Being a watch industry PR is a tough old job. OK, so you’re not down a mine or getting shot at, but being piggy-in-the-middle between your client and journalists can be frustrating as hell. So it’s good to see an up-side for once. Breitling’s agency (let’s hope Breitling didn’t save all this for themselves) had to find a Corvette Stingray, a ShelbyCobra and a Ford Mustang and then rag them around a series of rather lovely locations for the new Top Time watches launch video. Lots of takes and re-takes needed, one imagines; it must have been some shoot. Clearly, the W&W team would have been there like a rat up a pipe to help out, but our invitations must have got lost in the post. But do the watches live up to the seriously petrolheaded launch?
Breitling haven’t really done a great deal to capitalise on their motorsport background, apart from their work with Bentley, preferring to focus on aviation. And it’s bizarre that it’s so difficult to make a good ‘car’ watch. There have been some utter horrors over the years as makers try to partner with car companies, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. So Breitling have a job of work to do here, especially with a hallowed watch like the Top Time.
There’s real heritage to draw on, though. Not only did Léon Breitling apply for a patent for a chronograph designed specifically to measure racing cars’ speeds back in the early years of the twentieth century, but the Swiss police later used a Breitling to issue the country’s first speeding ticket. Probably the less said about that, the better. But F1 driving ace Jim Clark wore a couple of Breitlings (a Navitimer and a Top Time ref. 810 manual-winder), Graham Hill had a Navi and, bluntly, pedigree doesn’t come much better than that.
The new watches are rather more colourful than either Clark’s two-tone Top Time or Hill’s Navitimer, featuring a dial colour to match the car each nominally represents. That’s red for the Corvette (ok, who at Breitling is channeling Prince?), blue and white for the Cobra (think the characteristic blue/white striped bonnet) and green for the Mustang. Just in case you miss the references, the dials also carry the car makers’ logos. They’re pretty subtle though, not overpowering or in your face.
Mechanically, the Corvette and Mustang are identical apart from the dials and straps, both powered by cal. 25 movements with the AC, appropriately, doing its own thing with the cal. 41. Both the cal. 25 and cal. 41 have their origins in the ETA 2892 and are none the worse for it. It’s a robust, reliable movement and you’ll find spares a lot more easily (and cheaply) than for a Shelby Cobra. All the movements are COSC-rated and beat at a pretty much standard 28,800vph with 42 hours of power reserve should you decide to take an extended nap on the back seat.
The ‘Vette and Mustang also share a case; 42mm in diameter and 13.65mm deep. In common with the original Top Time from the 1960s, the caseback is a snap, rather than screw-on design. Each of the watches is still rated to 100m of water resistance though; plenty for everyday life.
The Corvette’s red dial gets offset with a black tachymeter scale around the bezel and black recessed subdials for the 30-second, 15-minute and 6-hour totalisers with circular graining on each. The 1/8th of a second chronograph runs centrally and you read it from the dial’s inner edge. The Mustang follows the same format but with a racing green dial and black tachymeter. There’s some colour to lift the tachy scales though, with the 100-600 markings in orange, the 600-400 in yellow with the remainder in white. The recessing and graining adds some proper depth to the subdials.
The Shelby is a little different although it is, like the other two watches, a monocompax with a single chrono function. It uses a 1/4th of a second chronograph running centrally with a 30-minute totaliser at 3 o’clock. With the AC, the blue dial contrasts with the white tachymeter scale on the bezel. Rather than orange-yellow-white, this one goes red, blue, black and the Cobra logo takes the place of the 6 hour subdial. It has its own case, slightly smaller at 40mm (closer to the original Top Time’s 38mm diameter) and a little thinner at 13.3mm.
Each watch uses Super-LumiNova for the dial indexes as well as their hour and minute hands. Given the brightness of SL, you won’t have any problem reading the time at night.
All three watches, despite carrying a fair amount of information on their dials, are easy to read at a glance, helped by those contrasting subdials and lume-infilled baton hands. Each subdial has a different colour for its hand too; blue and red on the Cobra, orange, silver and yellow for the Mustang and orange, yellow and white for the Corvette.
There’s no bracelet option, instead a brown or black rallye strap. As Breitling use some of the best straps in the business, this is absolutely no hardship. And leather won’t scratch your paintwork, should you leave your Top Time on for a bit of bodywork polishing.
So, are the three watches worth the $5,500 asking price? There’s plenty of competition for your money at this level with the TAG Heuer’s Carrera chronograph, IWC’s Pilot Chrono and you could even pick up a Speedmaster. The links to Corvette, Shelby and the Mustang will certainly sway the deal for some buyers, but the Breitlings happily stand on their own merits even without their automotive associations. Breitling