I've got a new HEQ on the wrist. One I've had my eye on for a long time, but never quite pulled the trigger on until recently. And a watch that doesn't seem to get a lot of play on the HEQ forum -- the Breitling Aerospace. My first Breitling ever, after owning dozens and dozens of premium watches. This one's the 2007-2009 variant of the current generation "Aerospace Avantage", model E79362. It's powered by Breitling’s Caliber 79, which they refer to as “SuperQuartz”: an ETA-based thermocompensated multifunction movement, that is chronometer certified and specc'ed to run at better than 15 seconds a year accuracy.
I had the opportunity to acquire my watch thanks to a gesture of goodwill from a local friend and fellow WIS who is thinning down his extensive (and tastefully admirable) collection. He is a gentle (actually, meticulous) caretaker of all his watches, but when he had acquired the Aerospace about a year ago, it already had a few nits and scuffs in the Titanium bracelet. After getting home with it, I spent a good hour or so with my 3MScotchbrite pad, carefully re-brushing out the bracelet and clasp. It now looks just about as good as new. Bright and beautiful.
I like this particular example best, out of all the various Aerospace versions available, for several reasons.
· It has the latest HEQ movement with a backlight. Previous gen Aerospace's did not have any electric illumination.
· The E79362's 42mm case is noticeably better crafted and executed with higher finish quality than previous generation Aerospaces. (It costs quite a bit more on the secondary market as a result.)
· The 2007-09 dial is cleaner and less cluttered than the current (2010+) versions of this model: which changed the hour markers to numerals, eliminated the "13 - 24" chapter ring, added engraved concentric rings on the dial, and added a bunch of grooves that simulate a "planked" look. All of those embellishments on the 2010+ dial look, to me, gratuitous. Here's a 2010+ dial, for comparison:
· Lastly, I like the inscription "Chronometre Aerospace" on the 07-09 dial better than the 2005-06 Avantage, which reads "Chronometre Certifie."
· The applied markers, chromed hands, and chromed 12-3-6-9 indices, to me, look classier and more representative of a high-quality watch than the previous generations' printed, italicized numerals (those personally just look a bit too "Nascar" for my taste.) Here's a previous-gen (2001-05) E75362 Aerospace for comparison:
Anyway. Enough details and minutia. This is a watch that looks phenomenal on the wrist. It projects an air of substance and quality -- yet with an all-brushed, satin Titanium finish and a clean, somewhat "technical" dial, it is in no way brash or shouty. Even my wife (who's not usually a watch-noticer) immediately complimented how good the Aerospace looks on the wrist.
The rotating bezel is a feature I always appreciate and use quite often. It is nice and practical to have, even when you also have an electronic stopwatch function. For quick timing of a parking meter or the BBQ grill, it's the fastest & most convenient timer a watch can offer. The click feel and alignment of this bezel are good. Not as delightfully luscious as a good Rolex or Seiko rotating bezel, but perfectly adequate.
The Aerospace features an intricately detailed case back that's engraved with some conversion tables for fuel weights and measures. This mostly serves to look really nice. I suppose it is also of potential interest to pilots who don't already know that a gallon of jet fuel weighs 6.7 pounds and want to take their watch off to look that up....
Check out how the satin black dial and its applied markers look different, depending on the ambient light. Sometimes bold, other times subtle. Very nice. Distinctive and interesting, providing a modicum of jaunty verve -- yet mature.
One minor thing I wish they did differently is that I think Breitling could have toned down the gigantic "BREITLING!" inscribed on the dial. It is a needlessly large billboard for the brand name. A "professional" watch is not about bling or bragging. Something smaller and more subtle would have been appropriate.
A brief overview of how the Aerospace operates. It is unlike any other watch I've owned or handled before. You access and control all the functions through the crown. It has no separate pushbuttons whatsoever. The crown has nice knurling and a very handsome raised “B” logo:
· By rotating the crown slowly, you activate the backlight. Rotate the crown quickly, you change the display modes. The top (smaller) LCD display is merely to call out what mode you're in: AL for alarm, CHR for chronograph (stopwatch), T2 for second time zone (I have mine set to GMT), and TM for countdown timer. The timekeeping mode in the lower (larger) LCD display offers Day & Date, Seconds & Date, Time with Seconds, or Off (blank). Personally, I tend to leave my display showing the Seconds & Date.
· Once you're in the mode you want, by pressing / pulling / turning the crown, you operate the features of each mode. To set the alarm or timer, or to change the world time / time setting, you once again spin the crown slow (to set the minutes) or fast (to set the hours). The watch is entirely “fly-by-wire” in that there is no direct mechanical connection between crown and hands.
· All this sounds complicated, but it really isn't. The only trouble I encountered is that I find myself still getting the hang of consistently getting the watch to distinguish "slow" from "fast" spins of the crown. Oftentimes when I think I'm doing a fast spin, the watch senses it as a slow spin. So what happens is that I end up changing the minutes when I meant to change the hours, or vice versa. That can be kind of irritating. Maybe I just need to spend more time getting used to it. It is definitely easier to spin the crown more accurately if the watch is off the wrist. Especially if you want to fast-spin the crown "backwards". More experience is in order to reduce the awkwardness of the crown-spin for me, so I guess I ought to use the features of the watch more often.
