December 10, 2012
by Ariel Adams
The Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT was not a timepiece I immediately sat down and wrote a review on – as is often the case with the watches I review. I mean, with at least one hands-on watch review a week, I don’t exactly have a lot of time on aBlogtoWatch to delay these things. Nevertheless, I had so many potential directions to take with a review that I needed to ponder it for a while. Why? Well because I think it is a very important high-end watch in America (though it is a Swiss watch), and I wanted people to get a good idea of what that means.
That isn’t to say Breitling is any less important internationally, but since I am American and we have a “fragile” view of high-end timepieces, I feel that Breitling does a lot to help the overall perception of that good watches are. In places such as Asia or Europe, it is common knowledge that luxury watches cost several thousand dollars (and more), and more or less what the main brands are. While that is more and more the case in the United States, your average person is not familiar with the high-end watch market – even though they may be familiar with the high-end automobile market. Having said that, Breitling is among a small handful of brands that are relatively well-known as “nice watch” makers in the US. Companies such as Breitling, Rolex, and Tag Heuer pull a lot of weight in advancing the segment as a whole across this large country.
The net result of that responsibility is that these brands can’t experiment too much. They have developed a fragile formula that works in a picky market, too much deviation from which could really effect their image. That is one reason brands like Breitling don’t often release artsy limited edition models, or pieces that vastly stray from their carefully constructed “brand DNA.” Having said that they still need to innovate. Like any company, there is an expectation among consumers that Breitling watches get better and better over time.
Breitling has done a pretty good job of following these rules. While a Breitling today looks similar to a Breitling from a few decades ago, there is no doubt that today’s Breitling models are the best. Having said that, I believe it was the 1980s or so when the look and feel of the Breitling core design ethos as we know it took shape. That includes the intricate looking bezel, thick all highly-polished steel case and bracelet construction, as well as pilot instrument inspired dial. It is a look so iconic that it is sometimes difficult to understand all the details. One thing that continues to surprise me is how Breitling watch dials have a distinctive “busy” look, but never feel too difficult to read.
Which leads me into discussing this lovely Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT model. The dial has several distinct fonts, numeral indicator rings, hands, as well as several colors. Still, it is quickly apparent what functions the dial has, and reading the time, GMT hand, or chronograph hands is not difficult. That likely wasn’t easy to do, but the result is a cool tool-watch look that is still refined and useful. I’ve accused Breitling watches of often looking the same. It’s true. As much of an expert as I am, I often get the names and models of Breitling watches mixed up. You know it is a Breitling, but which Breitling is often a more difficult question.
For the newer Breitling Chronomat collection, Breitling designed a new bezel design and modern looking font. That gives all Breitling Chronomat models a distinguishable look – something Breitling wants you to see because each of these watches have in-house made movements. The original Breitling Chronomat from a few years ago was the first watch ever to contain an in-house made Breitling movement. It was the Breitling Chronomat B01 with the in-house made and designed caliber 01 movement. The 01 has served as a base for a few subsequent movements. The difference between the original Breitling Chronomat and this model is the addition of a GMT hand. Inside the Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT is a Breitling Caliber 04 automatic chronograph movement. It is a shame that the case does not have an exhibition case back because the movement is really quite nice looking. The 04 has a power reserve of 70 hours (which at around three days means you can safely not wear it for a whole weekend without it stopping), and the chronograph is column-wheel based. There are some other nice features as well, showing that Breitling didn’t just make their own version of what they were already using from ETA.
Breitling ships the majority of their watches (perhaps all of them now that I come to think of it) with COSC Chronometer certifications, which is a measure of accuracy. Using the 12 hour chronograph is a pleasure with the assuring click of the screw-down pushers, though the rounded tip of the screw-down crown (while looking nice) isn’t a totally ideal way of manually winding the movement when necessary. One quirk of the movement is sort of a blessing and a curse. Similar to movements such as the Omega 8500 or 9300, the Breitling Caliber 01 has a quick hour adjust feature for resetting the time while travelling without having to reset the minute hand. That is handy, however it is also the way you set the date (by rapidly advancing or going back in time with the hour hand). That means it takes a lot longer that simply adjusting the date disc one position at a time when you want to adjust the date. This isn’t really an issue if you are simply correcting for a non 31 day month, but if you don’t wear the piece all the time and don’t have it on a winder, adjusting the date can be tedious. What I would have liked to see is a feature to have an additional way to adjust the date more rapidly. Maybe in the future.
