May 25, 2020
by David Bredan
The new Breitling Chronomat B01 42 easily ranks among the more important watch releases of the year. Amidst a global pandemic and canceled events, such as Breitling Roadshow presentations, we were looking forward to seeing the very new Chronomat face-to-face. That time, at last, has come — along with a quick comparison with the chunky and brash Chronomat 44!
For a rundown on the whys and hows behind this — frankly, timely — update to a Breitling staple, read our debut news article here. Now, let us concentrate on our first in-the-metal impressions.
First, the new Breitling Chronomat B01 42 feels way bigger, than I had anticipated, judging from the 42mm designation in its very name and also from Breitling’s press release images. The 2020 Breitling Chronomat is beautifully proportionate across every surface and detail, and that’s a property that can trick even the trained eye of seen-it-all watch lovers into expecting something more compact.
We can say this in full confidence: The Chronomat 42 wears considerably larger than most other watches out there that claim to be 42mm-wide. Your mileage may vary, but it sure felt and looked much bigger than, say, my Jaeger-LeCoultre Navy SEALs Automatic 42. So, is that a good thing or a bad thing? We’d urge you to try it on and see how it fits before making up your mind on it. Those passionate about Breitling’s big, bold, and unapologetic design DNA — something that has been watered down considerably by Georges Kern and the new management that took over the brand but a few years ago — will likely rejoice in the fact that the Chronomat has not been turned into a petite vintage-retro chronograph. In fact, it stays remarkably close, at least in size, to its bigger and now retired brother, the Chronomat 44. More on that comparison soon.
Second, the surprising visual and physical heft of the Breitling Chronomat B01 42 is beautifully counterbalanced by everything else. Breitling has easily been among the best at taking “heritage designs” and modernizing them. Kern loves calling this “modern retro,” and it’s hard to argue with that way of looking at it once applied to Breitling’s more recent watches. The Chronomat 42 has thrown away most of those in-your-face details that defined the Chronomat 44 — such as the massive bezel with huge numerals, the textured dial, the bulky case, and so on — and replaced those with decidedly more filigree shapes, surfaces, and typefaces.
Consequently, the Chronomat 42 is an impressively ageless watch (I didn’t say timeless), as it blends a modern size and modern quality of artisanship with “iconic” designs of yesteryear like the Rouleaux bracelet (more on that soon), the rider tabs, and the like. And the fact that the resulting watch is a tasteful and proportionate thing is exactly what places Breitling at the front of the pack in this regard. It’s ageless in that it’s neither vintage nor modern, but only time will tell if it proves to be a timeless watch that ages well. I reckon it has all the correct individual components for that to happen — except for the size. Had it looked a bit more nuanced in its heft on the wrist, that is what I think would really drive the timeless point home for this watch.
Breitling’s old-new Rouleaux bracelet looks and feels as fantastic as it is refreshing on first impression. After what feels like every last drop of creativity has been squeezed out of the three-link and five-link bracelet designs of the world, the Rouleaux bracelet is a breath of fresh air. Its long, thin, cylindrical links do exactly what they should: add a touch of vintage flair and combine it with the might of modern state-of-the-art manufacturing. We sure hope the guys and gals behind making this bracelet reality are very proud of themselves. Because modern watchmaking shouldn’t be — and isn’t — all about movements or ridiculous new materials. In fact, watchmaking is often at its best when it is about taking existing materials and existing designs… And taking them to the next level. Because everything from the look of the watch to the feel of the metal is familiar — and yet, the end result is everything but that.
The polished and beveled edges in which the long, thin strips of metal end are as impressive as the integration of polished intermittent links on every other long link… And that’s only until you flip the bracelet around and take a look: It’s got as many openings as a $20k skeleton watch — but this one moves and swivels! The reason I’m thrilled about this bracelet is mainly that it tells me that Breitling’s willingness to create unique details and manufacture them to very high standards isn’t gone in this new era of the brand.
Third, the Breitling Chronomat B01 42 will feel and look one heck of an expensive watch even to non-watch-connoisseurs. “It damn well should do that for nine grand!” I hear some of you say — and I agree, it damn well should. But it doesn’t take too many luxury watches to handle before one sees that not all high-four-figure-priced watches actually look expensive to the untrained eye. Without having to take it off the wrist, the Chronomat 42, from afar, already makes the impression of one very expensive watch — and again, if this were the norm, we wouldn’t be highlighting it like this. From the intricate bracelet through the shiny and multi-tiered bezel to the rich-colored and detail-laden dials, the Chronomat 42 is full of details one simply doesn’t see on anything but luxury watches.
Wearability we will judge once we get these in for a proper Wrist Time review. The real questions there concern the long-term feel of the Rouleaux bracelet, as well as its ability to cope with the larger and, therefore, rather heavy watch head in steel. Oh, and all those beautifully machined openings on the back of the bracelet? I bet we will want to rinse this watch more often than others to keep those from clogging up with the untidy combination of dust and sweat.
I was thrilled that we could pull out an “old” Chronomat 44. I disclosed this on the debut news article of the Chronomat B01 42: I have been quite smitten by the appeal of the Chronomat 44 (and Chronomat 41, for that matter). Yes, it is as heavy on the eyes as it is on the wrist and certainly has never won the non-existent Most Tasteful Watch Of The Year award anywhere in the world. But it was its own thing and you could take it or leave it. Importantly, it matched its brutish looks with a scarcely matched feel of quality — radiating from the steel case that’s stamped over weeks and is put through dozens of immense heat-cold cycles for a properly compacted alloy. The massive hands over the dial and the oversized numerals of the bezel were balanced by subtle details, and all the Chronomat 44s I have ever handled have a truly fantastic level of execution.
The new Chronomat 42 takes a lot of that unapologetic loudness and it turns it down from 11 to about a gentle but still enjoyable 7.
On a personal note, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be in the minority when I say that it will take some time before I can adapt to this new, arguably more refined Chronomat and feel comfortable with saying goodbye to that charmingly, sometimes almost idiotically confident Chronomat 44. Because the Chronomat 44 felt like a contemporary watch that had been designed in the now for the now — as opposed to a “modern retro” mix-mash. But that’s for another discussion.
I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the new Breitling Chronomat B01 42 will prove to be extremely successful and that it will make its owners very happy. The construction of the new Rouleaux bracelet will have to prove itself as a comfortable and durable design, but that we will only know for sure sometime later down the road.
Available in a host of variations that you can browse on the brand’s website, as well as in our gallery below, pricing for the new Breitling Chronomat B01 42 ranges between $8,150 and $8,250 in stainless steel, $9,350 and $12,100 in two-tone 18k gold and steel, and $20,200 in solid 18kt gold on a rubber strap.