This Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronoworks watch costs about $40,000. If you haven’t already noticed, pricing doesn’t always seem to make sense in the watch world. There are times when otherwise interesting watches are marred by having retail prices which simply confound the consumer’s sense of reason. Sometimes those prices are actually too high, and other times the prices are fair but the consumer doesn’t understand or appreciate the reason for the high cost. In either event, pricing practices often don’t meld with consumer expectations or perceived values. It is perhaps the biggest “issue” the luxury industry faces, given the highly active watch lover community, and the conversations contained therein, that seek to validate or veto many decisions the watch industry makes.
At Baselworld 2016, Breitling shared with us this new “Chronoworks” version of the Superocean Heritage. “Chronoworks” is a term I haven’t heard before from Breitling, and it sounds like their version of a tuning shop where they tweak movements for better performance. In this case, the cheap replica Breitling Chronoworks team began with their already in-house-made Breilting caliber B01 automatic chronograph. Breitling points to “five innovations” in the movement which, after the “optimization” from their “performance lab” (Chronoworks), is now called the caliber BC01.
What are the innovations? The question isn’t really “what,” but rather “if” these add up to the price Breitling is asking. The innovations in the movement added by the Chronoworks performance lab are a ceramic baseplate and gear-train bridges (versus metal), silicon wheels, a silicon escapement, a variable-inertia balance wheel, and elastic toothing. That all sounds cool, but what does it actually cost and what are the performance gains?
All of these features essentially act to do a few things. First is to reduce the propensity for parts to wear out, to reduce friction, to remove the effects of magnetism, to increase accuracy, and to decrease service times. Breitling doesn’t per se mention all this, but I can tell you what the point of all these parts is. Interestingly enough, all of this is a source of great controversy in the traditional watch industry. It has to do with the fact that metal parts are being replaced by non-metal parts. If the movements are still mechanical then why all the fuss?
Some watchmakers are concerned that unlike metal parts which can be reproduced relatively easily, things like ceramic or silicon parts will not be easy to replicate in the future when the movements need to be repaired or serviced. That is technically true, but it is only based on today’s available technology. We simply don’t know if in the near future the technology will exist to rapidly produce parts in silicon or ceramic. However, I do agree that the availability of parts in the future is an issue when it comes to non-metallic movement parts.
Another less convincing (for me) complaint about non-metal parts is that, unlike traditional steel, brass, gold, etc., the surfaces of non-metallic parts cannot be decorated. That is true to an extent. You can polish ceramic, but you can’t really engrave it. Silicon, you can’t do much to at all, and at the end of the day these parts simply will not be as attractive as metal parts. Why a mechanical watch if it is not beautiful, they ask?
I do appreciate the sentiment of this argument, but I don’t think it will hold a lot of ground in the long term. In my opinion, watch brands have an obligation to offer consumers choice, and it is the consumers who will choose what they want to put their money into. For those who can afford Philippe Dufour’s level of finishing and beauty, then they will easily sacrifice pure performance for beauty. People wanting a reliable everyday wear that isn’t an electronic watch might be better served by a movement made up entirely of non-metallic parts. Truly, that is where I hope we are headed. Brands from Ulysse Nardin to luxury fake Breitling watches have been spending years playing with non-metallic parts. When are we going to finally see industrialized movements made with no metal, or minimal metal?
From a performance perspective, the BC01 movement has 100 hours of power reserve, up from the 70 hours of the B01. That is pretty much the only real metric I think Breitling has published on the improved performance. However, I believe that I heard them mention a reported 75% increase in performance over time in the BC01 versus the B01. I am not totally sure what that means, but a 75% improvement in accuracy and reliability seems promising. Perhaps, even $40,000-promising to the right collectors.
The movement otherwise continues to operate at 4Hz (28,800bph) and includes a 12-hour chronograph, date, and, of course, the time. Through the sapphire crystal caseback of the watch you can see the movement. Clearly, it is different than the stock B01 with all the black parts and some unique elements. With that said, in my opinion, too many of the parts are still unfinished right out of being machined, and at these prices, I think some consumers might expect a bit of hand-finishing. Why, on a sports watch? It really goes to the part of what a “performance lab” in the high-end watch world might need to be. I think the expectation by many consumers is that if Breitling tells the tale of how they took their stock movement and handed it to some exclusive Chronoworks lab in their manufacture, the movement will come out working better and looking better as a result.
For me, that is the type of value proposition that can equal $40,000. I want the Chronoworks watches to be more or less the same sports watches the brand sells at a fraction of the price but…. highly over-engineered and decorated. Like if Porsche make a few versions of the Carrera by hand with hand-shaped body panels and a carefully tweaked engine. It would be like a coach-built Carrera only for insane collectors who can appreciate that stuff. Well, that is at least my feelings on a possible future angle Breitling could choose to take with their Chronoworks watches.
In addition to the BC01 movement (which, of course, is COSC chronometer certified – as though any one cares anymore given the far superior standards out there now. Speaking of which, why doesn’t COSC just up their game a bit?), the Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronoworks sports a 46mm-wide case and rotating bezel. Case quality is actually really nice in terms of polishing and overall feel. The dial also has a unique design among other Breitling Superocean Heritage timepieces. I wouldn’t call it an upgrade, but it is a bit different. I do like to see brands like Breitling experiment.
Matched to the 100-meter-water-resistant replica Breitling black ceramic case is a new rubber strap (“Aero Classic”) that is meant to resemble the look of Breitling’s mesh metal bracelet you can get with other versions of the Breitling Superocean Heritage. I do think that Breitling should have included this strap in addition to doing a black-coated steel or titanium version of their otherwise polished steel mesh metal bracelet. That would have helped the value proposition of the watch a bit more. Rubber is nice and all, but in terms of presentation, you just can’t beat a nice solid metal bracelet.
It is difficult to predict where Breitling will take their Chronoworks products in the future. They certainly need to share the story a lot better and explain where the source of value is. Moreover, I think that this can be Breitling’s “over-engineering lab” where their core stock of watches are sometimes turned into incredible limited editions with elaborate finishing and performance tweaks that would simply not make sense in any higher-volume production collection of products.
Putting things back into context, the Valjoux 7750-based exact replica Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronograph costs about $6,000, whereas the Breitling B01-based Chronomat watches cost about $9,000. Breitling is asking a lot more for the limited edition of 100 pieces reference SB0161E4/BE91-256S Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronoworks that has a retail price of $39,295.