Hands-On With The New Breitling Chronomat B01 42 “Frecce Tricolori”
The new Chronomat trims the case diameter from 44mm to 42mm and brings back the unique Rouleaux bracelet. Those are the headlines, but as I have found, this new chunk of steel is filled with hidden details.
I was a little shocked when my Chronomat turned up at my door in the middle of May. I placed an order for the limited edition Frecce Tricolori a day after the launch in April but fully expected an email informing me that I had missed out on securing one of the, justifiably limited, 250 pieces. Not only was I allocated an FT, but it was also delivered in less than a month.
My own Frecce Tricolori
My eagerness to lay eyes on my guilty acquisition may have overcome my motor skills. I ripped the box open, not knowing the outer cardboard was a part of the overall package. Luckily, the inner box with elastic straps protected the butter-soft brown leather travel pouch — a great initiative to supply a box that is actually useable rather than just for display or storage.
Opening the box, I was greeted by the deep blue dial featuring il Tricolore for the squadron’s insignia. The shine of the polished bezel immediately caught my eye, but I wouldn’t describe the watch as overly blingy. That, unfortunately, cannot be said for previous Breitling Chronomats.
The Chronomat was the first model to house the Breitling 01 manufacture movement in 2009.
The Schneider-era Chronomat was a triumph of ’80s design ethos, that transcended through to the late ’90s. But it was around the turn of the millennium that fully polished cases and blown-up Roman numerals crept into the collection. Each to their own, but I did not get the same sense of spirit from those later Chronomats. And let’s not forget, the Chronomat was the first model to house the Breitling 01 automatic chronograph manufacture movement in 2009.
The Chronomat’s soft reboot in 2018
I always knew I wanted a Chronomat, even from a young age. Yes, the Navitimer is a heritage icon of Breitling, but I am no mathematician. The Chronomat is pure Breitling to me. I also knew I wanted a watch powered by a B01. Unfortunately, the outgoing 44mm Chronomat just did not suit my wrist. And the rather tepid attempt to bring the 2018 Chronomat up to speed with Kern’s vision of the brand did not land.
…15-step stamping and superheating process to harden each case…
I tried on the fully-brushed 44mm Chronomat at Baselworld 2018, and it felt incredibly top-heavy. Upon attempting a wrist-roll, the watch flipped to the other side of my wrist. That imbalance was made worse by the jarring connection between case and bracelet.
Sure, I was impressed with the solid feel of a Chronomat case. Thanks to the 15-step stamping and superheating process to harden each case at Breitling’s Porrentruy factory. But I still had to wait for the Chronomat design that Breitling deserved.
The hard reboot for 2020
In comes the new 42mm Chronomat. Reducing the case diameter was well-timed. Over-sized watches are not en vogue right now, and 42mm is wearable for more wrists. The next flash of brilliance was re-introducing the gun-belt Rouleaux bracelet that had faded from Breitling’s memory. This is such a unique-looking bracelet that I’m left questioning why it ever disappeared.
First impressions of the bracelet were a little dampened by an additional link making it wear too big. Changing links is where my watch-making prowess begins and ends. But my new Chronomat was different from bracelets I had adjusted before. Being calm and patient, I got to work.
The removable links use the tried-and-tested pin and collar system. Each pin removes a rounded cap that you see on the smooth links. Once the solid steel cap is removed, the tube can be pushed through, and the bracelet comes apart. From holding it together while it is disconnected, I established I only needed to remove a single link to get the sizing right. The fit was much better, and luckily the butterfly clasp still sat right in the middle of my wrist, a usual bugbear of mine.
Now, I was able to judge how the bracelet felt truly. Well, it’s a triumph. Not only have Breitling revived a unique design, but it is also supremely comfortable and well-constructed. There were a lot of doubters on the robustness of the bracelet when the Chronomat was first-shown via Webcast. I understand why. From the outside, the bracelet looks like it might be loose or rattly. In the metal, this is far from the truth. It reminds me of Breitling’s Milanese mesh bracelet that is similarly sturdy despite appearances.