· I do wish the Aerospace provided an hourly chime function. That’s a feature I appreciate from digital watches, and it would have been very easy to incorporate into this watch.
Legibility. Reading the time is very good. The ample white lume on the chromed hands helps aid their visibility greatly. No problem whatsoever there. It is kind of cool how the minute hand advances half a step every 30 seconds. Regarding legibility of the digital displays, let's face it. The "reverse" LCD display of the Aerospace is never going to be as easily readable as a positive LCD. Breitling's beauty shots of the watch make these displays look like gleaming digits of bright, vivid gold:
In real life, the digits are much more muted, and in some lighting conditions it is hard to read them at a glance. That said: I think this design decision represents an OK trade-off on this watch. The negative displays preserve the clean, jet-black look of the dial, which I think makes the watch look far sleeker, integrated, and more "premium" than it would look if it had positive LCD displays with their traditional light gray backgrounds. When your primary time-telling is through the analog hands, I am comfortable with letting the secondary functions' legibility take secondary precedence, in order to enhance the attractive aesthetics of this watch.
Meanwhile, the lume on the analog hands and dial is very effective, lasting all through the night -- it is as good as any Omega or Seiko lume. One noteworthy aspect about the crown control feature is that if you want to read thedigital time most easily in the dark, you should remember to set the display into "time mode" before going to bed. When you activate the backlighting with a slow spin of the crown, it lights up the display in the last mode it was left in. Since I normally leave the watch in "Seconds & Date" mode, that's not overly helpful when checking the time in the middle of the night. Yes, you can change display modes after lighting up the screen (with a fast spin of the crown), but it is better to just switch it into showing the digital time before turning in. This is not a significant criticism – after all, the effectiveness of the lume on the analog hands and markers mitigates the issue.
As a former owner of the Omega X-33, the Aerospace presents an interesting comparison. The Breitling is light as a feather, and quite thin, and clearly designed for pleasing aesthetics over absolute functionality. Its lack of buttons and the jet-black reverse LCD displays are evidence of that. The X-33 is also lightweight, but definitely more bulky and beefy, and it is a deadly serious, "all-business" design. The X-33 is clearly optimized for legibility and pure functionality, both of which are prioritized above looks. The Aerospace is not as ergonomic to operate or as legible as an X-33, but it is more sporty, more handsomely "styled", and less tactical / technical looking. Which seems appropriate to its role -- being a multipurpose sporty / dressy watch, versus something ready to launch into space. Accessing all the features through the crown of the Aerospace works fine, but it is still not nearly as quick or intuitive as the X-33. Both watches' alarms are very loud -- call that a tie. (I wish Casio did one this loud!) The Aerospace's illumination is okay, but of course it's not like the X-33 that lights up the whole dial (and the whole room). In summary, I think each watch is targeting a very different mission, and each one achieves its respective mission well.
One cool thing the X-33 and the Aerospace have in common is the manufacturers will produce limited-quantity “squadron” watches for bona-fide military units. The difference is that the special markings of the squadron X-33’s are always done as engravings in the caseback. Meanwhile, there are some cool squadron Aerospaces that embellish the dials. How fun would it be to get one’s hands on one of these?:
(not my pics)
Overall -- I like the Aerospace a lot. It has good and practical functionality, without allowing that functionality to overwhelm the watch. It really looks great on the wrist. It is comfortable and low-profile. Slips under a dress shirt cuff perfectly. This is a watch that'll work well in so many situations. It dresses up and dresses down wonderfully. And the bracelet is really nice -- it's like liquid lace done up in ultra-lightweight Titanium. Super comfortable. Yet the watch would also look fantastic on a leather strap (chocolate brown with contrast stitch? Mmmmm) -- or on a nylon NATO.
Wrapping up. One of the "grails" of watchdom is the concept of the "one-watch". Is there a watch that can really do it all? Think about it. The solar / atomic Casio G-Shock comes close, but is not really appropriate with business clothes. A Rolex Sub or DateJust has the look and the quality, but doesn't have the functionality or accuracy. A Grand Seiko HEQ has the accuracy and the craftsmanship, but doesn't have the functionality. And the X-33 has almost everything, but has just a touch of too much bulk and too much "mil-spec" for business settings. These are all watches I've owned (or still own), and so I'm speaking from first-hand experience.
But the Aerospace could conceivably be that "one-watch" watch. It is not perfect, and isn't even the absolute "best" watch in any particular category. But it is very, very, good at many things, it looks great, and it is bad at nothing. It is actually even a reasonable value -- not necessarily at its $4,095 retail price, but if purchased preowned for less than half of that sum.
Again, in conclusion : this watch is a winner. I look forward to enjoying it and putting it to the test.
Hope you enjoyed the review even half as much as I am enjoying the Aerospace.
Finally: a little eye candy to leave you with (not my pics):