Willy Breitling, the colourful visionary watchmaker, grandson of Breitling founder Léon Breitling, once remarked: ‘When a man puts on his watch, it is the unmistakable stamp of impeccable taste’. It certainly is true that a timepiece adds a style statement to any outfit, whether technical, casual or all dressed up, and Breitling now offers a watch for every situation: in the air, in the water, on the land.
Already highly regarded for its prestigious aviator and divers’ watches, Breitling, under the direction of Willy, also turned its attention to an urban clientele during the turbulent 1940s, introducing the brand’s first range of elegant watches, and naming it the Premier collection.
Willy the watchmaker was a legendary trailblazer. In the early 40s he was in neutral Switzerland, creating lightweight on-board clocks for the Royal Air Force for the cockpits of the bombers and fighter planes that played such a key role in the war. The story goes that the daring pioneer had to deliver the clocks to the RAF under the cover of darkness at clandestine landing fields.
Willy understood watches, and he also appreciated the era’s zeitgeist. A man of great personal style, he intuitively grasped the fact that in desperate and disastrous times people had a powerful desire for and actually craved products that superseded normalcy, that were glamorous and elegant, offering respite from a horrific world of global conflict and economic uncertainty. This was reflected in some of the great movies released during the period, providing an escape for a couple of hours in which to imagine life as it could be: romantic and frivolous, classy and charming. Willy was clear that a fashionable watch would capture his clientele’s imaginations in a similar way, helping to assuage the growing hunger for taste and luxury.
So while the brand continued its role as producer of timepieces primarily defined by their function – known as ‘tools for professionals’ – it also committed to creating stylish wristwatches for a discerning urban customer. The original Premier pieces, with 36mm to 38mm cases, were not as big as Breitling’s tool watches, and were often made from gold and featured leather straps. The decision to name this collection Premier – the French word for ‘first’ – was not accidental. It referenced the civil, non-military use of chronographs, relying less on innovation and more on first-class quality, elegance and attention to detail. But inside they still contained Breitling’s chronograph movements and offered the performance associated with the brand, but were more at home in a fashionable jazz club or theatre than their more technical siblings.
Now, some three-quarters of a century later, the new Premier collection not only takes its name, but also its design inspiration, from the original collection. It is dedicated to everyday elegance and urban flair, as Breitling CEO Georges Kern describes: ‘With outstanding quality and performance, these watches bear our unmistakable brand DNA, but they have been created with a focus on style that beautifully complements their purpose.’
The collection comprises five distinctive models including chronographs, the cornerstone of the brand, with day and date models, and understated three-hand watches with a discreet small seconds sub-dial.
The Premier B01 Chronograph 42 is the cherry on the Premier cake: equipped with the Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01, developed in-house, this is known as one of the finest mechanical movements. The self-winding chronometer-certified chronograph has a power reserve of more than 70 hours. Its robust 42mm stainless-steel case has a transparent case back, and is available with a dark blue or silver dial. The Premier Automatic 40, more than any other in the collection, evokes the original watches with its understated style. Its clean dial features a white minute track and second sub-dial at six o’clock.
The Premier collection has the distinction of being the first among equals, its designers having achieved the feat of creating watches that are luxuriously timeless while appearing elegantly contemporary. Willy would approve.
From £3,180; breitling.com