Hands-On: Wempe × Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Signature Collection
Wempe is launching a series of watches resulting from collaborations with brands from its portfolio. The famous jeweler will offer special limited editions of well-known watch models, which are exclusively available through Wempe’s physical stores and online shop. These collaboration pieces will form the Wempe Signature Collection. Together with Breitling, Wempe created the first timepiece in this line, the Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Signature Collection.
The Navitimer is Breitling’s best-known model. The brand presented the first watch carrying this name in 1952. Originally, Breitling created it exclusively for the US-based Aircraft Owners And Pilots Association (AOPA), which made it its official watch. That first edition of the watch carried the signed wings logo of the AOPA instead of any Breitling branding. The watch’s most characteristic design element has always been the slide rule bezel, allowing the pilot to perform necessary calculations during flight. In the 1950s and 1960s, almost every pilot flying across the USA wore a Navitimer. Indeed, the Navitimer was designed and used as a veritable pilot’s tool.
Now, 70 years after its introduction, the Navitimer sees its newest execution in a slightly larger size than the original. Wempe has also opted for a completely new appearance, creating a stunning version of this classic that could even appeal to those who have ignored the Navitimer so far.
Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Signature Collection
Wempe calls the 43mm diameter of this Navitimer a “medium size”. However, you must not confuse this indication with what is considered a typical unisex size for a watch today. This size designation refers to the typical size of a Navitimer. The classic Navitimers always had 41mm cases, but at that size, the load of information on the dial is heavily compacted. Both to aid in legibility and to appeal to larger-wristed folks, Breitling also offers the Navitimer in 43mm and 46mm cases. According to current standards, the latter is considered fairly big. Hence, Wempe decided on a compromise and chose the 43mm version for this collaboration.
In most Navitimer models, the chronograph totalizers and/or the slide rule have a contrasting color. For the Signature Collection, Wempe chose a uniform dial layout in indigo blue. The dial has a sunray finish that is not as shiny as many such dials. Instead, it has a silk-matte appearance. The varying dimmed reflections of this dial account for a substantial part of the attractiveness of this watch. The circular pattern at the inner portion of the recessed totalizers creates a touch of contrast.
The hands, faceted hour markers, and vintage AOPA logo plated in rose gold lend beautiful touches to the dial. They create a good contrast so that you can read the current time and measured duration comfortably. But even more, their warm tone combined with the cold blue hue create an exceptionally handsome watch face. There is even some luminous material on the minute and hour hands and at the outer tips of the hour markers. This Super-LumiNova glows green in the dark. In my opinion, a blue lume would have been more fitting, but I don’t really care. It’s still an absolute pleasure to look at this watch. This sight easily made me forget to read the time when I raised my wrist to do just that — something only true watch lovers understand.
Beyond the dial
Observing the Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Signature Collection on the wrist, it’s almost difficult to notice anything beyond its dial. The flat, polished surface of the rim of the bezel creates a bright frame for the dial. This bezel rim has a notched design instead of the “pearl” design of early (1952–1963) Navitimer bezels. The bezel has just the right amount of free movement to comfortably set the slide rule.
The simple piston-style chronograph pushers are sufficiently restrained to not interfere with the busy dial. The signed crown appears massive, which is perfectly appropriate for a tool watch and serves its purpose well. The short lugs appear minimal but show some sophisticated finishing upon closer inspection. I find the ratio between a diameter of 43mm and a thickness of 13.69mm well balanced. The fact that this is not a thin watch preserves the impression of a tool even if it tends to appear like a dressier timepiece.
The screw-down case back reveals the movement, which makes sense in this case, even though it is a tool watch. Unfortunately, the units of this limited edition are not individually numbered. Only general information on the limitation is engraved on the case back as “ONE OF 200”.
Strap or bracelet?
Wempe offers two options to fasten the Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Signature Collection to your wrist — a brown alligator strap with a steel deployant clasp or a steel bracelet with a dual-deployant clasp. The watch that I had for my review came on the strap. Deciding on the bracelet will cost you an additional €350 / US$400. Usually, I would recommend taking the bracelet because buying a bracelet separately often becomes more expensive. Moreover, many strap manufacturers are offering great leather straps at attractive prices. In this case, though, I think the bracelet makes little sense. Yes, it is a tool watch, and a bracelet is the sturdier solution. But here, it destroys the overall look. Save the money and get it on the strap.
The alligator strap has a cognac tone that pairs well with the color of the rose-gold-plated hands and indexes. A white contrast stitching gives it a sportive note. This strap looks and feels excellent, but I like the folding clasp even more. When closed, it looks like a buckle. Two pushers at the sides of this buckle unlock the clasp. When you open it, you face an aesthetically pleasing mechanism that appears robust enough to withstand many years of daily use.
Breitling’s manufacture B01 caliber drives the Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Signature Collection. Its chronograph functions are controlled by a column wheel, which engages via a vertical clutch. This movement beats at 4Hz (28,800vph) and has a power reserve of approximately 70 hours. It bears a COSC chronometer certification as well. In the image, you can see the seven tiny steel balls of the ball bearing retaining the winding rotor. These enable effective winding in both directions. These characteristics show that the B01 is a modern and pretty well-designed movement. The finishing is industrial, yet some decorations in the form of Geneva stripes and radial graining are cleverly placed to create an appealing look.
My overall impression
Though I am not a fan of pilot’s watches, I do like this timepiece. Quite simply, this Signature Collection model looks stunning. That blue dial, which offers a new sight each time you look at it, and the contrasting red-golden hands and markers create a seductive overall impression. The 43mm size doesn’t match the current trend toward smaller watches, but to my taste, this watch suits my 18.5cm (~7.25″) wrist well.
My images of the front of the Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Signature Collection show a blue sheen on the crystal. This is caused by the anti-reflective coating on it. As the dial is also blue, this sheen isn’t too disturbing. Still, I think there are better solutions available. If you have read this article up to this point, you probably noticed that I didn’t mention the date window. In my opinion, the watch would look even better without it. On the other hand, this dial is so busy that this date window has little impact.
The Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Signature Collection is limited to 200 pieces, with 100 on a strap and 100 on a bracelet. It costs €8,500 / US$9,200 (strap) or €8,850 / US$9,600 (bracelet) and is only available at Wempe’s stores and online shop.
What do you think of this newest edition of the Navitimer, and what other popular models would you like to see in Wempe’s Signature Collection? Let us know in the comments.