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We take a long look at the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 where I’ll attempt to convince you that it’s worth a try.
We don’t deserve the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57. We’re mean, quick to judge, and pretty set in our ways about most things — and that includes watches. We complain about watch prices, moan about in-house versus sourced movements without understanding the benefits. Really, just give us a black dial, wrap it in a 40mm stainless case, and maybe include a dive bezel. Artificially limit production and ensure the social media sages pair it with Goyard, LV, Hermes, Gucci, or some bespoke useless slippers and, voilà, you have the best watch on the planet.
Consequently, it’s because of the behavior detailed above that I come back to my statement. We don’t deserve the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 because I’m guessing most won’t give it a chance. On paper, it simply doesn’t stack up favorably against the norms. But if you only look at those things without trying it on, that’s a real damn shame as it’s the best new watch I’ve worn in 2020. Bold words? You betcha…
The Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 is a proper throwback watch
Simply put, the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 is a throwback watch. You won’t find a screw-down crown, overkill levels of water resistance, or a unidirectional bezel with clicks. I guess that because of these points, Breitling references laid back surfing lifestyle of the 1960s and steers away from any mention of diving. Maybe that’s a safer and more mainstream marketing direction, but I think it really sells this model short (not to mention that this watch was long gone in its original form by the time the 1960s boogie-boarded into town).
The Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 is what dive watches were from almost all companies back in 1957. Namely, they were normal watches with beefed-up sealing to aid water resistance. Then, add a bidirectional friction fit dive bezel, luminous dial and hands, and a non-screw-down crown. Rolex was an exception with their Oysterlock (people often forget that they had had exclusive rights to screw-down crowns at that time) and Omega with its Naiad system. We’ve come a long way since then with more capable watches hitting the market on the regular, but I’m still glad this new piece is available.
The vintage inspiration
You’d think I’d start with the inward sloping bezel design when breaking down the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57. I’ll get to it. But I really need to open with the case because it’s pure magic. I’d guess it was five years ago that I touched down at Vienna International. I hit the tarmac right before a gullywasher did. That’s just as well, as had that sudden, violent storm broken any sooner I might have stayed-put in Frankfurt.
As it was, I made it. And thank goodness as my trip included, aside from essential meetings, a dinner that evening with Fred Mandelbaum. Even though I’d spoken with Fred numerous times, we’d never met in person. But an hour or so after checking into my hotel, his capacious Range Rover emerged from the tempest and I hopped inside.
On our drive into the city, we spoke about all sorts of things but watches dominated. We finally arrived at our destination, the clouds had parted, and it was time to move to the restaurant. With timepieces in tow, we took our seats. Fred had brought all manner of things, but, unsurprisingly, the hardware mostly comprised Breitling watches.
And when we talk vintage Breitling, you don’t need a degree in statistics to assume that the selection is somewhat chronograph-heavy. But there was this one aberration that stuck out to me. It was a watch that didn’t belong to Breitling or any other attending brand at the table and I loved it. Of course, that watch was the Breitling Superocean. The case was impossibly thin and was topped by this exaggerated, almost ridiculous, bowled bezel. It was so elegant and so classy compared to the brutalist divers that came before and after it. I held many watches that night, but I just kept coming back to the Superocean. It looked epic on my wrist.
An impossible watch
The night went on, the seafood was sublime, and the wine possibly even better. And as things often go at dinners like this, we turned our attention to verbal fantasy. We spoke of modern-day Breitling, what a mess it was and why the hell the brand was doing such an efficient job of ignoring its glorious past. Yes, all of this was pre-Kern and before Fred finally received a call from this storied marque. I think we even spoke about how amazing it would be if Breitling made a serious modern version of the earliest Superocean. The very thought felt otherworldly. But in the year 2020, where just about anything is possible, we have the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57. And folks, that’s just downright amazing.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend some Breitling events where I see things well before their release date. NDAs enter the fray and it’s all very hush-hush. But I can talk about the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 and its genesis because the original prototype photos are public. It was over a year ago that I saw the first concept. It was a step in the right direction, but a half step. The watch had the bowled bezel, but it was larger and clumsy. I think it also used the bulkier Tudor-supplied automatic found in the Superocean Heritage II. And while that mock-up was probably a little too close to the Heritage II, the size was more of a no-brainer for Breitling. I wasn’t privy to the ensuing discussions, but I can imagine that things were highly contentious.
