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Prodigal Questionnaire: Breitling Chronomat

By on 5 July 2010 in Watches

Prodigal Questionnaire: Breitling Chronomat
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Vanity Fair has the Proust Questionnaire. Theirs is “candid, surprising, fascinating.” Ours? Not so much. It’s more: contrived, surpassed, fallacious.

We’re kidding of course! No way do the guys at Vanity Fair have a monopoly on revealing interview techniques. When it comes to penetrating the reasoning behind a watch-buying decision, we think you can’t do better than the Prodigal Questionnaire.

One watch. One decision. And 12 little questions that shine a probing, edifying light on them both.

Today, we’re putting The Prodigal Fool’s decision to buy a Breitling Chronomat on the couch:

One o’clock: Where or how did you purchase this watch?

This is probably the most important watch in my collection from a personal perspective because it is the first quality watch I ever bought. Back in the late 80s, when I was still far younger than I should have been to do so, I started to crave a proper Swiss watch. While most kids my age were eyeing up Vespas or – more sensibly – girls, I had my head buried in Rolex, Breitling and Hublot (this was the decade of Miami Vice after all) catalogues. I begged, I borrowed, I stole and – eventually – got myself to the point where I could afford the Chronomat. It was everything I wanted in a watch: a Swiss brand with provenance, a ‘complication’ of sorts (the chronograph), a serious movement (those COSC accreditations don’t come easily) and – mostly – looks that just entranced me. All of this was available for about the same price as your entry-level Rolex Oyster Perpetual. To me, back then, it was a no-brainer.

Two o’clock: What living person is it most like?

I’m going to have to go with Burt Reynolds. You know, he used to be fantastic, a true legend and, in his heyday, the highest paid movie star on the planet (think, Deliverance, think The Mean Machine, Hell, think Smokey and the Bandit) but – though his ability still shines through occasionally (think, Boogie Nights) – his looks and style just haven’t stood the test of time (think, eh, everything he’s made since Boogie Nights). The various facelifts over the years have only served to exacerbate the problem (check out any Chronomat produced in the last ten years and you’ll see what I mean: they just keep getting bigger, busier and tackier.)

Three o’clock: What is the watch’s greatest achievement?

Not being a Rolex. Or rather, not being a Rolex in the late 1980s when I first started looking for a watch. Back then, Breitling was the more discreet and subtle of the two brands. Times change.

Four o’clock: What talent would it most like to have?

It would like to have the enduring appeal and cool of a Rolex Submariner or even a Navitimer (Richard Hammond of Top Gear now wears a Chronomat; Miles Davis and Serge Gainsbourg chose Navitimers; I think that says it all.)

Five o’clock: Where should the watch live?

It belongs with me, but back in the 80s and 90s.

Six o’clock: Which hero of fiction wears or should wear this watch?

Tough one. I believe that Bruce Willis was quite partial to Breitling for the best part of the 80s and 90s. If you go back and watch Die Hard With a Vengeance, I’m pretty sure you’ll see Breitlings on both his and Samuel L. Jackson’s wrists. Willis wears what looks a lot like a Chronomat to me in that flick. On the other end of the scale, Jerry Seinfeld wore various Breitlings, including many Chronomats, throughout the nine seasons of Seinfeld. So there you have it: the Chronomat, a watch for action heros and clowns.

Seven o’clock: What are its real life heroes?

The Chronomat, as we now know it today, is very much inspired from the looks of the Navitimer, but in fact is was the Chronomat that came first in the Breitling portfolio. Back then it looked very different and was one of the first watches ever to be equipped with a sliderule. The Navitimer followed in 1952. So, I would say that these two watches are very much each other’s heroes.

Eight o’clock: What’s your greatest regret about buying this watch?

Honestly, hand on heart, I don’t have any. I loved it from the day I bought it.

Nine o’clock: If it had a name, what would it be?

Bruce, in honour of its coolest owner.

Ten o’clock: What do you most value about this watch?

This is going to sound odd but I love – really love – the fact that the centre of the dial is set back from the rest of the watch, so there’s real depth to it. This effect combined with the anti-glare coating on the sapphire crystal often gave you the impression that you could reach right into it and pluck out the hands. I still remember the first few months of ownership: every now and again, my heart would skip a beat when I’d look down at it and think my crystal had somehow fallen out. It’s details like that and the inimitable Rouleaux bracelet, that make the watch special and truly valuable in my eyes.

Eleven o’clock: What is the trait you most deplore in it?

This is unfair to the little fellow, but I don’t like what he became, how he grew up. Not the model I bought, but the subsequent iterations and the way Breitling, to my eyes, tarnished that model line with ever more brash, busy and bloated versions.

Twelve o’clock: Keep, sell or trade?

Given my answers to one o’clock and eight o’clock, I guess you’d expect me to say “keep” right? Well, no. There’s no room in my watch collection for anything other than enduring classics, whether vintage or new. For that reason, I sold it a few months ago to part-finance the acquisition of a Rolex No-Date Submariner 14060M. You’ll have to wait for another Prodigal Questionnaire I guess to find out what drove me into the arms of the Sub… Think I was wrong to sell the Chronomat? Well, there’s time to claim it: it’s still available from The Swiss Watch Company.

Who’s next on the couch?

The Prodigal Questionnaire is published on the first Monday of every month.

One watch. One decision. And 12 little questions that shine a probing, edifying light on them both.

If you would like to be the subject of PQ, drop us a line together with the details of the watch you own at: TheProdigalGuide@me.com

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Prodigal Questionnaire: Breitling Chronomat

Vanity Fair has the Proust Questionnaire. Theirs is “candid, surprising, fascinating.” Ours? Not so much. It’s more: contrived, surpassed, fallacious. We’re kidding of course! No way do the guys at Vanity Fair have a monopoly on revealing interview techniques. When it comes to penetrating the reasoning behind a watch-buying decision, we think you can’t do […]

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Our editor-in-chief, the self-proclaimed "greatest wit, raconteur and bon vivant of our age", borders on delusional. Over the years, the fool has squandered more money on fast cars, Swiss watches and electronic gadgetry of all kinds than he – or Mrs Fool – cares to remember. Come nightfall, he can invariably be found stumbling out of Dukes mumbling “just one more Martini; I could have handled just one mmmmm… [thud!]”

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