Testing the Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante
The new chronograph Caliber B03 with split-seconds feature was introduced by Breitling in its flagship Navitimer. We checked this manufacture caliber in a stainless-steel model with an exclusive bronze-colored dial in this cover feature from our archives.
It appears to be an ordinary Navitimer chronograph at first glance, a style that has been a common symbol for the past 55 years. A fluted, bidirectional rotatable bezel with a light-colored flange marked with a logarithmic slide-rule scale is one of the distinguishing features. It’s hidden under the curved sapphire stone, which is anti-reflective on both sides. The inverse of the logarithmic scale runs around the dial’s outermost side. The tachymeter scale is a tenth of an inch further inward, and it encircles the elapsed-seconds scale with quarter-second divisions levied by the Breitling manufacture Caliber B03’s 4-Hz rhythm.
The dial’s three light-colored counters are also familiar. The first is for the chronograph’s elapsed minutes, the second is for the elapsed hours, and the third is for the seconds that are constantly working. The bronze-colored dial of the new Navitimer, which is the first exclusive aspect of this new rattrapante chronograph, is distinguished by the trio. A delicately formed sunburst pattern on the face softly catches the incident light, which also catches the polished surfaces of the hands and the applied hour indexes on occasion. The time is generally easily readable. Despite the various functions and scales, the time indication takes center stage on the dial, particularly at night when the Super-LumiNova coating on the related components glows green.
We can now take our time to appreciate all of the other information. The chronograph is started by pressing the 2 o’clock button, as is well known. It’s worth recalling that Breitling was the first watchmaker to include an independent chronograph button at 2 o’clock in 1915. This was followed by another world first in 1934, when a push-piece at 4 o’clock was introduced.
Most rattrapante chronographs can be identified by an extra button, usually located at 10 o’clock, that is used to enable the split-seconds feature. Breitling, on the other hand, takes a different approach. Another unique characteristic of this timepiece is that the rattrapante button is built into the crown. You may be worried that the crown’s role and the integrated button would conflict, but fear not: they don’t. Although it takes a lot of force to start the chronograph, it just takes a light touch to stop the rattrapante side. When the crown is pulled inward, such as after changing the date display or the hands, the pressure point is located so that the rattrapante button is not accidentally pressed. And while we’re on the subject of the flyback button, now seems like a good time to clarify when and why this little push-button should be used.
While the chronograph is active and measuring an elapsed period, the crown button can be repeatedly pressed to pause and restart one of the two elapsed-seconds hands, allowing the user to measure lap times or intermediate times. However, this only works for intervals of 60 seconds or less, while the basic chronograph will record intervals of up to 12 hours. The rattrapante hand that has been halted can be restarted to catch up with its twin and then easily halted again to calculate a new intermediate time. The slender red hand with an arrowhead at its tip and Breitling’s “B” as a counterweight proceeds to shift away from the motionless, steely, rattrapante hand while this calculation is taking place. The anchor on the shorter end of the rattrapante hand combines with the “B” on the elapsed-seconds hand, completing the brand’s insignia, only after the rattrapante hand has swiftly “flown back” and resumed synchronous progress with its partner. This is a refined approach – and it’s every bit as advanced as the technology within the stainless-steel case’s approximately 45-mm diameter.
The construction of a rattrapante chronograph is one of the most difficult tasks in watchmaking, which is why this complication is only seen in small numbers. Breitling, as a chronograph expert, desired a reliable and accurate device that could be serially produced and was easier to produce than previous mechanisms. Several years of study and testing were needed to achieve this aim. The effect is a new process that is protected by two patents. The first is the decoupling process, which removes the rattrapante hand from the action when it is momentarily halted. Breitling replaced the traditional cylindrical pin, which is difficult to fabricate, with a deep-drawn component with finer geometry. This conserves energy while retaining the rate’s chronometer-worthy accuracy. In terms of rate, our tests revealed that the chronograph runs more precisely when the rattrapante hand is decoupled from its twin than when it runs synchronously. With the decoupled flyback hand, the average regular gain is 5.8 seconds, compared to +6.3 seconds when both hands work concurrently.
The second patent covers the process that prevents the rattrapante hand from moving. The clamp is generally engaged into a smooth or very finely toothed wheel by most manufacturers. An O-ring sheathes this wheel in the Navitimer, which the clamp presses against. Precision stopping and a simpler-to-manufacture device are also welcome outcomes. Stopping time happens with pinpoint accuracy. When the halted hand hurriedly rejoins its partner, however, it begins its flyback journey with a broad motion in the opposite direction, which can be seen even with the naked eye. Fortunately, Caliber B03 was able to monitor the resulting forces in all of our studies.
Breitling’s rattrapante mechanism, which has only 28 parts, is mounted as a module between the base plate and the date mechanism on the dial side of the movement. Not only does this architecture make fabrication and assembly simpler, but it also makes maintenance easier. The system is descended from the Caliber B01’s intelligent positive approach, which serves as the B03’s base. On top of this framework, other useful functions have already been installed. As a result, the B03 benefits from all of the modern basic movement’s features, such as column-wheel control, a 70-hour power reserve, and chronometer-worthy rate efficiency, which it retains both when fully wound and as the energy reservoir depletes.
Only the limited-edition rose-gold model, which has a sapphire window in the back of its case, can see the technical-looking movement. On the stainless-steel watch we checked, the caliber is concealed behind Breitling’s signature caseback. Despite the screws that secure the back to the case, the Navitimer Rattrapante can only withstand pressure to a depth of 30 meters, which is maybe too low for a modern sports watch. However, the watch’s opaque back is etched with a temperature-conversion table, giving it a completely separate feature from the chronograph.
The Navitimer Rattrapante came with a calfskin band that can be lengthened or shortened steplessly with the one-sided folding clasp. This is a rather appealing solution, and the supple leather band wraps around the wrist like a second skin, adding to the watch’s overall comfort. When it comes to good feelings, buying this chronograph, which incorporates an uncommon but newly conceived and serially produced feature into a modern caliber of chronometer quality, will bring them on. Other companies have either stopped producing rattrapante chronographs or only sell them in limited versions with gold cases and high prices. Clients of Breitling only have to pay $10,465 for the privilege of possession.
- Manufacturer: Breitling SA, Schlachthausstrasse 2, 2540 Grenchen, Switzerland
- Reference number: AB031021/Q615
- Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, date, rattrapante chronograph with central split elapsed-seconds hand and counters for 30 elapsed minutes and 12 hours, tachymeter scale, slide-rule function with aid of inner bidirectional rotatable bezel, temperature-conversion table on caseback
- Movement: In-house Caliber B03 based on Caliber B01, automatic, COSC- certified, 28,800 vph, 70-hour power reserve, copper-beryllium balance, Nivarox hairspring, eccentric fine adjustment, Kif shock absorption, 46 jewels, diameter = 30.0 mm, height = 9.15 mm
- Case: Stainless steel, curved sapphire crystal above the dial with non- reflective treatment on both sides, water resistant to 30 meters
- Strap and clasp: Brown leather with stainless-steel one-sided folding clasp
- Rate results (Deviation in seconds per 24 hours, fully wound/after 24 hours):
- Dial up +0.5 / +1.6
- Dial down +3.3 / +5.0
- Crown up +5.5 / +5.9
- Crown down +2.7 / +6.3
- Crown left +7.0 / +8.4
- Greatest deviation 6.5 / 6.8
- Average deviation +3.8 / +5.4
- Average amplitude:
- Flat positions 301° / 281°
- Hanging positions 280° / 257°
- Dimensions: Diameter = 44.89 mm, height = 15.65 mm, weight = 138.0 grams