Last week, I bought a 2007 Breitling Aeropsace. In some respect, it was a bit of an impulse buy. A friend, who was helping a retired veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces move a few watches, sent me the pics. Less than forty-eight hours later it was in the mail, destined for my front doorstep.
However, looked at from another perspective, it was a quick decision made after months of scouring the Internet, “window shopping.” I moved a few of my own watches recently to gather funds and make way for a birthday purchase. I was more than prepared to make a move. I just didn’t know what the move was. I won’t bore you with the details of my browsing history, or the candidates at the top of my list. What I will tell you is that the Breitling wasn’t among them.
In short, serendipity stepped in. A week before I was presented with the Aerospace, I listened to Episode 178 of The Grey NATO podcast (The Breitling Challenge). Toward the end of the show, a brief exchange concerning the Aerospace took place, where co-host James Stacey lamented the sale of his early 40mm model.
This got me thinking about the Breitling ads I used to ogle in my teenage years—images of pilots in full flight suits, anonymously helmeted heads behind reflective goggles, a wing tip over their shoulders against hazy, pale blue horizons. The Aerospace was released in 1985 just before the movie Top Gun hit screens around the world. Although Cruise wore a Porsche Design by Orfina in the film, images of Breiltlings and fighter pilots are invariably jumbled together with my memory of the cocky Maverick (and, admittedly, the lovely Kelley McGillis).
I know how badly my thirteen-year-old self wanted to be a pilot at that brief moment in time, if only to be cool. Don’t we all long to be cool at thirteen?
I am weak. I bought the watch. And man…is it cool.
Birth of the Aerospace
The Aerospace is a staple in Breitling’s Professional Series. These are among the brand’s toughest, hard-wearing models, designed to perform in the field. As such, the Aerospace is not just a nod to the pilot watch aesthetic. It is a watch built for pilots. Dozens of air-squadron specific limited editions attest to its heritage, from the RAF Gulf War Combat Air Wings, to the F16 Falcon Pilots, and the Royal Navy Air Rescue, to name but a few.
Originally, upon launch, the watch was called the “Navitimer Aerospace.” However, unlike its iconic namesake, the Aerospace was Breitling’s first dedicated quartz-powered pilot. The ana-digi display was quintessential 80s. The Calibre B56 offered the added benefit of a digital second time zone, a chronograph function, and a perpetual calendar. The watch, built from titanium even then, measured 40mm in diameter, and came in just over 9mm thick. It had a unidirectional, rotating bezel and a hardened mineral crystal. This early model offered only 30m of water resistance, however.
A decade later, in 1996, the movement was upgraded to the Calibre B65. The crystal became sapphire, and water resistance was bumped up to 100m. In 2001, again, the movement was improved to the Calibre B75. During these years, there were also small changes in dial fonts and labeling. However, the watch remained largely true to its initial design in size and aesthetics right up to 2004.
The greatest innovation in the Aerospace line came between 2005 and 2007, when for a brief period the watch added the term “Avantage” to its name. Breitling introduced its Calibre B79 at this time—a movement it uses to this day in the latest iteration of the Aerospace, known as the EVO. The movement offers a gamut of functions, including a chronograph, GMT, countdown timer, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, backlight, and alarm. More importantly, the B79–based on the ETA 988.352—is thermo-compensated to resist changes in temperature. Breitling refer to it as SuperQuartz. It is COSC chronometre certified and officially accurate to within ten seconds a year. Anecdotally, however, the watch often outperforms its own specs. This makes the B79 up ten times more accurate than a regular quartz movement.
At the moment, only radio-controlled watches can outperform thermo-compensated quartz; however, this is not because of the movements’ superior quality, but rather because radio-controlled watches make periodic adjustments through communication with a better clock elsewhere.
The digital count adjustment method used by the B79, therefore, is a minor miracle of engineering—especially given that it was devised more than a decade ago. Today, only a handful of calibres, like the Citizen A660, lay claim to better accuracy.
The 2007 Aerospace, and the models after it until 2013, grew to 42mm in diameter. It also thickened somewhat to 10.4mm. However, because of its titanium construction, it remained under 38g. The model I own (E79362), even with its slash-cut titanium bracelet weighs in at a mere 84g. To put that into perspective, my SPB143 and Aquastar Deepstar—when on their bracelets—tip the scales at 161g and 180g, respectively. By comparison, the Aerospace feels like you are wearing air.