To those concerned about the bracelet pulling hair or skin, do not panic. The Rouleaux links do not angle in a way that could create pinch points; therefore, the issue is non-existent. The hollow areas on the underside of the bracelet links may be future dust traps. Though dirt or grease can build up on any bracelet watch, so visit your watchmaker for an electro clean once in a while. Electro cleaning does not remove any metal and will have the bracelet looking fresh again. A competent watchmaker should remove the bracelet from the case before doing this.
Case and lugs
I said before that the discontinued Chronomat felt top-heavy. Part of the reason was down to the droopy lug design. The problem with large 44mm+ watches is that they have shorter, stubbier lugs to avoid over-extending the wrist. Just by skimming 2mm off the diameter, the lugs can have a bit more presence and handle the transition from case to clasp far better.
The lug-to-lug measurement is 50mm
Beveled edges and grooves on the lugs showcase how other elements have also benefited from the new size. Starting from the case flanks, a continuous line of mirror-polishing is applied to all edges, including each bracelet link. However, the majority of the case is brushed stainless steel. Mixing the finishing techniques, especially on the case sides, is an optical trick that makes it appear slimmer than it is. At 15.10mm, this is not an ultra-slim watch. But, most importantly, the case does not feel or look disproportionally tall.
I much preferred the tone-on-tone blue dial of the Frecce Tricolori edition. I can imagine the panda dials will be popular, but it was the subtle reference to the 1983 model that kickstarted my love for the Chronomat in the first place. But the dial is not without embellishment. On the sub-dials are concentric circles that provide some depth against the sun-burst petrol blue dial. Running the circumference of the rehaut are two scales for calculating speed over a fixed distance and decimal seconds.
The date changes instantaneously at midnight.
If you needed any more convincing of how great Breitling’s B01 movement is, just check out how flat the date sits up against the dial. Modular chronograph movements seen in the Royal Oak Offshore, for instance, places the date wheel so deep, the watch crystal needs a magnifying glass. The B01, however, is fully integrated so all the functions can sit at the appropriate level. As I mentioned in my introducing article, the date placed in the chronograph hour sub-dial was an inspired choice over the prior 4:30 placement — bonus points awarded for having a color-matched date wheel too.
The bezel design is possibly my least favorite update of the latest model. Breitling consultant Fred S. Mandelbaum kindly explained the reason to mix single-minute and five-minute hash lines for each side of the bezel.
“…whether in count up or count down mode, the minutes become more relevant when you approach your “point of action” – whether it’s a pilots’ navigation manoeuvre, turning a T-bone steak on the grill or starting your next Zoom video session while in home office lockdown.”
I get this decision, but I would have preferred one or the other. The 45 and 15-minute rider tabs are removable with a small screwdriver. This means you can choose whether you’d prefer a count-up or count-down bezel (and change your mind as often as you have a screwdriver to hand). I have not attempted this, but the tabs provide excellent grip points for turning the satisfying 120-click uni-directional bezel.
The hot topic of logo design
The Frecce Tricolori, or tricolor arrows, edition skirts around the hot topic of logo design since Georges Kern came on board. The winged-logo has been removed from modern editions of the Navitimer, which is a travesty. However, the “B” logo is there on the counter-balance of the chronograph seconds hand, just without the anchor symbol. The hands and markers share a consistent trapezoid shape with a mirror-shine yet retain legibility and glow thanks to the Super-LumiNova filling.
Flipping the watch over provides a view of the beating heart through the sapphire case-back. You may have noticed the depth rating has dropped from 500 meters of earlier models to 200 meters here. This may have something to do with this exhibition case-back. 200 meters is plenty for me, and the screw-down bullet-crown provides enough water resistance. Surrounding the sapphire window is the chronometric performance and the declaration that the FT is ONE of 250. While a bespoke number would have been nice, Breitling does this across all of their limited editions.
The new Breitling Chronomat B01 42 is not a direct homage or part of the “capsule” collection that recreates old watches. Instead, the Chronomat takes what it needs from the past to revitalize a range that had lost its core concept. This may be an expensive watch at €8,100, but think of it this way: All aspects from the case to the bracelet, from the movement to the crown and pushers have been manufactured to an extreme level of quality. The Frecce Tricolori edition has been fully allocated to retailers, but there is plenty to choose from in the new non-limited Chronomat range. You can read more on Fratello about Breitling here, and check the watch site here.
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