It’s Sunday morning! Grab a fresh cup of coffee, and prepare for another fierce battle. This week’s edition of Sunday Morning Showdown features two different beasts operating in the same universe. What if we put the dress watch of the most popular brand out there against a traditional timepiece created by watch royalty? Yes, this is the first matchup of 2024, and, as always, you are in charge of the result. Will the Rolex Perpetual 1908 be able to beat the Breguet Classique 5157? After defeating the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 last year, can the Perpetual 1908 also topple the Breguet Classique 5157? Let’s find out!

While reviewing last year’s releases during one of our year-end Fratello editorial meetings, we discussed the Rolex Perpetual 1908. Unexpectedly, it won last year’s battle against the stainless steel Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding. Quite a few people called that battle a strange matchup since Audemars Piguet is considered to be on a different level of watchmaking. While that may be true, in a simple popularity contest, it lost to the 1908. This week, the latter goes up against a watch that is closer in terms of style, materials, and list price than the one in our first battle. But it is once again a battle of mass-produced brilliance against handcrafted excellence. Can the 1908 win once again, this time against the Breguet Classique 5157? We shall see.

Two weeks ago on Sunday Morning Showdown: Kermit vs. Mickey

But first, let’s look at what happened in the last Sunday Morning Showdown of 2023. Two weeks ago, Daan defended the Oris ProPilot X Kermit against Jorg the Unimatic Modello Uno U1S-HS2 Mickey Mouse. In a fun battle of Kermit versus Mickey, Kermit won 62% of the votes, leaving Mickey with 38%. Who knew that you were greater fans of the Muppets than Disney? All jokes aside, the comments made it seem like Unimatic’s Mickey watch was the more popular of the two. But the votes did not lie, and Kermit triumphed in the battle of the anthropomorphic characters. All right, over to Daan and Jorg, who will battle it out again this week!

Rolex Perpetual 1908 yellow gold black dial

Jorg: Rolex Perpetual 1908

It’s a funny world we live in, Daan. Here we are, six months after the Rolex Perpetual 1908’s first bout, and now I am making a case for it. It shows that anything is possible in our Sunday Morning Showdown series. It’s also the logical effect of simple choices. And given the choice, I would still pick the Code 11.59 Selfwinding over the Rolex Perpetual 1908 any day, as I did last year. But this is a different battle, so it calls for a different choice.

So, why would I pick the Rolex over the Breguet after fiercely defending the Code 11.59 for its watchmaking merits? The answer to that is simply a matter of style. Sure, Breguet is a brand that I appreciate for all the obvious reasons. As one of the most important brands in watchmaking history, Breguet’s story is the most interesting of all. Add the focus on the traditional art of watchmaking, and there is a lot to love. And I do have a great love for the brand. Reviewing the Marine Alarme Musicale 5547 was truly a transformative experience, and the Marine Tourbillon Équation Marchante 5887 was a jaw-dropping piece. And more recently, having the chance to wear the Classique Répétition Minutes 7637 showed what makes Breguet so special. Where it gets a little complicated, however, is with Breguet’s designs.

Rolex Perpetual 1908 yellow gold white dial wrist shot

A matter of taste

Quite a few of Breguet’s watches are far too classical for me. And in the end, the design decides whether I or anyone else falls in love with a watch or not. While I could choose the Classique 5157 for its representation of watchmaking tradition, stunning dial, beautiful movement, and impeccable finishing, it just would not fit my style.

It’s funny, Daan, because I love seeing you wear your white gold Classique 5907. It fits you like a glove, and on a nubuck strap, it looks amazing. But sometimes a watch is simply not for me, and that is the case with the Classique 5157. But what makes the Rolex Perpetual 1908 the right watch for me? If you read our previous Showdown, you will see that I do not hate the Perpetual 1908. I merely question its relevance in the Rolex universe. I stand by that, but it doesn’t mean that I do not prefer it over other watches from different brands.

Rolex Perpetual 1908 yellow gold white dial

The brilliance of Rolex’s design

Looking at the 1908, it simply is a masterclass in what makes Rolex so good at designing watches. The brand took the first Perpetual models from the early 1930s to inspire the new 1908. It might sound confusing with the 1908 name, but that refers to the year that Hans Wilsdorf trademarked the term “Rolex.” The design is rooted in those first Perpetual models that were made when the spirit of exploration ruled the world. With people conquering dark times in economics and politics, the ’30s also marked the age of daredevils and record-setters. Those were the days of aviation pioneers like Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes and explorers like Knud Rasmussen and Junius Bird. These were people who conquered challenges that many had deemed impossible up to that point.

On top of that, the 1930s saw the rise of jazz music’s popularity and were the heyday of the Art Deco movement in art, design, and architecture. And those days and their accompanying spirit influenced the new 1908. But as we know from Rolex, it’s about creating modern-day relevance for a design rooted in the past. And that is what the designers have succeeded in doing. The watch has a modern 39mm case that we know from the Cellini. But it is slimmed down to 9.5mm thanks to the new automatic caliber 7140. This modern movement doesn’t hold a candle to Breguet’s beautiful caliber 502.3 in terms of class and sophistication. Nevertheless, it is a reliable and reasonably attractive movement that will serve its users well for decades.

