In the past, Breitling’s calibres were assembled and refined to chronometer standards from commercially available ébauches, ranging from Lemania-based movements (the calibre B11 and B12 were based on Lemania 1873 and 187 calibres, respectively) to Valjoux 7750-series and ETA 2892 movements (the latter, equipped with Dubois Dépraz chronograph modules).
Then in 2009, the company revealed the calibre 01, its own in-house vertical-clutch, column-wheel automatic chronograph movement, featuring a vigorous 4Hz escapement. The calibre 01 has since gone on to enter every range in Breitling’s collections.
Given the climate of the industry in 2009, it was a courageous move, embarking on an expansion plan during an economic downturn, spending a significant sum to modernize its premises and retrain its staff to prepare for the calibre 01’s introduction. It was a move which enabled Breitling to retain all staff even as other companies were downsizing. Production capacities were expanded at La Chaux-de-Fonds, and Breitling’s vice president Jean-Paul Girardin further revealed that internal testing standards were extremely rigorous: less than one in every 1,000 calibre 01 movements failed COSC certification. These movements were then subsequently adjusted and re-tested internally until they achieved chronometer status.
The calibre 01 has achieved high performance rates, with claims of variations of 0.3 seconds per day when the chronograph isn’t running, and less than a second a day when the chronograph is kept activated. Power reserve is also above the stated 70 hours when fully wound, and the fluid operation of the chronograph and winding system demonstrate the excellent build and design of the movement. Other notable performance standouts include a date disc that can be adjusted at any time.
In an interview in 2009, Girardin pointed out that the company spent five years working on this base movement, which in turn will reap benefits for future in-house movements based on the data gathered about its operation. This thus led to the calibre 04 in 2011, an automatic chronograph movement based on the calibre 01, with an added GMT function and incorporating new benefits to the movement, such as the zero-reset hammers for the chronograph hands that prevent them from “bouncing back” when reset. An instant date-change disc also allows the dates to be adjusted any time in the day or night.
To date, the 01 has made its way into the Chronomat, Transocean, Montbrillant and Navitimer models, occupying prime positions in each of the Navitimer, Aeromarine and Windrider collections of the company. These icons of the company represent particular milestones in its history.
Apart from the Montbrillant 01, each of the three other models is available in non-limited-edition versions, although they are of limited production each year due to the capacity of the manufacture.
Already, Breitling has doubled the numbers of the calibre 01 in 2010, due to overwhelming demand for the Chronomat 01 in 2009.
The column wheel chronograph’s virtues have been frequently extolled, in comparison to the sliding pinion. In terms of its function, a cam- or lever-operated chronograph is inexpensive to produce, as opposed to the column wheel. However, the operation of the column wheel is considered to be more precise and, when coupled with a vertical friction clutch, is less likely to induce jumping in the chronograph seconds hand. This is because the vertical engagement of the gear driving the chronograph seconds is less likely to be affected by gear-teeth alignment when started. Moreover, unlike the more traditional lateral-clutch, the vertical clutch will not affect the amplitude of the movement and hence compromise chronometric performance.
These considerations explain why the vertical clutch/column wheel configuration is commonly found in high-end chronographs; and is reason Breitling, when it began work on the calibre 01 in 2004, consciously worked toward creating an integrated automatic chronograph movement with vertical-clutch, column-wheel control. Even more importantly, the 01 was created with “traditional” materials that have been used in watchmaking for centuries, proving that high-performance timepieces remains compatible with treasured watchmaking tradition.
Besides strong performance, the 01 was also designed to offer a sound base on which future movement modules can be built; an instance of this future-readiness being its ample power reserve to drive additional components.
True enough, BaselWorld 2011 saw Breitling unveil the calibre 04 used in the Chronomat GMT.
Excerpted from an article by DARREN HO.