When you think of iconic wristwatches, a few brands probably spring to mind: Rolex, Cartier, Seiko, Longines, Casio, Mickey Mouse. One that probably doesn’t come to mind for people who don’t keep watch on watches is Breitling.
But the Swiss watchmaker, which has been in business for 137 years, is one of the most important companies in the history of the industry. The Breitling Superocean dive watch is an influential wristwatch for a company rich in history.
Breitling Superocean: Diving into an Influential Wristwatch Line
Breitling’s roots extend back to the invention of the airplane. Its earliest successes involved chronographs and instruments that helped aviators and the military do a lot more than tell time.
After a half-century of consistent success, the Breitling family used their innovative thinking to create a functional timepiece for underwater use.
The result was the Breitling Superocean line, premium timekeepers that won favor with the public as well as the professional market. These pieces are mainstays on the collectible wristwatch market.
Here’s a closer look at Breitling’s overall history and a deeper dive into the Superocean dive watch collection.
The History of Breitling
Léon Breitling was a German-born watchmaker living in the throes of the second Industrial Revolution in continental Europe. Wanting to capitalize on all the massive progress going on around him, Breitling decided to make his mark by producing timepieces with supreme accuracy.
In 1894, Breitling started his company in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. It began as a low-volume workshop where he concentrated on chronographs and timepieces targeted toward the industrial, scientific, and sports markets.
Breitling found quick success that exceeded the limits of his studio, so he moved the company from Santa-Imier to La Chaux-de-Fonds, the center of the watch-making industry.
Léon Breitling died in 1914, and the company passed down to the hands of his son, Gaston. It was the onset of World War I, and Gaston was particularly interested in the needs of aviators at the time. He was aware that pilots needed very precise tools and that fumbling around with a pocket watch while trying to fly a plane was a potentially fatal activity.
The First Chronograph
In 1915, Breitling introduced the first chronograph wristwatch. In 1923, Breitling manufactured the first chronograph with independent push buttons — what we now regard as the classic “stopwatch.”
It was around this time that the Breitling brand started to become quite popular, both with military aviators and civilians.
Gaston’s son Willy took over the company in 1932, ushering Breitling through its most groundbreaking era. The company became partners with the British Royal Airforce, a partnership that still remains today.
In 1936, Breitling introduced the first on-board, in-flight chronographs. The company also began supplying timepieces to the U.S. Air Force in the 1940s.
Taking Over the Skies
One of Breitling’s most significant innovations was adding a slide rule to its aviator wristwatch in the 1940s as Europe devolved into World War II. This allowed pilots to make quick and exact calculations of airspeed, fuel, and flight time while behind the controls.
The slide rule spurred the creation of what’s arguably Breitling’s most famous product, the Navitimer, in 1952.
This wristwatch had a logarithmically scaled slide rule lodged in a rotating bezel, amplifying the number of flight timings and figures an aviator could calculate.
Commercial airlines began paying attention to Breitling products, and by the 1960s, the company’s flight instruments became the industry standard.
Breitling capitalized on the space race of the 1950s and 1960s by inventing the “Cosmonaute” Navitimer, a 24-hour (“military time”) watch that NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter wore as he orbited the earth in May 1962.
The Breitling Chrono-Matic and Modern Breitling Watches
Breitling also partnered with other companies to invent the first fully automatic movement chronograph, the Chrono-Matic, in 1969.
Up to that point, wristwatches had to be physically wound every day to remain functional. This was done by twisting a small knob on the side of the watch.
With the automatic chronograph, the watch was wound by the natural movement of the wearer’s wrist — no need to stop and think about winding it.
After an overall slowdown in the Swiss watch industry and Willy’s death in 1979, Ernest Schneider took the helm of Breitling in 1982.
Under Schenider’s tutelage, the company produced the Chronomat, an upgraded military pilot watch.
In 1995, Breitling released the “Emergency” watch, a timepiece that could broadcast distress signals. This timepiece garnered attention in 2003 after it was given credit for the rescue of two British pilots from the Antarctic Sea after their helicopter crashed.
Today, Breitling continues to produce wristwatches and chronographs, primarily for military, law enforcement, and aviation customers, as well as the general public. The company has kept up with the times but still makes analog watches with unbeatable accuracy and style.
This brings us to the Superocean.
History of the Breitling Superocean
Breitling spent the first half of the 20th century outfitting the military aviation industry. But in the 1950s, they concentrated on making inroads in another unusual market — the sea.
Inventors had been tooling around with making “dive” watches since the 1920s. The challenge of making water resistant and waterproof timepieces that withstood intense underwater pressure drove many innovations during that time.
In 1953, Rolex and Blancpain introduced the first two dive watches to the general public: the Submariner and the Fifty Fathoms, respectively. They were notable for their high-contrast, well-lit dials for easy detection in the underwater environment, as well as the rotating bezel Breitling had popularized with the Navitimer.
Dive watches became quite popular. Breitling, never one to overlook commercial trends, soon went to work on a dive watch of its own.
The First Breitling Superocean Model
The Breitling Superocean arrived in 1957. Like most of the company’s aviation watches, the Breitling Superocean was designed for professional and military divers, but also found a measure of popularity with recreational divers and watch aficionados.
The physical characteristics of the Breitling Superocean were obvious: oversized numerals, enlarged hour markers, and thick hands for better reading underwater. These traits followed the emphasis on legibility that distinguished Breitling’s aviation instruments.
But another impressive facet of the Breitling Superocean was its ability to remain waterproof under pressure at a depth of 200 meters — twice the depth that the Rolex Submariner could handle.