It should also be noted that even at its increased dimensions, the watch remains 4mm thinner than the two aforementioned divers. The svelte case of the Aerospace, coupled with the ease and accuracy of its quartz movement, make for an ideal daily wearer. I haven’t taken it off but to sleep since I received it. And that includes my workouts at the gym. I have no doubt—having another titanium watch in my stable already—that the Aerospace will be more than capable of taking a knock or two.
As for its functionality, the entire watch is run from its crown. A simple push activates the minute repeater. A quick spin in either direction changes it from mode to mode. A slower rotation activates the backlight. One push to start the chronograph, another to stop. Hold it down for a reset. I have the GMT set to Melbourne, where my sister lives. The alarm goes off at 5am…and you can’t miss it. Additionally, the rehaut has an easily legible 24-hour scale, should you need it.
I like the ratcheting bezel, as well. It’s not the hard snap of a Seiko diver, but it does have 120 solid clicks. With 100m of water resistance, and a healthy dose of Super-LumiNova on both its hands and indices, the Aerospace could easily pull double-duty as a skin diver.
But the crystal…well, I have never seen AR like this. From most angles you would swear there was no sapphire glass at all. Breitling outline the process behind their crystal manufacturing on their website in a detailed article. In it, they claim their double-sided “glareproofing” eliminates 99% of all reflections. I don’t know how this is measured, but I believe it.
In terms of styling, there is no doubt that with the exception of the 4 applied block numerals (an improvement over earlier fonts, IMO), the timepiece still speaks very much an eighties language. The bold, knobby bezel grip points, the brash dial markings, and the assertive logo all have an in-your-face quality. Admittedly, this is not for everyone. Like the continued ana-digi display, these design cues are an acquired taste—an odd jumble of elements that are at once retro and futuristic, as though we are observing a bygone era’s vision of the future. I call it “geeky cool.”
And yet, for lack of a better term, I want to describe it as a very masculine design. Its predominantly brushed appearance (the only polish is a thin, broken line around the crystal) and tactical layout, give it a toolish, industrial quality, right down to the bezel screws. The only note of true superfluity might be its contentious bracelet. The angled links can be polarizing among Breitling aficionados, but I think it’s all part of the ugly duckling’s charm.
Ultimately, there is only one design choice I can’t get behind, and that’s the hands. It’s a small thing, but while the thin pencil set is better than the partially skeletonized development in the EVO, it still lacks gravitas among so much brazen activity. Practically speaking, I understand the need to maintain visibility of the digital screens—and I don’t have a ready alternative—but it seems to me that something just a little more aggressive is necessary to achieve balance.
48mm Lug to Lug
22mm Lug Width
120 Unidirectional Bezel
100m Water Resistance
|Dial & Crystal||Flat Sapphire /w Glareproofing|
Applied Markers & Indices
12 & 24-Hour Registers
|Movement||Breitling B79 Thermocompensated SuperQuartz|
COSC Chronometre Certified
Chronograph, Minute Repeater, Countdown Timer, GMT,
Perpetual Calendar, Alarm & Backlight
3/4 Year Battery Life
|Strap||Slash Cut Titanium Bracelet|
/w Screw Links & Milled Clam Shell Clasp
Mention Breitling and very quickly images of the Navitmer scream to mind. Perhaps the Avi and the Super Ocean flit in close behind, followed by the Avenger. But the Aerospace offers an interesting back door into the brand that pays tribute to its long-standing tool watch and aviation past. From the cockpit clocks they fitted into Spitfires and Lancaster bombers during WWII to the innovative circular slide rule of their Chronomats and Navitimers, Breitling have been producing “instruments for professionals” since their early days. The Aerospace is an integral part of that tradition. But, frankly, if you intend to buy the Aerospace, dig out your aviators and just do it because you think it’s cool. That’s all that matters anyway.
The contemporary Aerospace EVO starts at $5075USD, but you can find a similarly speced vintage version with the B79 on reputable watch sites for $1700 to $2500USD.
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