Introduction to the Breitling Chronomat
The Breitling Chronomat started with an ingenious patent in 1940 and ended up on wrists around the world. The Chronomat's use of a circular slide rule defined the true utility watch and brought the concept of a mechanical calculator to your wrist. Today, the Chronomat is one of Breitling's all-time most popular watches.
The Chronomat Brings the Circular Slide Rule to Watches
Before electronic calculators and smartphones, if you needed to perform many complicated mathematical calculations, you likely used a slide rule. In its simplest form, a slide rule is two rulers that slide alongside each other. Each ruler has a logarithmic scale printed on it, allowing for quick and easy calculations.
Invented in 1622 by English mathematician William Oughtred, slide rules made their way to watches. They were printed on circular bezels instead of straight rulers. The first example of this is a French pocket watch by Meyrat & Perdrizet, circa 1890.
In 1940, Breitling applied for a patent to bring a circular slide rule to the bezel of a wristwatch. The Breitling Chronomat, the world's first wristwatch chronograph with an integrated circular slide rule, made its debut the following year. In a sense, the Breitling Chronomat could also be thought of as the world's first smart watch, as it enabled easy calculations while being worn on a wrist.
Caliber B01: Breitling's In-House Chronometer
The first Breitling Chronomat used the Venus 175 chronograph movement. The Venus company was acquired by the well-known Valjoux movement manufacturer in 1966. At this time, it was very common for watch brands to purchase their movements from specialist companies instead of manufacturing their own. These specialist companies (like Venus and Valjoux) did not sell watches to the public, and instead sold only movements to watch brands. This separation saved work on both sides. Movement manufacturers did not need to worry about marketing to the public, and watch brands did not need to worry about all of the technical aspects involved in movement manufacturing.
Just like trends in the style of a watch, there have been trends in the manufacturing specifics of a watch. Today, consumers often prefer to see a watch brand that can manufacture all or most of their watch themselves. This is referred to as in-house manufacturing. Breitling became an in-house manufacturer in 2009, with the introduction of Caliber B01, now used in the Breitling Chronomat. Caliber B01 is a COSC certified chronometer, with a diameter of 30mm and height of 7.2mm. In addition, it is a self-winding movement that uses a column wheel to actuate its chronograph mechanism. In 2011, Breitling manufactured 40,000 units of the Caliber B01.
The Quartz Crisis and Modern Period
The Quartz Crisis of the late 1970s— a period of time when the world's watch industry very quickly shifted to electronic watches—led historic brands like Breitling to fall on hard times. In 1978, Breitling ceased manufacturing watches, before being resurrected by new owner, Ernest Schneider.
In 1984, for the 100th anniversary of Breitling, the iconic Chronomat was relaunched. In place of the previously used circular slide rule, a timing bezel was added to the Chronomat. This bezel featured a useful addition in the form of four protruding tabs, making it easy to manipulate the bezel when wearing gloves.
Another important aspect of the 1984 Chronomat was that it used a mechanical movement. This signaled that consumers were shifting back to the enduring appeal of a mechanical watch. Breitling seized upon this idea and used a mechanical movement instead of a quartz movement.
COSC Certified Chronometer
The word chronometer simply means a watch that is particularly precise. However, modern Breitling Chronomat watches are COSC-certified chronometers. What does this mean? The Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) is an independent non-profit organization, which offers a certification service to any Swiss watch brand that submits their watches. This third-party certification increases the trust that a customer may have in a watch, as the manufacturer is so confident in the precision of the watch that they allow an outside organization to validate their claims. COSC performs a number of tests on submitted watches, including the Breitling Chronomat, to test their capabilities. These tests include average daily rate, variation in rates, and difference in rate when the watch is in different positions. COSC also tests how the watch responds to thermal variations, humidity and mechanical shocks. This all adds up to an extraordinarily sturdy and precise Breitling Chronomat.
The Breitling Chronomat name originated as a combination of the words "chronograph" and "mathematics," as the original Chronomat introduced in 1941 featured a chronograph mechanism along with a circular slide rule bezel for performing mathematical calculations. When Breitling re-launched the Chronomat in 1984 on their 100th anniversary, the Chronomat name took on a slightly different meaning, as the new Chronomat did not include a circular slide rule bezel (but for the first time did include an automatic movement).
Now, the Chronomat name signifies the "chronograph" and "automatic" features of the storied watch. But what is an automatic movement, and how does it work? A movement that is described as automatic includes a weighted rotor that turns as you wear the watch throughout the day. This turning motion winds the mainspring and powers the watch. As long as the watch is worn every day, it should not need to be wound. If the watch is not worn for a day or two, it can simply be wound with its crown to get it started again. The automatic chronograph was a major step forward in movement design, as the integration of both mechanisms is very complex. The Breitling Chronomat elegantly combines both of these features in one robust and capable mechanical watch.