Dear Breitling, Bring Back The Iconic Top Time Ref. 810
The Breitling Top Time returned to the scene in 2020 with the release of the Top Time “Bow-Tie”. While the revival of the Top Time was reason enough for excitement, I was never a fan of the “Bow-Tie” model. Sure, the “Zorro” or “Bow-Tie” dial is a Breitling classic, but not one for me. However, the re-introduction of the Top Time name did make my heart beat faster. Was there going to be a return of the glorious Top Time ref. 810? Unfortunately, we haven’t seen this iconic Top Time reference return to the Breitling collection yet. After a few colorful limited-edition releases, the Top Time Classic Cars Capsule Collection, and a collab with Triumph Motorcycles, I would love to see the iconic Top Time ref. 810 return. It’s less frivolous but therefore has some serious potential to become the most iconic Top Time of the collection.
Truth be told, Breitling deserves a lot of praise for bringing back some of its icons from the past. The Superocean Heritage ’57, the AVI ref. 765 1953 Re-edition, and the Navitimer 806 1959 Re-edition were some great releases. It has gained the brand a lot of praise from Breitling collectors and watch enthusiasts. If anything, it shows the incredible creations of the past still hold a lot of relevance today. On top of that, the number of iconic creations in the brand’s archive is almost infinite. Tomas already wrote an article in this series advocating the return of the brilliant Breitling SuperOcean ref. 2005. My personal favorite is, without a doubt, the Top Time ref. 810. Now is the perfect time for a return of this classic.
The original Top Time ref. 810
Amongst the Fratello team, I am not alone in my wish to see a return of the Top Time ref. 810. Mike owns the original Top Time ref. 810 models from the 1960s, and they are some of his favorite chronographs ever made. He wrote a nice in-depth article about the watch, explaining what makes it such a special timepiece. Additionally, I explained what makes this Breitling timepiece such a special watch for me in the Buying Guide series. It was my pick of the best Breitling models from the 1960s. The Mark 1 Top Time ref. 810 is my favorite vintage Breitling ever. So, what makes it so special?
While beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, some watches have universal appeal. It’s hard to fault such watches, and the Top Time ref. 810 is one of them. It ticks all the boxes you could want from a great chronograph, just like the Heuer Carrera ref. 2447. The original Top Time ref. 810 was part of the Breitling collection from 1964 until 1972. The Top Time chronographs represented the sportier side of the brand. As a result, the design of the Top Time was a lot cleaner than, for instance, the Navitimer or Chronomat models of that era. And it’s not just the dial. The case design of the Top Time was also very clean, resulting in one of the nicest-looking chronographs ever made.
Two different case designs
As both Mike and I explained in our articles, Breitling produced a Mark 1 and Mark 2 of the Top Time ref. 810. It all started with the Mark 1.1 and the Mark 1.2, which featured the same case design but different case backs. The case was a perfect 38mm round shape that had beautiful chamfered lugs and a wide lug width of 21mm. While the lugs give the case a lot of character, the interplay with the 21mm straps gives the watch extra presence. Add a nice leather NATO or Zulu strap, and the Mark 1 looks brilliant. The Mark 1.1 came with either a black dial with a reverse-panda layout or a silver dial. The Mark 1.2 only came with a reverse-panda dial.
In 1967, Breitling introduced the Top Time ref. 810 Mark 2 that featured a different case. This case had the same round shape, but it was slightly bigger at 38.5mm and slightly flatter. The main difference, however, was the shape of the lugs. The watch lost its characteristic chamfered lugs, and the lug width also changed from 21mm to 19mm. On top of that, there are also slight dial variations, and Breitling changed the hands. With the release of the Mark 2, Breitling also introduced a true panda dial, and in the late 1960s, the brand introduced a Top Time ref. 810 with red central seconds hand.
What makes the Top Time ref. 810 great?
Although the later models’ presence slightly changed, they are very much recognizable as the Top Time ref. 810. It’s always that clean and incredibly well-designed chronograph that looks like the blueprint of the perfect chronograph. My personal favorite is, without a doubt, the Mark 1 with the reverse-panda dial. The combination of the case and the dial design is absolutely wonderful. The case might seem simple initially, but the design has little twists that make it more than just a round case. As I explained, the lug shape combined with the lug width makes this a great case with a lot of presence. On top of that, the 38mm diameter in combination with the 21mm lug width made it a watch that, even today, is up to speed with modern standards.
