowledge and inspiration with his exceptional collection.
More information via Breitling.
During the day time, Tomas is an entrepreneur in the advertising, automotive and IT software industries. At night he turns into a watch enthusiast searching for quirky movements or vintage pieces with strong stories behind. Tomas was born and bred... read more