It’s interesting to think about how the Breitling I like is, in high probability, different from the Breitling you like. Although the highly complex brand and its 10 collections are, at last, divided into three easy-to-understand chapters — air, land, sea — the modern Breitling still has as many faces, vibes, and messages than few other luxury watch brands I can think of. From the Breitling Jet Team wearing Emergency watches, to Kelly Slater surfing with a Super Ocean Heritage on his wrist to Norton bikes and cinema superstars wearing Premier watches, the level of complexity in terms of both product and communication is immense. Now, with the fresh launch of the Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Wheels and Waves Limited Edition, and its official partnership with the Wheels and Waves festival, Breitling has identified a yet newer and, as I learned, not quite so niche, market for itself.
Before we talk about the event and the related watch, let me give that intro a different spin. Some brands are in a relatively easy position. I am speaking of the niche luxury watch brands whose only duty is to satisfy us watch nerds, idiot savants and picky, hard-to-please sods. Then there are a handful other brands that have traditionally always been close to our hearts but have, over time, grown beyond that and earned global recognition from a much wider, not so watch-savvy audience. Breitling by all means belongs to the latter group and so is navigating both waters — scrutinized by us and impulsively/more superficially judged by others. The partnership with Wheels and Waves, a festival dedicated to the buyers, riders and manufacturers of decidedly cool bikes, as well as surfer and skateboarder dudes and girls, is by all means a step towards an intelligently identified, non-watch-savvy audience. Here’s the watch that completes this partnership.
If there were a young, fresh and genuinely likable version of the Côte d’Azur, Biarritz would be it. Located far away from the posh and willfully exclusive coast defined by Monaco, Nice, and Cannes, the host town of the festival is a surprisingly substantial city located on the southwest coast of France. Vibrant from an abundance of young, non-showy people and defined by an obvious absence of branded clothes anywhere, Biarritz is like a well-balanced countryside town that just happens to be along a breathtakingly beautiful shore. This isn’t a travel guide, so I’ll cut this off by saying that the city is full of quirky details; and although it is a clean place, by all means, you feel like you are in a functional, vibrant town, and not a place taken over by the nouveau riche in Balenciaga flipflops, desperately focused on tanning their plastic surgeries. Biarritz is an unreservedly likable place.
It is here that the 8th edition of the Wheels and Waves festival was held and, although Breitling had a minor “testing” presence last year, it was this year that the brand stepped up as one of the main sponsors. At first, the event itself did sound weird, at least to an outsider like myself. It is a festival dedicated to custom-built motorbikes of just about every possible kind (scramblers, bobbers, trackers, cafe racers, brats, dirt bikes, and vintage stuff, as well as any odd mixture of these), along with a drizzle of surfing and skateboarding. Day 1 brought a warehouse exhibition of special bikes, and Breitling had its own dedicated space, exhibiting its two new, dedicated limited-edition pieces — in steel and red gold — as well as a Norton bike that would stand its ground against any other on display.
Here, what will first stand out to an outside spectator is the sheer number of visitors — judging from the parking lot outside, hundreds of whom have arrived on their stupendously expensive, custom-built bikes. I am by no means an authority on the matter, but the whole event, as well as its attendees, appeared decidedly “hip” — a random surfboard here and checkered shirts, Vans shoes and barber-groomed beards everywhere. Anyhow, we must not get hung up on that but identify the rather more important point that this event felt a lot more like an exhibition to a well-heeled customer base than a jamboree of broke posers. The hundreds of precious bikes that said attendees arrived on, as well as the expensive items on offer from different vendors, are a testament to that fact.
With its outdoors segments is where Wheels and Waves evolved into a proper festival. Part of the event is the “Swank Rally” — an arguably repulsive, but certainly weird name for a motocross event. What was cool about it, though, were all the different types of bikes and varying skill levels of their riders; I got the impression that this is an opportunity for owners to bring their toys out just for the heck of it, comparable to a track day for cars — with a lot more dirt, mud, and statement-clothing.
To see Breitling here, placing its watches on a select number of guest riders, felt strangely normal. The Breitling that many of us like so much is defined by its rugged, yet nicely detailed, purpose-built watches. This established producer makes luxury timepieces for pilots and adventurers, as well as the oddball athlete and sport-lover, so this lighthearted event that is, essentially, defined by the abundance of mud and obnoxiously loud motorcycles, is not an altogether surprising partnership for Breitling.
