There’s no doubt that smartwatches are more popular than ever. Apple is dominating this segment of the tech market and its offering keeps getting better and better. Some argue this has destroyed the mechanical watch segment of the market, which, to be honest, has been in strain since the 70s at the peak of the quartz crisis.
Luxury Swiss brands, back then, denied that emerging technology would last. It was viewed as a fad. They were so stubborn about this that some refused to move with the times and eventually their manufacturing plants were boarded up and closed for business. Not all of them fell, though. Some engaged with the new world of better materials and electronics, even if they did so begrudgingly.
Skip to today and we see that some of the luxury mechanical watch brands should indeed have done more to adapt and adopt the technology. Those that did are coming out with smartwatches that rival the tech giants Apple, Samsung and Huawei. The thing that’s remained steadfast the whole time is the concept of luxury.
One of the brands who’ve successfully survived is Breitling and we’ll be looking at their Exospace B55 Connected.
The Breitling brand has been somewhat chaotic over the last 30 years or so, but on the whole, they’ve always pushed forward. CVC Capital Partners, Europe’s biggest private investment firm came along and acquired Breitling 3 years ago. This injection of funds was very welcome and with the appointment of new a new CEO in the form of Georges Kern, their entire manufacturing process was reformed.
Kern had a penchant for a classic aesthetic but equally pushed the brand into a position of pioneering wearable technology. The B55 prototype was unveiled at Baselword in 2015 and later that same year the production model was released. The timepiece was the idea of Jean-Paul Girardin, Breitling’s VP.
Girardin is also a keen pilot and so the brand is closely associated with aviation. The B55, therefore, is specifically designed to belong to their Professional collection which are serious pieces of equipment for the elite at what they do.
Design and features
As it sits on the wrist you’ll notice it’s not a dress watch. It’s quite a beast, but, it’s comfortable. It has short lugs that curve and a 46mm titanium case, meaning it’s lighter than it looks. It has a unidirectional bezel and the branded Breitling rider tabs make it move with ease. There’s hard knurling on the crown and this means you can easily turn it, even in gloves.
It’s uber-stylish and masculine. The B55’s list of features suggests it’s been made for military aviation experts rather than commercial pilots or simply those who like an aviation-style.
The dial reflects the style of the 2014 Cockpit B50 ($7,799) but with better readability with the use of a blue contrasting handset with digital numerals.
It has a bright LCD backlight that can be used by pressing the crown, or, even cooler, iPhone users can activate it via their build-in inclinometer by tilting the watch 35 degrees, ie, a normal wrist movement to see the time. It turns itself off to reduce distractions.
The digital display is compatible with night vision and this reduces reliance on illumination in the dark, which would affect a pilot’s eyesight if wearing NVGs.
The timer on the watch is so advanced that it will track takeoff, flying and landing times as well as block time for helicopter pilots. This refers to the time the rotors begin moving to when they stop. This is used to monitor the wear of the helicopter. Little fact for you.
It’ll give you two timezones. One is delivered digitally and the other via the hands. You can switch them with the push of just one button. It has timers for counting down and up, a perpetual calendar, up to seven alarms and a chronograph. There’s an electrical tachymeter, too.
Breitling doesn’t like to use the label ‘smartwatch’ for the B55. They prefer to say it’s ‘connected’. Smartwatch implies the watch should be a device used in addition to your smartphone. Connected implies the reverse; in that, you need an app on your phone to act as an extension of your watch. You can get the B55 app on either iOS or Android.
Synching happens via Bluetooth and when your phone and watch are connected you get the benefit of accurate timekeeping through satellite-controlled atomic time signals.
Being connected means you’ll get notifications, too. The B55 has a twin digital readout. A quirky feature means you can ‘park’ the hands in position to allow readability of your notification and then double-tapping the crown puts them back to the correct time.
All made in-house
Breitling is passionate about being self-sufficient. The B55 is an example of this. Both the watch and movement are built in-house. Even the app has been custom developed just for them.
The movement is part of Breitling’s SuperQuartz line. Supposedly ten times more accurate than a normal quartz calibre.
Most impressive is the battery life. It has a unique lithium-ion cell battery which is recharged via a magnetic connector attached to the left of the case. This powers the watch for 2 months at a time.
Typically, the B55 floats around the $7,000 – $8,000 level. Of course, closer to the higher end if you’re looking at titanium versions.
There are plenty of models to pick from. The blue rubber strap, linked in this article, is the most popular.
There’s a B55 Exospace Yachting version ($5,100) that has a regatta timer. It boasts bold colours and the dial is carbon fibre. It stands out from the blackness of the rest of the range.
Breitling’s dabbling into the ‘connected’ market is certainly a successful one. If you want a developmental achievement on your wrist, you won’t go wrong here.
To learn more about aviation watches that won’t hurt your pocket, check out our review of Citizen Watches, here.