The evolution of Breitling with Georges Kern at the helm has been an interesting journey to follow, and one that has proven far more successful than many had anticipated. Tapping into the brand’s deep heritage and approaching it through a lens that Kern refers to as “Modern Retro,” Breitling has mostly avoided the traditional vintage reissue approach in favour of adding historical design cues with an intentionally more modern interpretation. This has worked wonders in satisfying the more deep-rooted enthusiast crowd in the watch collecting world, however the large Breitling-faithful following who love the brand’s larger watches have had a bit less to get excited about these past couple of years; that all changes with this week’s launch of the Breitling Super AVI collection.
The new Breitling Super Avi B04 Chronograph GMT collection was unveiled on Wednesday morning in Dallas as a four-piece collection (five if you count a special 18k red gold variant) designed as a nod to four iconic vintage war planes — The P51 Mustang, the Curtiss Warhawk, the de Havilland Mosquito, and the Vought F4U Corsair. To tick the appropriate boxes for a functional pilot watch, as well as to satisfy the aforementioned Breitling fans, the new watches measure 46mm across, and are powered by Breitling’s in-house manufactured B04 chronograph GMT movement. A large unguarded crown and a grippy knurled bezel are fitted to allow for easy operation when wearing gloves, which while not necessary for those of us on the ground, is a smart play when focusing on ease of use when flying (or suffering through our lovely Canadian winters).
The four core releases of the line each take their design cues directly from the examples of these planes that Breitling tracked down stateside, with the planes’ liveries delivering the colour palette found on the watch dials and straps. The olive drab of the Warhawk is easily the more standout offering, contrasted by white subdials and punchy red accents on the chronograph minute counter and GMT hand. The P-51 Mustang reference wins out as the more “vintage” feeling of the pack, sporting tan luminous material for its indices and hands. That said, vintage Breitling buffs will see a familiar colour-way in the Mosquito reference, as the bright red hands and accents against a black reverse panda chronograph has been used on a wide number of references including the 1967 Top Time ref. 2211, and the Chrono-Matic ref. 2112 “Mick Jagger.”
Those more familiar with historical aviation will be quick to note the scarcity of these planes. In the case of the de Havilland Mosquito, of which less than 3,000 were ever built, only four in the world remain airworthy. Not that it makes the watch itself any better/different, but the fact that Breitling (with the help of their US Aviation Liaison Christiaan van Deur) was able to assemble these four in a single location and have them flying together in formation is a pretty wild undertaking, not to mention an incredibly expensive one. In the hands of nearly any other brand, this type of work would feel a bit put-on. Regardless of it being an exercise in clever marketing, Breitling has had connection to military operations going back to Willy Breitling’s actions during WWII. Not only did Breitling supply Chronographs to the RAF, but he also personally worked with allies to deliver watches and airplane dashboard clocks to the allies via makeshift runways in the dark of night all while Switzerland was supposed to be under an export blockade.
With this launch coming on the heels of the Top Time Classic Cars, there seems to be a consistency to the connection between Breitling and some sort of American vintage nostalgia building within the brand. When raising the talking point with Kern in Dallas, he touched on an interesting bit of logic. “When we look at the three pillars of our Neo Luxury vision that is central to the evolution of Breitling, we’re looking at inclusive luxury, casual luxury, and also sustainable luxury.” Within that, what is more sustainable than a vintage car, or a vintage aircraft?” That’s not to say that the brand isn’t looking at sustainability in other avenues as well — quite the opposite. From packaging, to new and eco-friendly strap materials, to partnering with Ocean Conservancy on global ocean cleanup events, the brand is putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to building a better and brighter future (as well as some very charming watches).