Culture Shock

  •  Breitling’s Cockpit B50 features a multifunction quartz movement and offers pilot-specific functions and bright digital displays.
    Breitling’s Cockpit B50 features a multifunction quartz movement and offers pilot-specific functions and bright digital displays.
<< Back to Robb Report, September 2014

Breitling bolts tradition with its new in-house quartz movement.

Like dozens of other Swiss watch company executives who made similar announcements this year, Breitling senior vice president Jean-Paul Girardin tendered a matter-of-fact explanation of the company’s new in-house movement. The difference between Girardin’s introduction and those of his many peers, however, is that Breitling’s newly developed device, the B50, incorporates a quartz regulator—an act of near heresy in an industry whose models for men are defined by their adherence to mechanical-watchmaking tradition. “For us, the issue was not one of supply,” Girardin says. “We realized that if we wanted to do something innovative, we would have to do it on our own.” 

While the bulk of Breitling’s timepieces are mechanical, the company has defied orthodoxy for decades by offering feature-rich quartz watches containing supplied movements under the premise that these professional-grade instruments are better adapted to the needs of pilots. In fact, the first watch to sport the new in-house quartz movement, the Cockpit B50 (priced from $6,595 to $8,050), presents a multifunction digital display alongside conventional hands in a layout similar to that of the brand’s Aerospace model from 1985. The B50 movement, however, greatly expands the capabilities of that earlier timepiece. For example, the bright digital displays, which are activated when the wearer rotates his wrist more than 35 degrees, accommodate a number of pilot-specific functions, including flight-time recording and UTC time coordination. A simpler sport mode limits the watch to more familiar features, such as a stopwatch and a calendar.

The challenge of engineering a proprietary quartz movement proved substantially different from the task of creating the brand’s first in-house mechanical effort, the B01, which was unveiled in 2009. While Breitling produces the baseplate for the latest movement and assembles its parts, many of the crucial components, including the display modules and the electronic chipset, are purchased from suppliers. According to Girardin, the brand’s most important contributions were design and programming. To power the high-luminosity display for the Cockpit B50, the company took the unusual step of equipping the watch with rechargeable lithium batteries, which must be repowered via a magnetic USB cable roughly once a month. Breitling’s engineers also developed an algorithm that enables the watch to compensate for the effect of temperature changes on its quartz crystal. The company claims this adjustment delivers a tenfold improvement in accuracy, allowing the watch to qualify for the ultra-strict electronic chronometer certification. 

Girardin believes that, with proper service, the life of the B50 can extend into decades. And while the movement is not intended as a replacement for mechanical versions, its development highlights the brand’s independence. “Historically, we have always used quartz side by side with mechanical movements,” says Girardin. “Engineering them for ourselves, though, was a real cultural change.”  

Breitling, 877.273.4854, www.breitling.com

From Around the Web...
 Linde Werdelin x TBlack Monochrome
The customization specialists at TBlack created understated variants of the Spidolite and...
Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin’s artistic director
Artistic director Christian Selmoni reveals design direction, industry trends, and the new Celestia…
Zenith Pilot Extra Special Chronograph in Bronze
Will the latest heritage-inspired Pilot watch be the new darling of the collecting community?
Jaeger LeCoultre Master Chronograph
Robb Report takes a closer look at one of the most talked about watches launched at SIHH…
Share your love of horology with your partner with a couple of watches you can wear together…
These racy watches offer a slightly different way to say “I Love You” to your special Valentine…
We round out the week with a few of our favorite vintage watches currently up for sale…
Photo by Justin Mastine-Frost
Though not a new add to the F.P. Journe catalog, the Octa Sport ARS Titanium remains an exceptional...
Cased in Quartz TPT composite and sapphire, these are the new motorsport-inspired watches to covet...
We count down our 8 favorite new releases that flew under the radar this past month in Geneva…