In a chat with Breitling CEO Georges Kern, I wanted to learn more about what Breitling is doing here. He explained that he’ll keep Breitling away from the traditional (and unapologetically posh) sports events, such as golf, tennis, and top-tier motor racing in an effort to show the “cool” side of Breitling and, at the same time, make it appear more approachable. Weirdly, it appears to have worked. On day 1, in that warehouse/skatepark exhibition of bikes, Breitling had, in fact, attracted (and sustained) the largest crowd — a crowd that, judging from brief chats and appearances, is comprised of individuals who very deeply care about how they express themselves. There appeared to have been a small number of established and highly detailed ways of dressing up for this event, meaning that the members of this niche unreservedly enjoy expressing their membership through the clothes they wear and the brands that they support.
Once we look at where Breitling has been going under Kern’s direction for almost two years, this partnership, as well as the greater product lineup, makes all the more sense. Unfortunately, the super- quirky side of Breitling appears to have been rooted out in favor of products that are a bit more “consumer- friendly” (not on their own but in comparison to the Breitlings of old). Depicting this as a negative sounds ridiculous, I know, and it truly is my spoiled watch-lover heart that is making me say this. Once I put that aside, where it belongs, and judge the new limited editions on their own merit, I do find some deeply likable timepieces that, despite being toned down from the crazy Breitlings of old, are still refreshing and characteristic in comparison to the blandness that most of Breitling’s competitors are producing lately.
Available in 18k red gold in a limited edition of 100 pieces, and in stainless steel, limited to 500 pieces, the Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Wheels and Waves Limited Edition impresses with its stellar proportions, as well as its quality of execution. I only had the opportunity to take photos of the gold variant – the anthracite-white-red dial is shared unmodified between both references. If you’d like to see live photos of the steel Premier B01, please check the hands-on article where we debuted the Premier collection back in October 2018.
One thing I feared greatly about today’s Breitling was the fact that it would be oh-so-convenient for it to severely compromise quality — and compensate with lower prices and greater advertising. Anytime a major brand receives new leadership, and especially so when that is paired with new ownership, I am doubly worried that newcomers will get greedy, affecting every aspect of product quality. One thing I admire about the Breitling Premier B01 is that the brand managed to make every model proportionate and high-quality in a way that I feel speaks to non-watch-experts, too.
Proportion is something not everyone wants to call out as an important thing when judging a product but, as I’ve said many times before, it does fundamentally define the first impression — as well as the long-term experience — a product creates. Especially important is the balance between diameter and thickness: the width of the dial and bezel, the size and shape of the lugs in comparison to the case, and the size of the dial elements in relation to the size of the dial itself. Although looks are by all means subjective, I find the Premier B01 to be very close to being a perfectly proportioned watch. It is bold, but not ridiculous, refined but not fragile in the way it handles its different aesthetic and functional components. It was designed by industry veteran Guy Bove, and it shows — he is one of my top picks among contemporary watch designers.
As indicated by its name, as well as its “panda” contrasting sub-dials, the Wheels and Waves Limited- Edition watches are powered by Breitling’s capable B01 in-house caliber. First introduced a decade ago, it runs at a frequency of 4 Hertz, offers an extended power reserve of 70 hours, and comes as a COSC- certified chronometer. The chronograph is operated through a column wheel and a vertical clutch, as is required from a high-end, modern chronograph caliber designed to be the mechanical backbone of a brand.
The case is 42mm-wide and a manageable 13.65mm-thick, thanks to the B01 coming in at just 7.2mm-thick — not bad for a movement with 346 components. The front sapphire crystal is double-coated with anti-reflective layers, while the crown features two gaskets to ensure the 100m water resistance rating without necessitating a screw-down system. The strap is brown nubuck leather that looks and feels great; it is only upon closer inspection that it begins to resemble a bath mat.
The Wheels and Waves partnership doesn’t make much of a difference for those of us without any interest in or connection to it — but it helps put Breitling on the radar for a hitherto unaddressed audience that is very keen on expressing itself through the products that it surrounds itself with. If anything, it underscores on a larger scale Breitling’s aspirations to be a “cool” and, probably more importantly, approachable brand. Although the B01-equipped Breitling watches do very much come at luxury watch prices, the image associated with them, as well as the brand, has become more clearly defined and more likable for a broader spectrum of watch-lovers to be. And that, I reckon, is a good thing, especially since quality and attention to detail has not suffered one bit in the process.
Price for the Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Wheels and Waves Limited Edition in steel is 7,700CHF with a tang buckle (ref. AB0118A31B1X1) and 8,000CHF with a folding buckle (AB0118A31B1X2). The red-gold Wheels and Waves Limited Edition (ref. RB0118A31B1X1) will retail for 22,500CHF, in line with Breitling’s hefty gold premiums. You can learn more about Breitling’s new watches at breitling.com.