The Breitling Superocean also had a rotating bezel to help clock dive duration, along with a very thin, 39mm stainless steel case that kept the watch flat on the diver’s wrist.
The Slow-Motion Breitling Superocean 2005
As the Breitling Superocean collection met with great commercial success, Willy Breitling almost instantly went to work improving upon it. His next area of innovation involved the motion of the chronograph.
The problem Willy Breitling sought to solve was the measurement of time spent underwater. Dive watches had chronographs that rotated every minute, which was inconvenient for underwater reading. It was hard for divers to make the calculations they needed for the diving experience.
The second Breitling Superocean, the 2005, fixed this problem. Officially introduced in 1964, the Breitling Superocean 2005 had a chronograph that completed a revolution every hour. This made it much easier for divers to get a sense of how long they had actually been underwater.
The upshot of the slow-motion chronograph was that it moved so slowly it was hard to tell whether it was still working. Breitling solved this issue with a black and yellow indicator dot on the Superocean 2005’s “6” position.
If the indicator was all black, the chronograph had been reset or stopped. If it was yellow, it was fully operational. If it was black with a small yellow dot inside, the chronograph was on hold.
The face of the Breitling Superocean 2005 repeated many of the qualities of the first model: clear hour indicators with no distracting sub-dials. Its stainless steel case was 43 millimeters thick.
The Breitling Superocean Chrono-Matic and Deep Sea
After the release of the terrestrial Chrono-Matic in 1969, Breitling set to work developing a Superocean version. This watch, released in 1970, also had two sundials and a waterproof bezel, as well as a bright orange motif on the hands and the bezel. Like the Chrono-Matic, it was wound by the diver’s natural wrist movements.
The next innovation of the Breitling Superocean came in 1983 with the release of the “Deep Sea” model. This new addition version was designed with hardcore diving enthusiasts in mind.
It had what Breitling calls a “patented helium escapement case-back” that engineered the slow release of helium as the diver swam back to the surface. This prevented the watch from exploding on the way up — and it gave the Breitling Superocean the ability to withstand water pressure up to a new depth of 1,000 meters, more than half a mile.
The Breitling Superocean Héritage
The Breitling Superocean only reinforced its iconic status over succeeding years. To commemorate the watch’s 50th anniversary in 2007, Breitling introduced a “Héritage” model that closely resembled the design of the 1957 classic dive watch.
It’s a striking, instantly nostalgic watch that replicated the previous model’s sleek face and oversized hour indicators, as well as its braided bracelet around-the-clock face available in steel, rubber, or leather.
Breitling has since made various colors and styles of the ’57 Heritage series, including many limited editions.
In 2021, Breitling launched its “Pastel Paradise” series in several fashionable colors (green, light blue, tan, or white dial, and a multicolored getup with a tangerine strap). The faces mimic the original Superocean design as well.
Pastel Paradise watches have a water resistance limit of only 100 meters, so it’s not a pro-grade dive watch. It’s more for soirees at the yacht club.
The Breitling Superocean Héritage II Series
In 2017, on the 60th anniversary of the Superocean, Breitling issued an upgrade to its Héritage line. The new watches also harkened back to the 1957 original, with a redesigned stainless-steel bezel with a ceramic ring that was scratch- and shock-resistant. It also retained the quirky triangular and rectangular hour and minute indicators.
Along with the revival of the original, Breitling offered added variations on its Superocean Heritage line with added features and functionality from the previous version.
The Breitling Superocean Héritage II B01 Chronograph 44
Breitling describes this revamp as the flagship model of the Héritage line. It has three sub-dials and is cased in strong stainless steel. It’s powered by Breitling Manufactured Automatic Calibers, mechanisms with remarkable power reserves of 70 hours.
This chronograph comes in two versions: a black dial on a black Aero Classic rubber strap and a blue dial in an Ocean Classic stainless-steel bracelet. There’s also a limited edition B01 with a “black-eye green dial,” only 500 of which are being made.
The Breitling Superocean Héritage II Chronograph 44
The Chronograph 44 line (minus the “B01”) comes in three models, powered by Breitling Caliber 13. Three sub-dials are positioned at the 6, 9, and 12 positions, with a day and date display indicator at the 3.
The Chronograph 44 comes in two stainless-steel versions: black dial on Ocean Classic bracelet or blue dial with ceramic bezel on Aero Classic strap. There are also new models in 18k red gold with a black dial.
For watch enthusiasts who prefer an oversized titanium case, the Superocean Automatic 48-millimeter is the way to go.
The Breitling Superocean Héritage II B20 Automatic 44
Another homage to the original 1957 dive watch, the Breitling Superocean Automatic 44 Héritage II B20 retains its striking, minimalistic face design with a date window in the 6 position and a luminescent dot at 12.
Like the B01 Chronograph 44, the new collection of Breitling B20 Automatic 44s are available with a blue face and a stainless steel bracelet or a black face with a rubber strap.
Breitling Superocean Watch Values
The new line Superocean Heritage collections line costs a pretty penny. Strike that: it costs a flat-out gorgeous penny, one with moisturized skin and high cheekbones.
Many of the Breitling Superocean Heritage watches available on the Breitling website run between $5,000 and $7,000, with outliers in either direction.
The red gold and black B20 Automatic 42 is priced at $19,600, while the somewhat gimmicky Pastel Paradise line costs between $4,630 and $4,770.
But when you shell out for a Breitling timepiece, you’re paying for one of the greatest wristwatches ever produced.
With the Superocean original models and the Héritage revival pieces, you’ll enjoy a collectible with the rare combination of incomparable functionality and strong iconic value. Breitling has made it work for 137 years, and there’s no need to stop the clock now.