Rolex Perpetual 1908 dial close-up

But where the watch truly shines is in the modern interpretation of the 1930s style that inspired it. The railroad minute track and the combination of fonts used for the dial work really well. The sans-serif font for the 12-3-9 numerals is a modern nod to the Art Deco style, as is the font type used for the numerals in the sub-dial at 6 o’clock. The small seconds sub-dial, which visually rests on the cut-off indices at 5 and 7 o’clock, is another stroke of brilliance to create a visual balance that works. I know you have issues with the hands, Daan, as they seem too thick. But I think that they’re perfect in both style and execution.

Rolex Perpetual 1908 movement

Before I go on, I realize that I am rationalizing a design, and that’s not what this matchup is about. A simple glance at the two watches creates an instant emotional preference. I simply relate more to the spirit and the style of the 1930s than to the far more classical design of the Classique 5157. That is why I would choose the Rolex every time if you gave me the €22,800 that could buy me either watch — and that is the list price of the yellow gold 1908. But I know you have different thoughts about the matter, Daan. Over to you!

Daan: Breguet Classique 5157

Thanks, Jorg, and also, thanks for mentioning that the Rolex Perpetual 1908 already won a Sunday Morning Showdown before. That always helps boost your confidence, right? But what you (very conveniently) didn’t mention is that the beautiful Breguet 5157 also already won a Sunday Morning Showdown. In that battle, it took on the mighty A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin, and indeed, it won. Maybe it wasn’t by a wide margin, but still, it won. And that boosts my confidence because, just like when I defended the Rolex 1908 against you, Jorg, I also defended the classic Breguet 5157 against Thomas.

I’m not saying that I’ll automatically win today’s battle as well. But it does help that in both of those instances, the opponents weren’t the least powerful out there. It will be a little more difficult today, though, because Rolex is the most popular watch brand out there by far. However, I’m lucky because at least I don’t have to compete against the most popular watch in its catalog.

Rolex Perpetual 1908 white gold wrist shot

The Perpetual 1908 does exactly what it should do

As I said when I defended the Perpetual 1908 against the AP Code 11.59, I like what Rolex did with the new 1908. I especially like that the brand completely got rid of the very cluttered Cellini line and replaced it with a very clean design. As you said, Jorg, the numerals suit the watch very well and make it look a little more sporty. I also think the sub-seconds register at 6 o’clock looks nice and suits the kind of watch that the 1908 is. The design of the 39mm case isn’t completely new, but it’s classic Rolex with its fluted bezel and Oyster-like shape.

What I also said during that previous battle is that the Perpetual 1908 does exactly what it should do in its category. It’s fairly thin at 9.5mm and comes in nice white and yellow gold cases. It even has an exhibition case back, and the movement also received some finishing, which you rarely see on Rolex watches. Other than that, though, it also doesn’t do much to stand out in its category. In that sense, it’s a very typical Rolex watch. It’s a high-quality, good-looking watch on which no corners are cut in any way. That said, it also doesn’t go to extremes.

Breguet Classique 5157

So fancy yet still so classy

Now, that’s where the Breguet 5157 comes into play. The 18K rose gold 38mm case with its coin edge and proud lugs is full of character. But, as Breguet is all about legibility, when you want to know what time it is, the case’s fully polished top doesn’t distract you from the beautiful hand-guilloché dial in any way.

Breguet Classique 5157

And yes, that’s right, that dial on the 5157, which is made of gold, is manually finished and then silvered. I can’t even imagine how many hours go into creating one of these dials. But I’m sure it takes a whole lot more time than Rolex needs to make those effective yet simple black or white dials for the Perpetual 1908. When you hold these watches side by side, there’s simply no comparison. The Rolex does indeed exactly what it should do, while the Breguet simply blows it away by going the extra mile with such class.

The 5157’s dial is exactly what a watch face should look like. It’s beautifully finished but in no way over the top. It’s modest, yet there are so many pretty details in which you can get lost. The Breguet 5157 is a true piece of art on your wrist. That’s something that most people who see it on your wrist won’t even notice but you, as the owner, can fully appreciate and enjoy.

Also technically impressive

The beautifully finished dial and case perfectly reflect the complexity and ingenuity of the ultra-slim automatic caliber 502.3 inside. It’s so thin that it even uses a flat silicon balance spring. In total, the watch is only 5.4mm thick. That means the Rolex Perpetual 1908 is almost twice as thick — how about that, Jorg? I’m sure the Rolex movement inside also works fine, but it’s nowhere near as refined as the Breguet’s in construction or finishing.

In conclusion, the Rolex Perpetual 1908 is a fine dress watch that perfectly fits Rolex’s approach to watches. But for even less money — the Breguet 5157 lists for €21,200 — I’d prefer the much more sophisticated 5157. Just look at it; everything is perfectly proportioned. When you put the 1908 next to it, the former just looks clumsy and bland. And when you take into account all the manual finishing, the Breguet also offers a lot more value for money.

All right, there you have it — the battle between two heavyweight brands within the watch world and their dress watches. Will you go for the more sporty Rolex Perpetual 1908, or do you prefer the classier, more sophisticated Breguet Classique 5157? Make up your mind now, and get ready to vote. Also, make sure to let us know in the comments why you think your pick should win this week’s Sunday Morning Showdown.

Rolex Perpetual 1908 vs. Breguet Classique 5157