We’re glad that those tough conversations led to the product that is today’s Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 because the dimensions are something else. The watch features a 38mm diameter case that’s dominated by a 42mm wide bezel. Despite the influence of this proportionally gargantuan bezel, the whole package is only 9.9mm thick. And how about the lug-to-lug? 46mm makes this thing incredibly wearable. And at the heart of this design lies one of the most controversial points. Breitling chose its B10 automatic which is a chronometer-certified ETA 2892 or Sellita SW300. People are sniffy about this because they feel that a watch starting at €4,000 should have something in-house powering proceedings.
Let’s be clear on this. The Tudor movement would have ruined the proportions of this watch. And, Breitling doesn’t have anything in its arsenal to satisfy the historically correct form factor. Yes, you can find far cheaper watches with an ETA 2892 movement, but is that comparison valid? To me, it’s like saying that a Corvette-powered Iso Grifo should be held directly against, well, a Corvette. They both provide similar performance, but the details are worlds apart.
The lugs on the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 are so slim and delicate that they remind me of shards. What they lack in pure size, though, they make up for with details. There’s a chamfer leading away from the watch and one that angles towards the bracelet. The mid-case also looks amazingly thin, but that’s partly an illusion. The case actually extends lower towards the solid screw-in case back, but this portion is separated by a hard line. The whole thing comes off as so thin that it could be a dress watch.
But there’s that bezel. From the side, it grows upwards and outwards at something like a 30-degree angle. It’s awesome to grab onto and fiddle with and the precision knurling only serves to aid the activity. When we come to the concave bezel design itself on the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57, the brand chose ceramic for the job.
At first, I was concerned because I have a love/hate relationship with the stuff. On the positive side, it’s long-lasting, durable, and chromatically consistent. On the negative side, it can come off as plasticky or lifeless. It’s almost too perfect! But on the Breitling, it is perfect. When we look at the vintage model, it was high gloss paint and, therefore, ceramic was the appropriate modern corollary. With this welcome and sympathetic upgrade, annoying chips and scratches are shown the door. The bezel also avoids the classic ceramic trait of looking grey all the time. And, if you’re wondering how it feels during operation, the bezel tension is just right.
A dial with the right stuff
Breitling rocked the dial on the new Superocean Heritage ’57. The brand avoided the modern malady of throwing all sorts of useless crap on there or, worse, a date. I mean seriously, someone within Breitling must have had some devilish inside dirt on the rest of the staff to get away with such a watch! Everything is faithfully reproduced here from the original model down to the “Christmas Tree” hour hand and the “oven dial” hour markers. The applied markers are precise and the hands are well crafted. As for verbiage, the only additions are the depth rating and chronometer. There’s no “’57” or, thank heavens, the Captain Obvious “automatic” script. Just about every company screws this up, but the designers finally crushed the marketeers! And to top it all off, there’s a hybrid boxed/domed sapphire crystal that faithfully follows the original.
A bracelet worth buying
For €450 more, you can opt-out of the leather strap in favor of a mesh bracelet. I strongly suggest you do. No, strike that. It should be compulsory because this is one lovely addition that further makes the watch. The 20 by 18mm Swiss-made bracelet snuggles between the lugs so perfectly that it looks like an extension of the case. Furthermore, the mesh is thin, exquisitely polished, and tightly woven. On my densely forested wrists, I’ve encountered exactly zero hair pulling and it has been amazing in the heat. When we come to the clasp, it looks and feels like something out of the 1950s.
The two-button release opens a butterfly style clasp that’s not too wide or long. And locking in the sides just feels expensive. But this bracelet has one more trick up its sleeve related to its links. Breitling designed mesh links that fit seamlessly into the bracelet. Yes, these links use pins, but that’s somewhat expected due to the lack of thickness. It’s slick and much nicer than the irreversible surgery formerly required on a vintage mesh.
A couple of other attributes
There are a couple of other points I’d like to mention about the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57. Firstly, the crown is one more example of how much thought went into this watch. The finishing wouldn’t look out of place on a Grand Seiko. The shape, on the other hand, follows the angled bezel and is really nice between the fingers. If you thought Breitling pulled a crown out of the parts drawer, think again.
And then there’s the lume. Who the hell does Breitling think they are by challenging Seiko all of the sudden? This damn thing is a veritable lantern at night and it really took me by surprise.
