Anniversaries always provide a nice opportunity to pay attention to important milestones. Swiss watch manufacture Breitling has such an anniversary coming up: one of their most important chronographs, the Premier, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Of course, Breitling wouldn’t be Breitling without a surprise guest. With that, we can turn our full attention to the six new Premier models that Breitling is introducing for this special occasion.
Those who see the Premier‘s design for the first time will probably be surprised as at first glance, it doesn’t really fit into Breitling’s usual look. No slide rule, no oversized bezel that we know from the brand’s distinctive pilot’s and diver’s watches. But anyone who has followed the brand’s evolution over the past five years knows how many hidden watch treasures CEO Georges Kern and his brand historian Fred Mandelbaum have breathed new life into. Yet the start was still a bit bumpy. In early 2018, Kern and Mandelbaum introduced the world to their first watch under the new leadership, the Navitimer 8. The launch failed. The model was not understood by the watch community. The watch is still in the catalogue, but it now goes by the name Aviator 8, as the original Navitimer design is too distinct and dominant for this radical change to have worked.
All new Premier B01 Chronograph 42 models.
Kern and Mandelbaum then turned their attention to the historical and long-forgotten treasures that lay dormant in the archives of the horology house. That same year, the Premier was relaunched – this time much more cautiously than was the case with the Navitimer 8. The line is a real love affair for Kern and Mandelbaum, as it was developed by Willy Breitling for a time after the war, when the general populace longed for normality and beauty again. The collection therefore represents optimism and progress, which Kern also brought to the company when he took office. It became a stylish accessory for men, after a period when it served mainly as a functional tool watch for the military and pilots. In doing so, Willy Breitling’s top priority was to offer the best chronographs technically, for which Breitling had already made a name for itself. The Premier is also historically important to Breitling, and thus to Kern and Mandelbaum, as it ultimately spawned all subsequent models such as the Navitimer, Superocean, and Top Time.
Breitling chronographs from 1892 to 1940.
The original Breitling:
from function with purpose to function with style
Léon Breitling, the founding father of the watch manufacture, was actually responsible for the original form of the chronograph in the form of a pocket watch. In 1893, he registered the first patents for a rate accuracy of two-fifths of a second and a power reserve of eight days. His son, Gaston Breitling, established the first wristwatch models with a pusher at 2 o’clock in 1915. Then in 1932, Willy Breitling took the helm, and in 1933 he introduced the first chronograph as we know it today: with a start/stop pusher at 2 o’clock, as well as a second ‘reset’ pusher at 4 o’clock. In the process, Willy Breitling pulled off a coup in 1935 when he teamed up with the movement producer Venus. Venus, then Valjoux from 1966, was synonymous with the best chronographs of its time. Venus or Valjoux movements powered not only the Premier models, but all Breitling chronographs.
Breitling Vitesse pocket watch from 1907 (left),
Chronograph from ca. 1915 (right).
Breitling Premier Ref. 777 from 1945 with Venus caliber 175.
During the 2nd World War, Willy Breitling then focused again on the production of on-board watches for the Royal Air Force. The chronograph on the wrist, for military and pilots, also became increasingly popular. In 1938, Breitling developed the references 734 & 765, which are considered to be the first Premier models, but at that time still without the Premier lettering and primarily as functional tool watches.
Premier Ref. 765 from ca. 1943 (left),
Premier Ref. 734 from ca. 1945 (right).
In 1943, Willy Breitling then developed, rather for the civilian clientele, the first Premier (with Premier lettering), a fashionable watch with slim cases and elegant dials. The cases, mostly made of gold, had a diameter between 36- to 38-mm. Premier literally stood for function “first” on the one hand, and “first-class” materials on the other. The slogan established itself: “Function with purpose to function with style.”
Breitling Premier Ref. 765 from 1946 with Venus Caliber 178.
Breitling’s answer to the dress watch
75 years after the first Premier and shortly after Georges Kern joined Breitling as CEO, the line was relaunched. That was in 2018, and for the first re-edition, Breitling took significant inspiration from the chronographs with the references 734 and 765, with their three subdial counters, and references 760 and 797, with their so-called twin-register dials, meaning only two subdial counters.
Then in 2021, more models were added to the collection, including the Premier B09 Chronograph 40 with a diameter of 40 mm. The watches are very smart, featuring gold cases, Roman numerals and open casebacks. Here comes Breitling’s answer to the dress watch.
To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the original Premier, Breitling is now launching six new Premier B01 Chronograph 42 models, taking inspiration from the reference 777 with its twin-register dial and Arabic numerals. They appear in five different dial variations: salmon, blue, green, black and cream. There is also a version with 18-carat, rose-gold case and a cream dial. The pushers are rectangular, like all re-editions of the Premier. While the 777 had mushroom-headed pushers, which gave it a slightly sportier feel and would certainly have suited the new anniversary models. All models are worn on an alligator leather strap. Alternatively, a seven-link stainless steel bracelet is also available. The new Premier B01 Chronograph 42 models cost 8,600 euros with an alligator leather strap and 8,950 euros with a steel bracelet. The red gold version costs 19,600 euros with alligator leather strap and 38,500 euros with matching red gold bracelet.
Premier Ref. 777 from 1945.
Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Novelties 2023.
A new movement for the Premier
Then, there’s the surprise guest. Hidden inside all six new Premier B01 Chronograph 42 models is the in-house calibre B01. Although the movement was also partially used in the previous models, this is the first time that it has been used with last year’s revised movement, which is now a little slimmer, featuring a more compact oscillating weight. The B01 is undoubtedly one of the best chronograph movements on the market, and has been since 2009 when it was first introduced. It’s a COSC-certified powerhouse with a column wheel and accuracy of -4/+6 seconds a day, with a power reserve of around 70 hours. The B01 must undergo a demanding set of tests before leaving Breitling’s production facility. In an in-house, so-called ‘16-year aging equivalent’, the watch is subjected to 60,000 shocks at 500 g, before completing 100,000 crown windings, 3,456,000 rotations of the oscillating weight, and 5,840 start-stop-reset operations.
Breitling manufacture caliber B01.
Even if the new Premier models are ultimately just an extension of the existing collection with new colours and a revised movement, they will almost certainly find many buyers. The Premier is now a best-seller at Breitling, and its long-standing historic credentials provide Kern and Mandelbaum with an endless repertoire of variations to keep breathing new life into the collection – with a wide variety of complications and dial variations of the Duograph and Datora, which are also part of the Premier family.
Breitling Premier Duograph and Datora.
To coincide with the launch of the new Premier B01 Chronograph 42 models, Fred Mandelbaum is introducing the third installment of his Watch Stories series with the book Premier Story. The book deals in detail with the development of the Premier under the leadership of Willy Breitling. It is available for 59 Swiss Francs from Watchprint (watchprint.com), a specialist watch publisher. Breitling has thus not only given its watch fans a nice present for the Premier‘s birthday, but also one to itself.