Additionally, the dial design is a thing of sheer beauty. When it comes to chronograph dials, I am very specific about what I like and don’t like. Most of all, it’s a question of visual balance. Though what that means exactly is different for everyone, I prefer my chronographs to have three sub-dials instead of two. It just feels more natural to me. On top of that, the extra register at 6 o’clock serves as a visual balancer for the registers on the left and right. Breitling also produced the Top Time with two registers that Sean Connery famously wore in Thunderball. This Top Time ref. 2002 is definitely a great watch. But the ref. 810 is simply better, in my opinion, because of the natural balance of the dial design.
The total package
If we look at all the different design elements, everything is perfectly proportioned, nothing is cut-off, and there is a great balance between the busy tachymeter scale on the outside of the dial and the quiet feel in the center. The Breitling designers managed to perfectly place the registers between the hour markers at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. The “Top Time” name is perfectly placed above the 6 o’clock register. I also like the choice of baton hour markers instead of numerals. In the limited space you have, numerals would’ve been cut off, which, in my opinion, doesn’t make a dial look better. On top of that, there is a perfect contrast between the black dial color and the silver registers. Every element feels logically placed to result in a dial that looks simple but is incredibly tough to achieve.
Inside the case, you will find the famous hand-wound Venus 178 column-wheel chronograph movement. Breitling used this movement for many of its watches in the ’60s and ’70s. For many vintage collectors, it’s one of the biggest attractions of vintage Breitling watches. The brand also used it for the legendary Navitimer ref. 806 and the ref. 765 CP “Jean-Claude Killy” amongst other models. The 17-jewel movement operates at 18,000vph and has a 45-hour power reserve. One of those legendary movements makes adding one or more vintage Breitling watches to your collection so incredibly tempting.
The current Top Time collection
This brings us to the current version of the Breitling Top Time. If you’ve read to this point, you might be thinking, “Why not buy a vintage Top Time ref. 810?” And you’d be right. I would definitely love to add a vintage Top Time ref. 810 Mark 1 to my collection. With current prices around €5K to €6K, it is still a relatively affordable iconic chronograph from the 1960s. It is quite the bargain compared to some of the other icons of that era that are selling for astronomical prices. But it would be great if Breitling honored the iconic value of the watch and made a modern version of the Top Time ref. 810 as the perfect modern daily wearer. The brand has already taken the first steps by re-introducing the Top Time.
Currently, the Top Time line feels like a frivolous collection specifically for collaborations and limited editions. There are collaborations with Deus Ex Machina and Triumph Motorcycles, and there is the already-mentioned Classic Cars Capsule Collection. While they are fun, colorful releases and probably have a lot of fans, they do not represent the brilliance of the vintage Top Time. In my opinion, the addition of logos and colors on those models doesn’t do the simple and highly effective design of the 1960s justice. On top of that, the design of the sub-dials is square with rounded corners, and I much prefer round sub-dials. This leaves the “Bow-Tie” version as the one true nod to the past.
A modern version of the Top Time ref. 810
For the modern Top Time collection, Breitling updated the case sizes of the different models to 40mm, 41mm, and 42mm. The versions with three sub-dials from the Classic Cars Capsule Collection come with a 42mm case. This is the result of the different movement inside. The brand uses its Caliber 25 for the three-register version. Essentially, it is a chronometer-rated Sellita automatic movement. But wouldn’t a 40mm Top Time be so much nicer? As Mike explained in his article about the Classic Cars Capsule collection, the 40mm Top Time Shelby Cobra fit his wrist perfectly. At 40mm, it would be the perfect watch for various wrist sizes.
I know it probably will remain wishful thinking, but a modern 40mm version of the classic Top Time ref. 810 could be the perfect permanent addition to the Top Time collection. Even better, it could become the iconic face of the collection along with the “Bow-Tie” model. The case is already there, and the dial design can be created in both panda and reverse-panda executions. The biggest challenge will be finding a three-register chronograph movement that fits the case. As the Top Time collection has always been the affordable sports chronograph, it only makes sense to find the option externally and keep the price around the €5K mark. I would definitely sign up for one! How about you? Let us know what you think in the comments below.