In the dive watch category, it’s hard not to feel like every brand is busy telling the same old story. Professional diver this, deep sea research that — yes, scuba diving evokes a certain level of excitement and mystique in the watch collecting crowd, but after a while it becomes a game of rinse and repeat. The new Breitling Superocean is certainly a dive watch at its core, however the collection is now anchored in a different seafaring world altogether — the adrenaline-fuelled global surf scene, to be precise.
Since taking the helm of Breitling in the summer of 2017, Georges Kern has been making not-so-quiet moves with the direction of the brand. The brand’s offering is still well stocked with tool-focused watches, but more new collections than ever seem to have a closer connection to recreation than they do to things like the military or other specialized industries. The last few years have seen watches launched with connections to the classic car scene, to motorcycling, and to historically significant vintage aircraft. These are categories where the common thread (among other things) is disposable income, and yet the interplay with these areas of interest still feels authentic and well-matched. The same goes for surfing in many respects.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fair to have a bit of skepticism if your lens on the surf world is primarily driven by the tropes of Hollywood. That “beach bum” surfer lifestyle doesn’t seem like the kind of personality type to consider spending several thousand dollars on a mechanical wristwatch, but thats the thing — today’s surf scene is a different animal altogether. Earlier this year we attended the launch of the new Superocean in Biarritz, where Breitling was title sponsor of Wheels & Waves — a festival that is part surf competition, part vintage and custom motorcycle exhibition. Alongside international media, Breitling’s invite list included an assortment of internationally recognized surfers including Andrew Cotton, Freddie Meadows, and Roberto D’amico (who wound up with the nickname “the hand of god” by the end of the event, but that’s another story for another day).
Meeting the trio out of context, you could just as easily assume that they were high-level of athletes from a variety of other disciplines. They’re all physically fit, well traveled, and driven individuals who happen to have found their calling on the open water. That’s not to say that surfing doesn’t also still draw in the free-spirited adventurers that live out of a camper van, but it’s a different game than it once was. It’s not a sport for everyone, but also one that’s easy to get hooked on. Still a rookie at best, my first attempt was some six or seven years ago, and it remains an activity that I’ll go out of my way to practice any time my travels draw me to a destination with the faintest opportunity to catch a wave. While in Biarritz, even a torrential downpour wouldn’t keep me out of the water, with my own Superocean Heritage ’57 Rainbow on the wrist.
Getting back to the watches at hand, the specifications of any sort of water-friendly watch remain roughly the same regardless of activity. The new Superocean collection is rated for 300m of water resistance, and both its rubber strap and its bracelet variants have an extension in the clasp so that it can be fitted over a wetsuit as needed. Its Breitling 17 automatic caliber — a modified ETA 2824-2, technically — also has ample shock protection to keep it running steady should its wearer be tossed by an unfriendly wave.
Specs aside, the new collection is a winner aesthetically as well. Offered in a host of colours, as well as several sizes (46mm, 44mm, 42mm, and 36mm), there’s a solid option on offer regardless of your build and wrist size. They’re also relatively slender for the category, ranging from 12.2mm to 13.2mm thick depending on the diameter. The intent here was very much for these to be capable of going from open water to beach bar, and from beach bar to dinner. They’re too casual for a suit, but otherwise they tick the right boxes in that respect.
Pulling things together aesthetically, Breitling has once again gone down the path of what the brand endearingly calls Modern Retro. Though clearly a modern watch, those familiar with vintage references will see a little nod to history — the contrasting chapter ring and choice of hands paying homage to the Superocean “Slow-Motion” from 1965. It’s a clever angle of approach, touching on the heritage elements without launching a direct and faithful reissue of an old reference, which is more often reserved for more broadly known icons of the vintage watch market.