The elephant in the room — the crown
So, when Oris rolled out the Divers Sixty-Five several years back, people were excited. However, they were quick to point out its measly 100 meters of water resistance. With the new Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57, we get 100 meters of water resistance and no screw-down crown. The horror! Look, if you’re after a proper dive watch to meet your Scuba needs, Breitling and many other brands will happily sell you a more apt professional model. However, this is a modern watch and no matter what the pundits tell you, it can get wet. I took it in the pool the other day and would happily take it to the beach or snorkeling. It’s absolutely fine.
And you know what? I know more people with Rolex Oyster-cased watches than not who take them off before going to the pool for fear of “damaging” them. Count my wife as one of those subscribers. And then, apologies in advance, there’s another friend who recently forgot to batten down the crown of his Planet Ocean before water skiing. Let’s just say that the innards of his watch became “at one” with Lake Tahoe. I guess what I am saying is that the Superocean Heritage ’57 should work for 99% of people 99% of the time. And let’s not forget that a screw-down mechanism would have added bulk to the case.
The Captain Cook argument
The other thing I constantly experience are comparisons between the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 and the Rado Captain Cook. I feel like I’ve had to explain this ad nauseam. If we’re talking history, the Breitling came first — period. If we’re talking about the last several years, Rado reissued its Captain Cook first (and, yes, it has a screw-down crown). Both have an unusual concave bezel, but the comparisons can and should stop right there. The Rado has proportions far more in keeping with traditional divers — I’m really referring to the bezel to lug ratio.
The Breitling, on the other hand, overemphasizes the bezel and the skinny lugs are basically there as a supporting member. If you’re a vintage fan, the watch that’s closest to the Breitling is actually the Gruen Ocean Chief. And then there’s the finishing. We love the Captain Cook, but there’s simply no comparison. Nor should there be when the Breitling is twice the price.
And finally, why I like it so much
I own and get to play with a lot of watches each and every year. I end up liking most of them, but even if I buy, very few truly occupy space in a special part of my collection. These are my “go-to” watches that I am always happy to wear. My Explorer 14270, Submariner 14060M, my grandfather’s Datejust, the gold Speedmaster, and Seiko 6215 are the watches that fit this description. The Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 has joined that elite group. It’s so different but wears so perfectly that I love it. It’s light, elegant, yet somehow sporty. It also pairs with anything and I think that this side of that gold Speedmaster, it’s the best modern reinterpretation of a vintage watch that I’ve seen. From the watch itself to the bracelet, I’m completely at ease with all the choices Breitling made.
But no matter how comfortable I am in explaining why I enjoy this watch so much, I still wonder if the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 will prove to be a commercial success. As I said, the published specs make it hard to understand and very hard to compare with other watches — especially divers. Early limited pieces with their rainbow dials sold out immediately, but we will have to see how the regular black, blue, and two-tone models fare with daily buyers. But for us true watch nerds, this is a watch worth experiencing. As parts of the world reopen and you venture to watch boutiques, I can only make one suggestion. If you try on only one “wild card” watch, make it this one.
For more information on the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57, visit the official Breitling site.
Superocean Heritage ’57
Steel: A10370121B1A1 and Various Others Depending on Dial Color and Strap/Bracelet Choice Two-Tone: U10370121B1A1 and Various Others Depending on Strap/Bracelet Choice Limited Edition: A103701A1B1A/A103701A1B1X1 or A103701A1B1X2
Steel: Black or Blue with Super-LumiNova® luminescent hour markers, hour and minute hands Two-Tone: Black with Super-LumiNova® luminescent hour markers, hour and minute hands Limited Edition: Black with Colored Super-LumiNova® luminescent hour markers, hour and minute hands
42mm Bezel Diameter, 38mm Case Diameter, 46mm Lug to Lug, 20mm Lug Width, 9.99mm Thickness
Sapphire, convex, double anti-reflective
Breitling Cal. B10 Automatic (ETA 2892 or Sellita SW300), Chronometer Certified, 28,800 vph, Hacking, 42 Hours Power Reserve
Leather with Pin Buckle or Butterfly Clasp or Stainless Steel Mesh with Butterfly Clasp
Time (HH:MM:SS) and Bidirectional External Dive Bezel
Stainless Steel: €4,120 on Pin Buckle, €4,350 on Butterfly, €4,570 on mesh. Two-tone: €4,950 on Pin Buckle, €5,180 on Butterfly, €5,400 on mesh. Limited Edition: €4,300 on Pin Buckle, €4,530 on Butterfly, €4,750 on mesh.