One of the reader comments on my story about the top ten ladies’ watches of BaselWorld 2018 was critical of the bling factor in some of my choices (in my defense, these were the “showpieces” of the event, and I couldn’t leave them out), remarking that the women watch aficionados with whom he is acquainted would rather have a great men’s watch. Well, this post is for him. Or more to the point, the Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 is for him, or his female friends. It is a scaled-down, slightly redesigned version of an iconic men’s watch from Breitling with a great movement, a sporty look, and vintage styling – something you don’t see that often on a ladies’ watch.
Breitling’s revamp, carefully rolled out over the past several months by new CEO Georges Kern and CVC Capital Partners, does not include a new ladies’ collection – not yet. It does however include the first of what are likely to be smaller versions of the redesigned men’s models. The Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 was inspired by a Navitimer from the 1950s called the Reference 66, a three-hand watch. The absence of chronograph sub-dials makes the dial cleaner than the modern Navitimer, but the inclusion of a slide rule makes it less so than the much-lauded Navitimer 8, introduced in the fall. The beaded bezel, which is somewhat decorative in my view, takes the edge off the technical look of the slide rule and the red-tipped seconds hand. It contains the Breitling automatic Caliber 17 (an ETA 2824-2 base) with COSC chronometer certification and a 40-hour power reserve.
To help revamp the Breitling collection, Kern brought in Guy Bove, who, as creative director at Chopard for the past 10 years, was instrumental in launching that company’s L.U.C collection of premium watches with in-house movements. Before that, he worked for Kern for six years at IWC, a higher-end, yet less visible sports watch brand owned by the Richemont Group. Bove’s brief was to update Breitling’s line to include cleaner, more contemporary designs, but to take inspiration from the archives (Breitling was founded in 1884). “The idea is not to remake old watches again,” says Bove. “I see it more as taking raw ingredients from older models and using them in new recipes.” Not all of those ingredients made the cut. Fans were shocked when Breitling introduced the Navitimer 8 without the slide rule, a defining feature since the 1950s. It wasn’t that the slide rule was deemed out of date; in fact it was too modern. The new design was inspired by on board-chronographs produced by Breitling in the 1930s and 1940s, an era before slide rules.
The Navitimer 1 Automatic 38mm size is a sweet spot that works for both men and women, and brands are increasingly putting out unisex watches in that size. The 38mm Panerai Luminor Due, introduced in January at SIHH, is another great one that comes to mind. And by the way, when I returned from the jewelry shows in Las Vegas, I can report that jewelry is going in the same direction. I saw a lot of rings, bracelets, and pendants that could work for – and are intended to be worn by – either women or men. This unisex trend appeals to what is being described as the “more gender-fluid” millennial generation, but even those of us who are older and don’t identify with that definition or with millennials at all can find a lot to appreciate in the unisex concept, especially those of us women who love men’s watches.
The Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 has a date window at 6 o’clock, a really nice extra function for an everyday watch. The dial on the steel model is either black or blue, with matching alligator straps with sporty white top stitching. There is also a steel version with an 18k red gold bezel and a beige dial with a brown alligator strap. The beaded bezel in gold and applied gold markers make this version look like a completely different watch – one that is dressier than previous Navitimers, despite the slide rule. In fact, I think it’s about as dressy as what most women really want in a day watch. Take heed other brands – it really is possible to make a ladies’ watch without over-identifying it by layering mother-of-pearl, diamonds, flowers, or colored straps.
The Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 is priced at $4,860 with a steel case with a blue or black dial on a steel bracelet; $4,310 with a steel case, blue dial and blue or black alligator strap; $6,360 with a steel and gold case and silver dial on a steel bracelet; and $5,820 with a steel and gold case, silver dial and a gold alligator strap. The rose gold model seems particularly feminine, especially on a bracelet. That is a model that I would feel comfortable wearing day and night. In general, I feel that Breitling is really on the right track with its ladies’ pieces, folding them in as models within existing collections, and designing them with a unisex appeal. Sometimes a ladies-only collection is marginalized, and that isn’t likely to happen here. It will be interesting to see what comes next for ladies from this brand.