I am old enough to remember the days when jet travel was the epitome of glamour. The whiff of exoticism and adventure that Pan Am ads used to give me as a kid was recently brought back vividly through wearing a watch that’s deliberately designed to evoke the glory days of first-gen jet air travel: the Breitling Transocean Chronograph. The name is taken from a vintage Breitling model from the 1950s, although today’s Transocean Chronograph is not a reproduction of any specific vintage model, but rather reminiscent of many of Breitling’s classic, 1950s/60s-era chronographs, with its old-school, top-hat-style chronograph pushers, round case, high-rise crystal (recalling the domed acrylic crystals that were de rigueur on so many post-war classic chronos) and spare, functional, extremely legible dial scheme.
The Transocean Chronograph comes in two varieties: one is the regular production model, with a black dial and subdials; the other is the Transocean Chronograph Limited Edition, which has contrasting white subdials for a slightly more overtly sporty look.
While it’s modelled after classic Breitling vintage models like the Premier, Top-Time and Co-Pilot, the Transocean is notable for being the latest recipient of something much newer: the Breitling in-house automatic chronograph calibre 01, which has a substantial 70-hour power reserve and beats at 28,800vph — at the high end of the normal range for modern wristwatches.
The calibre 01 is a column-wheel design with a vertical clutch. We’ve reviewed the calibre 01 in the past and commented on its robust, practical design features which include a system for self-centring of the chronograph reset hammers, as well as the special shape of the column-wheel teeth, which are unusually broad, strong and flat. The construction of the calibre 01 was oriented towards ensuring a watch that gives absolutely problem-free performance on the wrist and can quickly and easily be serviced, and our experience during use was that the calibre 01 more than lives up to the promise of its robust design, running well within the specifications promised by its COSC chronometer certification.
The escapement uses a flat hairspring with a conventional index regulator system; notable is the micrometric system for fine regulation, which helps ensure long-term rate stability by minimizing drift of the regulator during use. The movement runs in 47 jewels, a high count even for an automatic chronograph, and the use of ruby jewels for pivots includes both the automatic-winding train and the chronograph train. Two of the extra jewels can be found doing service as shock-protected cap jewels for the escape wheel pivots, and all these details in the movement design strongly reinforce the impression we first had of the movement as one designed to run reliably, wind efficiently, and tolerate rugged use.
The calibre 01 is finished to a high standard, with crisp, clean edges and sharply executed sunray brushing on the rotor, and Geneva stripes on the movement bridges. While haute horlogerie hand-finishing techniques like black polishing of steel parts are absent, the level of finish in the calibre 01 is attractive in its own right and appropriate to the price point of the watch. It’s visible through the sapphire caseback, which also carries a legend notifying the owner that the Transocean is water resistant to a comfortable 100 metres.
At 43mm in diameter, the Transocean Chronograph is not an exercise in nostalgia. Though a part of us wishes it were slightly smaller, the size is appropriate for modern tastes, and thankfully the movement is large enough to make full use of the case diameter and also to give the chronograph subdials a harmonious placement on the dial, avoiding the “cross-eyed chronograph” phenomenon that can result from using a small chronograph movement in a case larger than that for which it’s designed.
The chronograph pushers are on the stiff side in operation, which is probably a deliberate choice on Breitling’s part as it helps ensure that the chronograph is unlikely to be accidentally started or stopped. The pusher feel is consistent through start, stop and reset, with firm pressure meeting with a crisp let-off that gives definite tactile feedback.
One small but very pleasant detail is the presence of elongated hash marks on the minutes subdial for the chronograph at the three-, five-, six- and nine-minute marks, which allows the watch to be used as a regatta timer (there’s some reinforcement there of the aquatic associations evoked by the Transocean name). The dial is an exercise in pure functionality and legibility, and even under magnification, the execution of the hands, applied markers and other dial indications is faultlessly crisp and razor-sharp. The highly reflective hands help keep the watch legible under low-light conditions, aided further by the use of somewhat sparing amounts of Luminova.
The Transocean we wore comes equipped with what Breitling calls the “Ocean Classic” steel mesh bracelet, which is only available on the steel version. It’s supple, very comfortable, and a great match for the watch, reinforcing both its cool vintage vibe and its burly modernity; strongly recommended.
The bracelet can be quickly adjusted to fit the owner’s wrist with the movable spring bar on the flip-lock clasp, and thanks to the ability to remove or add up to 12 links.
The Transocean Chronograph is a worthy heir to the Breitling pilot’s chronographs of the golden age of jet travel — thankfully devoid of unnecessary ornamentation, with a strong presence on the wrist and a real tractor of a movement inside.
Adapted from an article by Jack Forster in REVOLUTION’s archives.