January 14, 2020
by David Bredan
I have owned this Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting watch for quite a while now, and it’s been on my wrist for the majority of that time. In fact, you may have already read about it in our article about the most frequently worn watches of the aBlogtoWatch team in 2019. It’s an ana-digi quartz watch that’s as weird as it is large and rare — and I love it for all those attributes, except maybe for its scarcity on the marketplace and on people’s wrists. Here’s more on its strong and weak points, why it speaks to me… and why I think it matters as a watch to us watch-lovers, especially the Breitling fans among us.
This won’t be a crusade of me trying to convince anyone to give quartz watches a try — not to mention the sacrilege that the Exospace B55 is also a quasi-smart Breitling watch with Bluetooth connectivity and an app to go with it! I’ll say that the Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting probably lingers at the rocky bottom of the cumulative watch wish list of the larger watch enthusiast community (Tell me if you think I’m wrong about that — I’d love for that to be the case), which makes the positive experience that I’ve been having with this watch all the more difficult for me to convey.
But what I’m about to say may resonate with you, nonetheless. I’ll confess, the overwhelming majority of watches equipped with base automatic movements were lost on me a while ago — and if that’s a feeling you can recognize, then you might want to take this B55 into consideration. To clarify, a watch with a basic ETA 2824 or 7750 has to work extremely hard these days to have me be as fascinated and excited as I once used to be. Short power reserves, audibly winding rotors, and a repetitive set of features just don’t give me the fizz anymore. Watches where the be-all and end-all of feature-related and design-concerning dilemmas is to have or not to have a date… oh, and if we do have a date, then what is the least intrusive location for it? When I wear a watch for my own enjoyment, I need it to both excite me and give me a break from all that tiresome nonsense.
I hope I’m not alone in saying that:
when I wear a watch I want three vaguely defined and selfish things from it: 1) entertainment 2) impressive technical details that I can look at and think, “Whoa, how did they do that?” and 3) a bit of jewelry.
I won’t get into the details on why so many of the world’s recently produced automatics tend to lack all these things, because that’s for another discussion. Suffice it to say that sometimes they just don’t. So, how is it that the Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting does? Let’s go through that aforementioned list of selfish indulgences.
What one finds entertaining in a watch is extremely subjective. Below is a subjective list of what I would call “Factors Of Entertainment In Modern Luxury Timepieces.” If you are the kinda guy (or gal) who gets angry because your mileage may have varied, feel invited to skip to point 2). When things comes to entertainment in watches, subjectivity is a matter of one’s prioritization of objective components. These elements include (but are not limited to) the brand, design, functionality, and the story (or, in case of its absence, the marketing) of the watch.
In this case, as far as I’m concerned, entertainment by branding is ab ovo guaranteed. I think of Breitling as a positively entertaining company. As far as I care to look back in its past, it’s always been that, even if its preferred methods to entertain have changed over the years. From scantily clad ladies through fighter jets to bold (sometimes ridiculously and overwhelmingly bold) watches and collections designed for very specific and very cool use scenarios, there is just so much for Breitling to bombard one’s senses with. Sure, the decorative girls are gone — in an almost eerily all-encompassing way — and so are the ridiculous ad campaigns, but the air of positive peculiarity continues to linger around the brand. A symbol of those changes is the departure of the «B» logo with the wings around it, replaced by a vintage-y cursive B that has, in fact, resided on the crowns of Breitling watches for yonks.
However, this Exospace B55 does still have the wings on its dial, and those wings remind me of that amazingly un-PC Breitling that had always done its own thing. To be fair, I’m happy to say that, although things have changed drastically at the brand, it still is rather more uncompromising about minding its own business under Georges Kern’s directorship. To me, that air of manufacturing, design, and branding independence will always be a core component of Breitling’s appeal. In fact, it’s almost been two years now that I first learned and reported on Kern’s ideas on Breitling’s directions, and you can read all that here. We will talk branding more later, but now let’s talk looks.
Colors on a watch seldom fail to be entertaining — whereas their absence is almost always a hard-wired turn-off for some of us bored (spoiled?) watch-lovers. Black -and blue-dialed watches in particular have opened a new gateway straight down to the 7th tier of diabolic boredom — for me, at least. I look at most all “novelties” these days from big brands, and I can almost hear someone from any of these brands say: “But it’s blue, don’t you like… Blue?” I mean, yes, I do, it’s a classy color and at least, by definition, it’s a color, but it’s so overdone and so overly relied on to replace other missing components (things like actual class, personality and good proportions) that it, above all else, has been transformed into a frustrating plan B of a color in the scope of just a few years.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of my favorite brands of all, and I feel bad for singling them out from a sea of boring, uninspiring black and blue releases of the recent past… But when I look at this ill-proportioned Polaris line, all dressed up in black and blue (sigh), I ask myself why anyone who knows the brand and the exciting watches and concepts it used to be capable of delivering in its not-so-distant past want any of these watches? If you see the magic in them, I’m happy for you. Genuinely. But €14,400 for a watch with a teeny movement that only shows some plates, a rotor and (wait for it…) a column wheel, at twice the price of the Breitling, I ask myself: is it twice the watch? To my eyes it isn’t, not on the inside or out. I desperately want a new sporty Jaeger-LeCoultre, but I just can’t force myself to like these even half as much as I like the brand.
