The whirlwind of Baselworld 2014 may have subsided, but the show’s torrent of industry-shaking personnel moves, emerging style trends, and most significantly, new product debuts continues to intrigue and impress watch collectors.
Chronograph watches continue to represent one of the industry’s hottest segments, and powerhouse watchmakers Breitling and Omega used this year’s Baselworld as a platform to launch tributes to several of their classic chronograph models.
Today, most of the Swiss watch industry’s top names can trace their corporate parentage to a handful of international luxury conglomerates. In contrast, Breitling S.A. is one of the few luxury watchmakers that remain in private hands. At Baselworld 2014, Breitling released a unique collection of chronograph watches that celebrate the seminal 1984 moment when the company passed to its current ownership and launched what has become its top-selling product line, the Chronomat.
Breitling’s thirtieth anniversary Chronomat Airborne chronograph watches pay tribute to Ernest Schneider’s 1984 purchase of the company from Willy Breitling, the founder’s grandson. Himself a skilled pilot, Schneider chose to revive the moribund watchmaker by re-emphasizing its historic links to aviation.
Initially conceived to satisfy a military contract from the Italian Frecce Tricolori aerobatic squadron, Breitling’s comeback chronograph was introduced to the civilian market to mark the company’s 1984 centennial. The resulting Chronomat aviation chronograph watches have carried the company from strength to strength since their debut.
The new Chronomat Airborne 41mm and 44mm models feature a rotating bezel calibrated in fifteen-minute increments, black on silver or silver on black dial and sub dials, and a commemorative caseback engraving of an Italian jet and 30th anniversary logo. An aviator’s stainless steel bracelet and military-style technical fabric strap are offered, and buyers may select one or both at the time of purchase.
In keeping with the original utilitarian design brief of the Italian Aeronautica Militare, the new Chronomat Airborne features bold hour indexes and hands, high-contrast dial features, robust screw-down chronograph pushers, and a crown with large protective shoulders. The Airborne’s 300-meter water resistance represents an exceptional rating for an aviation watch.
All variants of the Chronomat Airbone feature an in-house 28,800bph Breitling Caliber 01 automatic movement with a crisp column wheel chronograph function selector, the seamless chronograph stop/start action of a vertical clutch, and a generous 70-hour power reserve.
Omega released not one but two new aviation chronograph watches at Baselworld. The Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 45th Anniversary and the Speedmaster Mark II celebrate the company’s historic exploits in the upper atmosphere and beyond.
The Speedmaster Apollo 11 45th Anniversary marks the passage of four-and-a-half decades since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin piloted mankind to the Moon.
Omega’s anniversary chronograph features a brushed titanium case containing a unique black physical-vapor-deposited dial with laser-etched sub dials, text, and minute indexes.
The bezel, hands, and hour indexes are crafted from 18-karat gold to impart a premium appearance and a sense of occasion befitting of NASA’s July 21, 1969 opus. A subdued brown NATO strap pays tribute to the military pedigree of the astronauts and compliments the dark features of the dial. The Speedmaster Apollo 11 45th Anniversary uses the same manual-wind 21,600bph Cal. 1861 movement as the Speedmaster Professional. Still Lemania-based in accordance with tradition, the 1861 features a 48-hour power reserve and NASA flight-qualified durability.
Although Omega’s anniversary “Eagle” won’t land in dealers and company boutiques until June 2014, waiting lists are forming. Due to the limited production run of 1,969 units, competition for the watch through primary sales channels is expected to be intense.
Omega’s Speedmaster Mark II recalls a fan-favorite from the Bienne giant’s back catalogue. While the Speedmaster Professional will bask in perpetual glory as the one and only Moon Watch, the 1969 Speedmaster Mark II is remembered as a cult classic. While the original Speedy Pro was gathering moon dust with Neil and Buzz, Omega was launching the Mark II as an aviation watch for a new decade: the 1970s.
The Mark II’s combination of an oversized cushion case, high-contrast indexes, and the same redoubtable Lemania-based Cal. 861 movement endeared this watch to aviators and aviation enthusiasts. A rare variant commonly known as the “racing dial” featured an orange accented dial with matching chronograph hands, and its avid admirers became almost a cult-within-a cult. Both versions will be offered exclusively with a stainless steel aviator’s bracelet.
Omega’s Speedmaster Mark II tribute features the period look and feel of the original but boasts an array of substantive modern upgrades. The tachymeter scale has been redesigned to incorporate “sandwich” construction that places a Super Luminova-coated aluminum ring beneath an etched and calibrated cover. In low light conditions, the scale can be read with the same ease as the hands and hour indexes.
The new Mark II chronograph watches benefit from Omega’s recent developments with respect to in-house engineering. The company’s signature coaxial escapement offers improvements in long-term timekeeping stability via low-friction tangential impulses of the balance. Omega’s internal transition to full line use of free-sprung silicon balance springs means that the new Mark II features a degree of magnetic resistance, shock resistance, and temperature resistance that makes the original appear downright fragile by comparison. The Cal. 3330 chronograph watches of the Mark II line utilize vertical clutch engagement, column wheel actuation, and boast an above-average power reserve of 52 hours.
The perennial appeal of chronograph watches keeps them at the top of manufacturers’ priority lists and collectors’ shopping lists. Omega and Breitling, which rank #2 and #3, respectively, in Swiss luxury watch production volume (trailing only Rolex,) have declared by their actions that 2014 will be the year of the chronograph. As the battle lines drawn at Baselworld become retail firefights in global showrooms, the new Speedmaster and Chronomat launches suggest that chronograph watches will continue to be the weapon of choice.