“Young people won’t buy the kind of watch dad wears,” said Willy Breitling in 1964. However, he continued: “They will be interested in a competition watch with special dials and push buttons. A watch that will ‘impress the boys’ — a watch that is both impressive and really elegant.” Through the Top Time, Breitling presented a sexier image of the mechanical chronograph for a new audience just coming of age. Democratising high-end watchmaking and offered with different dial variations ranging from classic to more daring looks, a newspaper advert from the era captured Breitling’s vision for the Top Time: “The chronograph is no longer a specialist’s timepiece. It has become the watch for younger people.”
A 1965, the Breitling Top Time “2002” became even more popular when it was worn by James Bond in Thunderball. According to Breitling records, the exact watch worn by agent 007 was bought at a car boot sale for £25 and sold at auction in 2013 for almost £104,000, making it one of the most expensive vintage Breitling watches ever sold.According to the Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2020, watch executives mention pre-owned watches most often as the “next big thing”. One-fifth of consumers are likely to buy a pre-owned luxury watch in the next five years, a proportion that is likely to increase with the shift to selling via digital channels, online auctions and dedicated pre-owned spaces in retail locations. With many significant moments in watchmakers’ history now worthy of 50th or 60th anniversary celebrations, we will continue to see a number of icon-inspired novelties joining the impressive line-up of the past couple of years. This is no doubt also influenced by sales of certain models, tracked through secondary-market sales.
The needs, dreams and desires of today’s young collectors might not be so far-removed from those of the Boomers, but they are more comfortable wearing vintage and vintage-inspired timepieces similar to what their parents might have worn. The spirit of those “sportier and more contemporary” Top Time pieces of the 1960s certainly continue to resonate with a new customer since Breitling brought this icon back to life in 2020 albeit in a limited edition of 2,000 pieces.
The new Top Time combines a sense of nostalgia with contemporary watchmaking prowess and conveniences, well-suited to our fast-paced lifestyles. One of my favourite recent chronograph releases, the clean design of the 41mm Top Time Limited Edition is a modern interpretation of one of the most recognisable models of the 1960s, featuring a dial often referred to as the “Zorro dial” by collectors. Inside its 41mm stainless steel case with its classic pump pushers and extended lugs, this edition is powered by a COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 23 chronograph movement. I prefer a smaller case size up to 39mm, but through its elegant design this watch wears much smaller on the wrist. A mid-sized 41mm is also quite a small watch in the Breitling universe.
Making an obvious play for one of the biggest markets for Swiss manufacturers, while reinforcing the youth-focus of the Top Time, the 2021 line-up is themed around three American motoring icons of the 1960s. While I enjoy the throaty rumble of a big-block as much as any other classic car enthusiast, the choice of cars is interesting from a brand that, over the past few years, has so successfully moved on from their 80sJohn Travolta image. And, however refreshing a clear direction might seem at a time when everything feels very fluid, these pieces clearly tap the brand’s macho identity and that of the intended customer.
Due largely to accessible pricing, Hollywood starring roles, or motor racing history, the early 1960s Shelby Cobra, second-generation Corvette C2 “Sting Ray”, and the first-generation Ford Mustang also represent the youthful, free spirit of that age. But do these conspicuous automobiles appeal to the younger audience of today who, as with their watches, are seeking less boorish “classics” from the 80s, 90s and even early 2000s for everyday practicality? I am, however, the exception rather than the norm, but even the choice of red, blue and green dial colour options are not the most dynamic given that a more vibrant green, gold, orange or yellow might have been more representational of the youthfulness and car of the 1960s. But this is business after all and the chino-wearing CEO and head designer lead a slick, emotive presentation, and most certainly know the business of making excellent watches. I’m just not part of this particular car club I guess.
Personal choice, but remember I do love that Zorro-inspired edition and the Deus Ex Machina edition – produced in collaboration with Australian custom motorcycle and surf outfitters – with its elegant yet rally-ready aesthetic featuring yellow and orange details. With water-resistance up to 100 meters and power reserve of about 42 hours, these Classic Car Squad chronographs are definitely ready to dial into life. With the simplicity of its dial layout in blue and brown, the 40mm Top Time Shelby Cobra is crisp enough to suit my brief and preference for slightly smaller timepieces. Inside you get a COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 41, a self-winding 1/4th of a second chronograph movement. This watch features a white tachymeter scale and two white contrasting subdials, plus the Cobra logo at the six o’clock position.
The Top Time Chevrolet Corvette in red and black, and the “trending” green and brown Top Time Ford Mustang versions are presented in 42mm stainless steel cases housing the COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 25, a self-winding 1/8th of a second chronograph movement with a power reserve of about 42 hours. Both watches feature a tachymeter scale and three black contrasting subdials – 30-second, 15-minute and six-hour totalisers. Both dials display their relative car logos at 12 o’clock.
Breitling Top Time Classic Car Squad, R95,300 each. Top Time Limited Edition and Deus ex Machina editions, R89,800 each subject to availability at breitling.com or Breitling Boutique Sandton 011-883-2286.