A carbon dial and a few dashes of color should make no difference whatsoever in a world of exciting watches — but that’s not the world we are living in, if left to the imagination of big brands.
Anytime I walk into a multi-brand watch boutique, I am stunned by the overarching blandness of the sortiment of big-brand sports watches.
I propose this challenge to you: visit Panerai, Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Cartier, or any other big luxury watch brand’s website you can think of, and see for yourself how many colorful, modern-designed watches you’ll be able to find. Strangely enough, the brands that everyone secretly envies and is talking about (Rolex, Omega, Hublot, Breitling, and a very few others) for their new-found successes are precisely the brands where you can find entertaining-looking, often configurable watches (a concept alien to basically every Richemont brand), as opposed to just simply smart-looking watches. People understandably tend to gravitate toward these brands even if, in the end, they’ll buy something more restrained. Just because someone is a conservative watch-wearer doesn’t mean he wants to belong to a boring brand. Nobody wants to do that. And don’t get me wrong, Breitling, at times, seems pretty eager to be going down this black-gray-blue rabbit hole, too, but they also do a lot to spice things up.
And yes, the Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting appears largely black, as well. However, with some time on the wrist (and combining it with different types of clothes) one gets to appreciate the remarkable difference these few dashes of colors make. And so the Yachting soldiers on, bearing red, yellow, green and blue on its dial, split up in a quirky, yet tasteful way. Its size is the unapologetic part of the B55, not the way it leans on colors to liven things up a bit. A few spots of color is not where entertainment ends with the Exospace B55.
When I look at its compass bezel (that has a whiff of adventuring) with its quirky typeface, or glance at its carbon dial (that has a whiff of sports car driving to me, and competitive sailing to others), I am put in a getaway mood where, naturally, this watch would be coming with me. I am yet to get bored by either of these features. Speaking of which, despite the seven or eight months that have already passed, I still love using the backlit display every day just for the heck of it, admiring its brightness and responsiveness, and occasionally still trying to see if I can navigate with it in a dark staircase (which I can’t, really). I also enjoy the unique action of its clicky crown, and I especially love how its blocky design and colors go really well with the shirts, jackets and pullovers that I like to wear. And then I look at the Breitling logo with the wings and I think of the Breitling jets, of those people who went to godforsaken corners of the Earth with Emergency watches (essentially the same timepiece with a personal locator beacon engineered into the case), and all the rest of it that defines Breitling as a brand…
…I look at, play with, and think of all these things, and I’m entertained. And for over seven grand (or even a tenth of that), I think I damn well should be. Sounds obvious, when it’s put that way, right? Of course it does. However, when I look at what alternatives are offered to me in big-shot multi-brand boutiques, I struggle imagining what many of those watches could do to entertain the spoiled/bored watch enthusiast, who isn’t looking to purchase his first watch, but his fifth or tenth.
As much as I admire the tick-tocking of a balance wheel and the nuanced action between a pallet jewel and an escapement wheel, with lift angles and one-micron tolerances and all that, it just doesn’t always get me as thrilled when it’s presented in a base movement. It is awe-inspiring to think how it all works and how it was once conceived — but when it’s packaged in an industrial way with unimpressive timekeeping capabilities, I struggle to get the sensation of owning a timepiece that’s at the rugged edge of what’s possible.
Chronometer-certified SuperQuartz movements remain a rather more under-appreciated type of quartz calibers which utilize thermo-compensation and especially carefully selected quartz crystals to attain quite incredible timekeeping performance. Whereas a COSC-certified mechanical chronometer watch has to have a daily rate accuracy between -4 and +6 seconds, the maximum deviation for a COSC certified quartz chronometer watch is 15 seconds… In a year. In the booklet for the Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting, Breitling puts it into writing that all their B55 calibers pass COSC tests, and are actually manufactured to yet tighter tolerances with a maximum accepted rate deviation of just 10 seconds in a year. That’s 0.027 seconds a day, tops. Sure, there are even more accurate watches, such as the incredible Citizen 0100 (high on my wish list) with a one-second-per-year accuracy, but the Breitling offers a host of things the Citizen doesn’t.
