Imagine it’s 1964. You’re young and wild and free. What would you like to wear as a watch? Breitling got your boomer-self covered with their perfectly marketed TopTime collection. The key insight was that the older generation might have the money but the young are the future. To survive the test of time a brand needs to draw the attention of the young audience in every generation. Case and point: the cool yet affordable TopTime.
February 15, 2022
Breitling TopTime - The Watch For The Young Generation
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
Imagine it’s 1964. You’re young and wild and free. A baby-boomer with a life full of possibilities. Everything is modernizing, the economic boom in full swing; Ford unveils its first Mustang, Sidney Poitier - as first African-American Lead Actor - wins an Oscar, and the Tokyo Olympics are the first to be broadcasted in Technicolor. Rock ’n Roll is sounding from your parents convertible as you’re about to pick up your friends… what watch would you imagine yourself to wear?
That’s a question that Willy Breitling found an answer to. The key insight was that the older generation might have the money but the young are the future. To survive the test of time you need to draw the attention of the young audience in every generation. But what watch could fit the bill? Breitling watches have mostly been highly specialized pieces.
The wristshot of a cool 1970s Breitling TopTime chronograph. Doesn't your 20 year-old self wanna wear this? Photo @goldammer.me
The chronograph is the popular favorite on the market. And if you want to speak to the youth you need a design that is somewhat daring, that sticks out of the pack. Something to show off a little but that is also affordable. This was exactly the niche that Breitling targeted with its TopTime[1-2], an entry-level watch, with prices way below other Breitling icons of the time. Advertisements struck a similar tune as they proposed the Top Time as a chronograph that is “no longer a specialist’s timepiece[…]”.
And it worked, the Top Time was quickly picked up by pop culture, worn by ski, car-racing and horological legend Jean-Claude Killy, comedian Sid James and Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1965s movie “Thunderball”[2-4].
The TopTime and marketing... arguably the design language used for the collection wasn't new - case and point by this stunning 1940s Venus powered chronograph. But Breitling just placed their product perfectly on the market. Photo @goldammer.me
The Top Time came with an improved water-resistance due to a monocoque case, with bold and clear lines. The it-factor came through bicolored dial variants like the “Panda”, the “Zorro” and the “Surfboard”, all named after the decisive color patterns of the dial. The dial also featured an outer tachymeter scale, you know for the young, active professionals. But that’s only the marketing. How similar is the Top Time design really to its brand siblings?
Figure 6. Distribution of Breitling vintage watches from 1940-2000 (734 total watches) grouped by design, highlighting the Top Time series (38 watches). The dots are color-coded by every watches’ age.
The large variety in Breitling Top Time designs fills quite the range within our design cloud. The hand-wound icon came in various forms and shapes in its little more than 10 years of production. Over half of the dials (53%) have been black, 26% white and 21% silver; about 18% of the TopTime were delivered with a square cushion case (Ref. 814, 2006-2009 & 2211), all in all with sizes ranging from 36 to 43mm.
What was that? The TopTime looks just like this gorgeous golden Heuer Carrera 3648N? Photo @goldammer.me
From a blasphemous standpoint the TopTime also shared a lot of features with other iconic - yet less affordable - pieces of the time. Think for example of the Heuer Carrera, one if not the chronograph of the 1960s[5-6]. Yet the TopTime had it very own audience and is for a reason an important chapter in chronograph and watchmaking history. It’s a piece we still cherish today. Looking at vintage ads, reports and not lastly the watches themselves, to me it still feels like Willy Breitling found a way to speak to the young professionals of any generation (at 32 I’d like to still count myself in that category).
But let’s put this into a different light: As unique as the marketing machine made the TopTime appear, the general design language has been a classic. Even before 1964 manually wound chronograph pieces from Breitling, most featuring Venus 178/188 movements[2,7], showed very similar key elements. However, the Top Time collection connected the dots for the first time and established a recognizable clear line of watches. Something that put Breitling again on the map and onto the wish lists of the horologically inclined youth.
 Top Time: The Chrono Way Of Life; Breitling;
 The Breitling Top Time Collector’s Guide; The Spring Bar;
 On The Block: The James Bond Breitling Top Time Geiger Counter From Thunderball; Eric Wind, Hodinkee;
 A Complete List of All James Bond 007 Watches; Jacob Osborn, ManOfMany;
 In Depth: The history of the TAG Heuer Carrera is inspired by a race with a serious body count; Nick Kenyon, Time+Tide;
 TAG Heuer Carrera – The Story of an Iconic 55-Year-Old Chronograph; Brice Goulard, MonochromeWatches;
 Vintage Breitling Chronographs - how they influenced the chronograph of today; Felix Goldammer, Goldammer Vintage Watches;
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