Georges Kern has been busy dusting off cobwebs and streamlining references (from 600 to 120) since he was appointed CEO of Breitling in the summer of 2017. With large market segments entirely overlooked by the brand’s predominant focus on oversized pilot’s watches, Kern has altered the flight plan. His mission is one of expansion and he hopes to attract women and lure the Asian market into the Breitling fold. The new 38mm Navitimer 1 three-hander would seem to be a direct response to his strategy and plays the unisex card to great effect. Ideal for men with smaller wrists and women who like watches with a more virile personality, let’s take a closer look at the Navitimer 1 Automatic 38.
Turbulence or smooth sailing on the horizon for Breitling
Following the hullabaloo provoked by the unveiling of the Navitimer 8 Collection – with die-hard fans of the legendary Navitimer chronograph offended by a collection that looks nothing like an original Navitimer – Breitling had a lot of explaining to do. Inspired by historical onboard clocks and cockpit instruments made in Breitling’s Huit Aviation Department, the Navitimer 8 is, in fact, a coherent, attractive family which might have avoided the controversy by opting for a different name.
The subsequent launch of the Navitimer 1 took place in already turbulent skies. Flying in with a case size of just 38mm, the Navitimer 1 shatters the enduring myth of Breitling’s XXL pilot’s watches and, as the smallest case size in the Navitimer collection, is designed to open the doors on new markets. However, there are still questions to be answered. Does the number 1 next to the name of this watch mean that is closer in spirit to the original Navitimer than the Navitimer 8, for example?
The Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 is not a chronograph…!
The first obvious fact is that, unlike the veteran Navitimer, the Navitimer 1 is not a chronograph. Before everybody starts jumping up and down insisting that the Navitimer was and always will be a chronograph, Breitling points out that there was, in fact, a three-hand Navitimer produced in the 1950s, known as Ref. 66. With no pushers on the case band and no counters on the dial, the highly instrument/tool nature of the watch is erased allowing it to redefine its character as a more elegant, could we say dress watch?
A unisex case
With a diameter of 38mm, the Navitimer 1 plays the unisex card to perfection. Designed to appeal to men and women, the deliberate genderless nature of Navitimer 1 is classic Kern. Let’s not forget that back in 2014, when he was still CEO of IWC, Kern introduced the 37mm unisex Portofino Midsize to great fanfare with an all-star male and female cast including Cate Blanchett and Ewan McGregor. Refusing to attribute a gender to the watch, the Portofino 37mm proved that you can swing it both ways and still look cool.
I have to admit that I was surprised by the somewhat ‘unconventional’ beaded bezel. It’s not something you see a great deal of these days, but the ‘beads of rice’ bezel is quintessential Navitimer and was used extensively on Ref. 806 from the mid-1950s. A much-needed nod to the past, the beaded ratcheted bidirectional bezel gives the watch a distinctive personality and dresses it up, in keeping with its basic three-hand functions.
A portable calculator on your wrist
As every Navitimer fan knows, the original Navitimer chronograph (history of the watch here) became a faithful cockpit companion thanks to its ingenious circular slide rule bezel. A miniature calculator on the wrist produced well before the advent of electronic computers, the slide rule can calculate fuel consumption, airspeed, time, distance, convert miles to kilometres and perform a host of other useful functions.
And to be honest, a Navitimer without a slide rule bezel just won’t cut it for most people and probably explains all the commotion generated by the Navitimer 8 (without a slide rule). Luckily the three Navitimer 1 models joining the Navitimer clan are equipped with a functioning slide rule and, if you are patient enough to learn how to operate it, could prove a useful ally if you experience a technological meltdown.
In keeping with Kern’s overhaul, the Breitling wings have flown away and been replaced by a stylised letter B on the dial and as a counterweight on the second’s hand. Presented in three variants, the Navitimer I comes with a black and grey dial in a steel case, a creamy dial with a gold and steel case and blue and cream dial in a steel case. The concave dial with slide rule functions, baton indices, luminous hands and date window features touches of red on the tip of the second’s hand and on strategic points of the slide rule. The Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 is powered by calibre 17, a COSC-certified movement based on Sellita SW-300, with a 40-hour power reserve and 4Hz frequency. The movement displays the hours, minutes, seconds and date and is hidden behind a steel case back.
My take on this watch, as a woman
When I first saw the three Navitimer I watches, I was drawn to the red gold and steel model with its unconventional gold beaded bezel and warm, creamy dial. But the white background on the date window changed my mind and I went for the black and grey dial with the less disruptive date window.
As they say, ignorance is bliss, and at times too much brand history can bog you down and conditions your appreciation of what has the potential of being a very good-looking watch. I can understand the alarm bells ringing in purist’s ears when they spy a downsized, ‘chronographless’ Navitimer, but there will always be classic Navis in the family. The Navitimer I looks great on the wrist and manages to combine a subtle degree of elegance with the sporty details (and slide rule heritage!) that I love.
All versions of the Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 are worn are presented on alligator straps with a steel pin buckle. Prices will be EUR 3,920 – CHF 4,000 for the two steel versions and EUR 5,290 – CHF 5,400 for the steel and red gold version. More details on www.breitling.com.
This post first appeared on Monochrome Watches - An online magazine dedicated to fine watches.