Speaking of which, the B55 belongs to Breitling’s range of connected watches that work with a Breitling app to occasionally synchronize time (from the phone’s reference time, hence being even more accurate as a wristwatch) and to allow the wearer to adjust the watch’s integrated functions, such as the timer, second time zone indications, alarms, etc. Plus the watch is capable of displaying basic notifications of the phone: It chimes and vibrates (you can select both, either one or neither with just a silent display) for the phone’s incoming notifications and calls. This puts Breitling in the small club of Swiss luxury watchmakers who have created and successfully maintained a line of connected watches — and that in itself is worth acknowledgement.
That said, this feature functions exactly like every other Bluetooth device I have ever experienced has: not really well. A primary cause of my issues may be that I don’t ever use Bluetooth connectivity on my phone, so it is turned off 99% of the time. If you are the type of phone user who has it turned on just about all the time to use with other devices (your car, home speakers, other devices), I’d expect the watch to not have any connectivity issues and you probably wouldn’t experience any of the issues that I have.
As I said, I keep Bluetooth turned off, and yet, the app sometimes opens up on its own, without me asking it to, and tries connecting to the watch on my wrist. I’d go so far as to say that once every week or two it even switches Bluetooth on on the phone, all on its own, and then opens the app. Weird. Then, sometimes, if I manually turn Bluetooth on, open the app and want to connect to the watch, it won’t establish connection and I need to disconnect and connect again within the app. That process takes about 20 seconds, but is very annoying nevertheless. In my experience, these are absolutely typical Bluetooth problems — but hey, maybe it’s just me bearing a Bluetooth curse, or something.
To be fair, the majority of the time, the app and the watch do work in perfect harmony, even after long periods of me not connecting the two. And when they do, they allow me to easily set DST (daylight savings time), set up a back-up alarm, or adjust the main and the secondary times when traveling. The app allows me to pick the city I’m traveling to and also to swap the indications between the main time display and the secondary one, at the tap of a button, hence switching my home time to a secondary display and having the hour and minute hands and the display in the basic TIME setting to indicate the time at my travel destination.
The good news is that, outside of notifications, there isn’t a single piece of functionality of the Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting that you couldn’t use without the app, just through the two displays, the crown and the two pushers flanking it. In fact, the B55’s system is a tactile and visual joy to use. Even if more obscure alterations may require a bit of guesswork to tell if the upper or the lower pusher performs the task you want. In other words, I’m sure Bluetooth connectivity will be useful to some — I use it when traveling and that’s about it — but beyond all that wireless malarkey lies a truckload of proper Breitling tool watch functionality.
There is something “horologically satisfying” in the way the crown system works on these Breitling Professional watches. Although the crown rotates freely and there are three pushers and a magnetic charging port, the Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting has a water resistance of 100 meters, giving its wearer peace of mind. If you haven’t used one of these before, here’s how they work. Breitling Professional watches rely on two parallel screens above and below the center of the dial to indicate menus, sub-menus as well as their respective measurements, such as the home time, secondary time zone, states and times of alarm, timed laps and chronograph measurements, timer countdown periods and, if applicable, their respective settings (e.g. if the timer will vibrate and chime, or just do either one of the two).
There is no shortage of nerdy (watch-nerdy) details either. The seconds hand ticks accurately and in perfect harmony with the advancing of the seconds on the lower display. As the hand strikes a new second, the display jumps along with it. Precisely as the seconds hand strikes the 0, 20 and 40 second marks, the minute hand is advanced by 1/3rd increment. The seconds, minutes, and the display all strike the end of the hour in the exact same moment — I’m sure I’m not the only one who hates a minute hand halfway between its marks when the seconds indicate the end of the minute on a mechanical watch.
Double-press the button integrated in the crown, and you can make the hour and minute hands park. The time indicated by the hour and minute hands will be 09:14, or its inverse, 02:46 — a neat function designed to move these hands out of the way should you need absolutely unhindered legibility of the two displays for some yachting, or another timekeeping functionality. Double-tap the crown again, and the hands will glide back to indicating the correct time. Triple press the crown to lock the crown and both pushers: this is done so that no unintended changes can be made to the time or other features (like stopping a chronograph, etc).
The Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting has certain specific features for sailors, specifically to those taking part in regatta competitions. I have no idea about these, and yet I have already dug into it all in my Yacht-Master II article, so if you are new and yet strangely drawn to it from a watchmaking perspective (i.e., what a regatta timer is), please read that Yacht-Master II hands-on here. The B55 Yachting goes a number of steps further. One can easily determine wind direction through the arrow above 12 o’clock and the bi-directional rotating compass bezel. Stepping up from there, upwind angles can be identified. On the dial at +45° and at -45°, lie the two arrows which allow the average (or classic) upwind port and starboard angles to be read on the bezel. Two additional graduations at +/-40° and at +/-35° are added for boats with a better upwind angle.