Background in Brief
For years, the call from Breitling aficionados to release the Top Time, that retro chronograph that played second fiddle to the more serious Navitimer went unanswered. Until now. The new broom that is Georges Kern’s Breitling has swept out the archives, and it is the Top Time’s turn in the spotlight.
And while I’ve got a few definitions of what may, or may not constitute a top time, Brietling’s Top Time has been here for a long time. In essence, the sporty watch was introduced in the 60s. It was intended to attract a younger audience to the brand (maintaining relevance is something of a perennial struggle for watch brands it seems), with its somewhat playful, more fashion-forward dial designs.
That the Top Time made an appearance on James Bond’s wrist in the 1965 atomic-bombs-and-babes romp that was Thunderball only added to its appeal. Of course, Bond’s Top Time came equipped with a Geiger counter courtesy of Q, isn’t a stock option out of St Imier. Bond’s special Top Time was up for auction with Sotheby’s back in 2013, in London where it sold for £103,875.
The New Coming
The most striking element of the new version is, without a doubt, the dial. The harlequin mask-like dial markings, with striking black elements providing maximum contrast to the white chronograph sub-registers led to the dial design, being given the nickname ‘Zorro’ by collectors.
And while the resemblance might require a little squinting, the design is so obviously that I’m sure Antonio Banderas, Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone Power et al. will forgive the appropriation.
It is the dial of this new Top Time that still manages to steal the show, 50 years on. The execution of the silver dial, with fine minute and chronograph tracks, is lovely, but it is the hands that take the proverbial cake.
The hour and minutes are thin, solid blocks of red, funky and filled with lume. The central seconds hand is a long tapering red needle, a style that everyone seemed to use in the 60s and 70s but has, inexplicably, gone out of favor these days. The MVP though has to be the sub-dial hands. Why have simple black sticks when you can add some squares onto the pinion end and exponentially amp up the cool factor.
Moving on from the dial, the steel case is as you’d expect — 41mm across which is reasonable, 14.27mm tall — par for the course for a modern automatic chronograph, and the Breitling Caliber 23 is essentially their modified version of the Valjoux 7753, with 48 hours of reserve.
The pushers are a pump style, and the solid steel case is snapback. Both of which are period correct details, though I must say, I would have preferred to have a little lest fidelity if it meant a bump to the 30m of water resistance. All told though; the Top Time limited edition is a top watch.
Breitling Caliber 23, COSC-certified, automatic, 48 hours of power reserve, with 1/45 second and 30-minute counters.
Steel, 41mm by 14.27mm. Water-resistant to 30 meters, convex sapphire crystal and snapped steel caseback.
Brown nubuck with pin buckle.
The Breitling Top Time is limited to 2000 pieces.