Review of the Breitling Transocean Chronograph

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Review of the Breitling Transocean Chronograph

Post by andrema on Wed 28 Sep 2011, 12:16 pm

From Revolution Online -,1002459,1002459#msg-1002459


"Exciting" is a strange word to use, maybe, for the Breitling Transocean Chronograph. It doesn't have any bright splashes of color, it's not a Dagwood sandwich of astonishing complications, it's doesn't announce itself to the eye with the attention-grabbing gleam of gold, there's no playing around with materials from the nosecone of a ballistic missile or the chassis of an F1 car. But maybe that's what makes it as exciting as it ultimately is --one of those watches whose willingness to be, not a pop-culture riff, act of transgressive design, or upheaval in watchmaking technology, but rather, a _watch_, is refreshing and distinctive in and of itself.

I had an opportunity thanks to the good folks at Breitling USA to spend quite a lot of time with the Transocean Chronograph and really fell in love with it.

The Transocean takes its name from a series of watches originally introduced by Breitling in the late 1950s. According to "Breitling: The Book" the Transocean was released shortly after the original Superocean models and built on their success, taking some of the same engineering principles --robust seals, antimagnetic shielding, and a design intended to maximize robustness and shock resistance, in a watch intended for those who fly over the ocean rather than swim in it --hence the name "Transocean." Interestingly whereas the original Superocean line from the '50s included a chronograph model, the original Transocean watches seem to have been time and date only models, all certified chronometers, and were offered on either a strap or with a steel mesh bracelet. An advertisement from 1958 reads:

"Men who have faith in the mighty liners of the sky will trust the Transocean. The Breitling TransOcean (note: as with the original SuperOcean, the original TransOcean was spelled with a 'camel capital' O rather than lower case o Breitling now uses on the contemporary Superocean and Transocean models) is the first contemporary watch in the Age of Space Exploration: a splendid inspiration and a truly magnificent watch. The movmement of unerring precision, with 25 jewels, fully automatic (including automatic date recorder) shockprotected and antimagnetic, is housed in a superwatertight case with an engraved back that represents Breitling's participation in world aviation and identifies the watch with the spirit of its time. A watch of value to be prized."

Available in both chronograph and non-chronograph versions today, the Transocean chronograph is clearly inspired by vintage designs such as the round-cased Top Time chronographs (which it closely resembles) but has the same spirit of pure utility and physical robustness that inspired the original Transocean line. Among all the chronographs Breitling makes, the Transocean is the most pure from a design standpoint --there are no concessions to purely decorative impulses at all. The black dial with high contrast white markers, and mirror polished hands are clearly designed to do their job, not entertain a bored eye looking for aesthetic distraction, and paradoxically that makes them much more satisfying (if that's the way your tastes lean.)

Its proportions are robustly modern, despite its vintage inspiration. The Transocean chronograph is 43mm in diameter and thanks to the narrow bezel and generous dial size, it wears even larger; not just the pilot but everyone in the co@)pit could see the time. It's a relatively thick watch as well.

Strapping on the Transocean really does feel like putting on an instrument built for a purpose; you'll be looking around for your goggles and flight suit. It's heavy but not uncomfortably so, and thanks to the supple steel link bracelet (I would strongly recommend anyone considering one go for the bracelet) it's extremely comfortable despite its mass.

A word about that bracelet --it's one of the nicest things about the watch. It's as robustly constructed as the Transocean itself; the watch could easily have overwhelmed it but it holds its own admirably against the watch's husky proportions.

Radiating a wonderful vintage vibe, the bracelet doesn't exactly make the watch --all the purity of the chronograph is just as much on display on a strap --but together the whole package really sings and you feel transported into a never-never land of daydreams about flight, and an era when it was still something of an adventure to get on airplanes that were navigated with compasses, charts, sextants, and radio beacons instead of GPS receivers. (And when being a passenger meant being a part of that adventure, instead of an unwilling participant in a regrettably necessary exercise in security precautions and thinly veiled mass anxiety.)

The fliplock clasp of the Transocean's bracelet is as crisply machined and no-nonsense in its sculptural functionality as the rest of the watch:

Inside the Transocean is one of my favorite chronograph movements, the Breitling automatic chronograph calibre 01 (I love all the unornamented nomenclature.) The calbre 01 is a perfect match for Breitling's instrument watch chronographs, running at a high precision 28,800 vph (the maximum beat rate for modern mechanical watches, special cases like the El Primero excepted) and is chronometer certified by COSC. With a power reserve of 70 hours it can be put down on a Friday and picked up on a Monday morning still running, though the versatility of the Transocean means it can be as easily worn over the weekend as during the work week.

As the above picture shows, it's a column wheel activated chronograph, with a functional appearance that's attractive in a clean, no-frills way that's entirely appropriate to both the heritage of the Transocean watches, and the overall design of the modern incarnation.

The movement does its job unobtrusively, which is to say, exactly as it should do it --the last thing you want in a tool watch is a mechanism that draws attention to itself with unwanted little behavioral idiosyncrasies. Setting, handwinding, and operation of the watch are all as you would expect --precise, trouble free, and oriented towards getting the job done rather than delivering an "experience." The only point to be aware of is that the chronograph pushers are a little on the stiff side --it takes a definite effort to push past the detent and activate whatever function it is you're after, although that's also insurance against accidentally making the chronograph do something you don't want it to do. One of my pet peeves about any chronograph is when it's adjusted so that the timer can be activated or stopped accidentally and there's little chance of that with the Transocean.

I said earlier that the Transocean is a watch you could wear just as easily over the weekend as during the work week, and to me that's a big part of the appeal --it's the kind of watch, like other classic designs, which lends itself to the watch becoming not just another notch on the bedpost of a Promiscuous Wrist, but a daily companion that sees you through thick and thin, and can help get you through an interminable business day as readily as time a leg of a flight in bad weather. There are fewer watches that fit that bill than it might seem. Functional clarity and integrity aren't the primary virtues in mechanical horology that they used to be --or at least, they've come to be taken for granted so much that some manufacturers have started to let what should be their most basic obligation to owners lapse. Not the Transocean. The Promiscuous Wrist may get around but we like the Transocean for its ability to make us think that there might be something to be said for monogamy after all.

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