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.

Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1965 instalment, Thunderball. On his wrist a special Breitling Top Time, outfitted by Q with a Geiger counter
Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1965 instalment, Thunderball. On his wrist a special Breitling Top Time, outfitted by Q with a Geiger counter
James Bond's specially modified Breitling Top Time wristwatch used in Thunderball, 1965; modified from a ref. 2002; the watch was manufactured in 1962 and then modified for the purpose of the movie
Bond’s special Top Time was up for auction with Sotheby’s back in 2013, in London where it sold for £103,875.
James Bond's specially modified Breitling Top Time wristwatch used in Thunderball, 1965; modified from a ref. 2002; the watch was manufactured in 1962 and then modified for the purpose of the movie
James Bond's specially modified Breitling Top Time wristwatch used in Thunderball, 1965; modified from a ref. 2002; the watch was manufactured in 1962 and then modified for the purpose of the movie
Dial variations and case material options for the Top Time as listed in an original sales catalog from the 1960s (Source: breitlingsource.com / @WatchFred)
Dial variations and case material options for the Top Time as listed in an original sales catalog from the 1960s (Source: breitlingsource.com / @WatchFred)
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.

Breitling Top Time

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.

Breitling Top Time
The 'Zorro' dial design on the 2020 Breitling Top Time Limited edition
The 'Zorro' dial design on the 2020 Breitling Top Time Limited edition
Square pinion heads on the sub-register hands on the dial of the 2020 Breitling Top Time Limited Edition
Square pinion heads on the sub-register hands on the dial of the 2020 Breitling Top Time Limited Edition

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.

For more information and to purchase the watch go to: breitling.com

Technical Specifications

Movement

Self-winding Breitling Caliber 23 (modified Valjoux 7753), COSC-certified, hours, minutes and small running seconds; central chronograph with 30 minute totalizer; 48-hour power reserve

Case

41mm stainless steel; boxed sapphire crystal; snap-on steel caseback; water-resistant to 30m

Strap

Brown nubuck with pin buckle

The Breitling Top Time is limited to 2000 pieces, priced at USD 4,990.00

Breitling Top Time