Operating the movement is very pleasing. Breitling offers a top-notch experience that is sure to satisfy people interested in the watch as a high-performance machine versus status symbol. In fact, that is one of the main reasons Breitling does well in the United States. That being because people don’t just see it as luxury item, but rather as a solid and good looking high-end tool watch. While the brand and watch construction is totally Swiss, there is a certain American feel to the design of the Breitling Chronomat. This particular dial is black with silvered subdials, but other color versions are available.
Other than the Colt and Superocean GMT, Breitling does not offer a lot of GMT models. It was a good idea for Breitling to add this popular second time zone complication to its core chronograph movement. These two complications together make for a very useful travel watch. The GMT hand is tipped with a large red arrow and is very easy to see. Around the hour markers is a 24 hour scale for the GMT hand, which really helps when trying to read it. There is also a second GMT time scale on the rotating bezel. This can either be used in addition to the ring on the dial, or rotated give you the ability to track a third timezone. The dial also contains a tachymeter scale on the flange. That isn’t a particularly useful feature, but Breitling added it in to help the dial look its best, and as “Breitling” as possible.
Detailing all over the watch is fantastic. Breitling cases and dials are very well machined and rendered. Closeup images of the dial show just how crisp the print and hands are. I want to say here that photographing the dial of the Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT was a total pain. That is often the case when you need to use a flash and dials have reflective elements (even though the sapphire crystal is AR coated)… and a Breitling watch that doesn’t have reflective elements is practically sacrilege. The hands and hour markers also use a respectable amount of SuperLumiNova for night viewing. While the amount of lume doesn’t look to be a lot, the application is sufficient to make the piece easy to read after only being charged by light for a bit. There is a large lume pip on the bezel as well.
Highly polished steel cases are sort of a hallmark of Breitling watches. They help take the pieces from being mere tools to also style items. It is Breitling’s not so subtle, subtle way of adding bling to otherwise serious utilitarian designs. I get to handle a lot of polished steel and steel cases. Breitling takes their cases quite seriously using very good metal and applying very good polishing techniques. One of the only non-polished areas on the watch is the surface of the bezel. The brushed steel makes for a nice contrast. The Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT is heavy, and feels super solid. It is also water resistant to 200 meters. So by all means take it for a little dive.
The caseback is deeply engraved and screwed down. Breitling has done a good job of making it feel very much like an instrument that is meant to last for decades. One downside of all the polishing is that the case, like most highly polished steel watches, is prone to picking up hairline scuffs and scratches. That is sort of inevitable, but most people who buy a Breitling enjoy when it looks as though it has been actually used a bit. Jerry Seinfeld is a good example. One story known to Breitling dealers is that one time Seinfeld brought in a few of his Breitling watches for service (he has a lot of them). He asked that the cases not be polished. It is typical for cases to be polished during service by the way. Apparently the message did not go through and the watches did get polished. Seinfeld saw the signs of wear on the cases are a testament to what he put them through and as an emotional attachment to each of the watches. He totally flipped out when he got his watches back.
As the name implies, the Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT comes in a 44mm wide case. Given the wide lugs is sits a bit large on the wrist – which I like. Having said that, I personally can only wear this smaller size version of the Breitling Chronomat GMT. The original version which is just called the “Chronomat GMT” is 47mm wide. It looks the same but is just larger. Even if you can normally wear 47mm wide watches (as I do sometimes), you might want to try it on first if the 44 sounds too small for you. The lugs are very long and you should ensure that the they don’t extend off your wrist. Attached to the Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT here is one of Breitling’s nice steel “Pilot” bracelets. It also comes in a range of straps, which include Barenia leather, crocodile leather, Ocean Racer rubber, and Diver Pro rubber.
As a steel watch, the Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT is among the more expensive Breitling watches, mainly because of its in-house made movement. When I first saw this piece it impressed me enough to be included in my list of top watches from Baselworld 2012 (see article here). After reviewing it I still feel that it is a very good watch and certainly worth the real estate space on your wrist. At around $10,000 the competition is fierce for high-end sport watches. With a solid brand name and a good design, the Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT epitomizes what the brand is known best for (especially in the US). Price on the bracelet is $9,820.
>Model: Chronomat 44 GMT
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone with at least one professional vehicle license who wants a handsome daily wear.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Hard to keep polished steel case ‘mint’ looking
>Best characteristic of watch: Sensible all-around luxury watch that doesn’t make you feel like a one percenter.