Can a $2,000 plastic watch with a quartz movement ever be a Value Proposition? The answer seems obvious, until you consider the Breitling Colt Skyracer. Yes, there’s plastic; yes, it’s quartz, yet it turns these apparent drawbacks into assets, starting with the amazing lightness of the case material. This is what strikes you at first: the substantial 45mm case weighs only 34 grams, easily half of what you would expect. And the Chronomtre mention on the dial tells you another part of the story; the quartz caliber is a pretty special one.
Breitlight is the cryptic name of the case material; not much can be found about it, but Breitling emphasizes that it is almost six times lighter than steel and three times lighter than titanium. Needless to say, you can tell immediately on the wrist: this Colt Skyracer is the lightest “big watch” I ever tried on (save for a Richard Mille Baby Nadal RM-035 with which I irrevocably fell in love, but this is a tale for another time). Including the rubber bracelet, the watch barely reaches 50 grams, the type of weight I would expect from a small ultra-thin dress watch (as recently measured by Jack). All in, the Colt Skyracer weighs 54.6 grams, versus 49g for the Richard Mille RM-035 for instance.
Breitling trademarked the Breitlight name back in October 2015, and initially introduced it the following year on a 50mm Avenger Hurricane, with a price tag fourfold over this Skyracer. A smaller Avenger Hurricane was then unveiled, its diameter reduced to only 45mm (yes, modern Breitlings do tend to be on the bigger side). This is the very first time that this advanced material has trickled down to Breitling’s entry-level family, the Colt.
Describing it as a molded plastic polymer would be technically accurate, but slightly underwhelming since the term plastic is a pretty generic one. In a more tech-savvy parlance, it is an isotropic thermoplastic composite with (very likely) short carbon fibers as reinforcement to the matrix. Besides its impressive lightness, it’s also antimagnetic and hypoallergenic. On the Skyracer, it has a matte finishing; interestingly, Breitling did not apply for a patent, just a trademark, so one can assume that the formula or the composite itself was supplied by an external party who still holds the IP.
Looking at its quartz movement does not grant any respite from the geeky side of things; however, it is a big part of the pleasure of reviewing this watch. Like any new Breitling since 1999, the Colt Skyracer is indeed chronometer certified by the COSC, which put in place different norms for quartz calibers than it does for mechanical watches: namely +/- 0.07 seconds per dayfor quartz. For run of the mill modern quartz movements, you should expect at worst a 15 second variation per month, or what a mechanical chronometer-certified caliber is allowed to achieve in less than a week. You immediately realize the immense accuracy gap between any quartz movement (save it for the chronometer-certified ones) over traditional mechanical movements.
The Breitling SuperQuartz caliber B74 is not the in-house movement that you might think from its name. The B74 is indeed the excellent Flatline 955.652, manufactured by ETA. At 2.5mm it is a svelte movement, only reaching 4.5mm with the battery installed, which allows the Colt Skyracer to be unexpectedly thin; even with the bezel, the case thickness measures at only 13mm.
It is also worth noting that the battery has a solid eight-year life expectancy, and there’s an end of life indicator: its second hand will do larger jumps than 1 second intervals when the replacement time approaches. Like most quartz movements, the Flatline 955.652 beats at 32,768 Hz, the sweet spot to derive a one-second pulse, visible by the regular jump of the seconds hand. But now the big news: this movement offers a guaranteed accuracy under 10 seconds per year, close to twenty times better than a standard quartz. There is a good reason for that, and it is called a thermistor.
As an independent thermal sensor, the thermistor holds a crucial place in improving the accuracy of a sophisticated quartz movement (often called HAQ or HEQ, for High Accuracy Quartz, or High End Quartz). It is not so much that a vibrating quartz in a “standard movement” is not accurate: intrinsically it constitutes an excellent harmonic resonator, with a remarkably stable frequency. Yet, its oscillations see some variability when its temperature changes. Most quartz crystals are calibrated to perform at best around 28 (or around 82), which is the temperature inside the case when the watch is worn on a human wrist. This explains why brands like Seiko or Citizen recommend some regular wear to maintain the accuracy of their “standard” quartz calibers. But these very brands (and Omega, ETA, and formerly Rolex) also found a more scientific way to account for these temperature changes, in offering thermo-compensated movements.
There are several ways to ensure thermo-compensation, all detailed in the brilliant article In Pursuit of Perfection : Thermocompensated Quartz Watches and Their Movements.The ETA caliber present in the Colt Skyracer uses the most common method: the digital count adjustment, where the thermistor constantly tracks the temperature of the crystal to account for any potential external effect. Indeed, if the temperature of the crystal drops, it starts vibrating more slowly and consequently the watch will run faster. The thermistor is capable of calculating how much faster, and by digital count, tells the movement at which frequency to run under these conditions, rather than blindly follow the standard 32,768 Hz rate of any “standard” caliber.
With such adjustments, HEQ calibers like the ETA Flatline from the present Colt Skyracer can achieve outstanding accuracy: a precision within 10 seconds per year, while a standard movement would likely not even achieve sucha performance in a month (unless it is kept at a constant temperature, at the optimal resonating point mentioned above; this is what is done with quartz oscillators in ovens, in labs but for obvious reasons this isn’t practical for a wristwatch). This shows how advanced these thermo-compensated movements are, and justifies why Breitling marketing calls them SuperQuartz.
Now that we have covered the technical intricacies of this Colt Skyracer, let’s tackle its aesthetics. No surprises there, it looks and feels like a Colt, with large numerals printed on the dial. In my opinion, the dial could have used a bit more white space, but at the same time the 12-24 display makes total sense for a line originally intended for the military in the late 1980s. Indeed, military time would call 4 PM1600 to take away any potential confusion (imagine a battalion on its own, starting an attack at 4 AM instead of 4 PM because the operation was announced for four o’clock). This explains why the current dial is almost identical to the military-inspired 1980s Breitling, like the Maritimereference 80180. It is also very similar to current watches with military roots such as some from Luminox and Victorinox, which admittedlystand at much lower price points.
Though somewhat cluttered, the dial is extremely legible day and night, thanks to the SuperLuminova applied to its indexes and handset (although the second hand did not get any lume, which could have been beneficial to let you know, in the dark, that the watch is properly running). The crown is molded rubber, which allows for better handling, especially if you are wearing gloves. Not that that’s something you would do in summer time in New York, but Breitling does cater to aviation enthusiasts, who might wear them while flying (as an aside, the Skyracer name comes from the MXS-R aerobatics aircraft that the Breitling Racing Team flies in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship).
The water-resistance is only 100 meters (or 330 feet), a depth you obviously hope to never reach with your aircraft. Finally, the bezel is also true to Breitling DNA, with the characteristic rider tabs every 15 minutes; the design of those was patented by Ernest Schneider in the 1980s for the rebirth of the Chronomat. So overall, it is obvious where this watch is coming from, but one might regret that its design did not go one step further from what you have expected from any Breitling Colt. That said, the introduction of Breitlight was a big step forward, especially at this $2,000 price point.
The element that truly won me over was not one I was expecting: the rubber strap. At 20 grams, it matches the lightness of the case and reinforces the feeling of not even wearing a watch, something I deeply enjoyed in steamy New York. The tang buckle is also made in Breitlight, with an imprinted logo, always a nice touch. However, it is truly the embossed scales that made me smile, in remembrance of the supercool Breitling Compass reference 80940, produced between 1984 and 1986. Both watches feature useful scales imprinted on the rubber an inches/centimeters conversion in the lower part of the Skyracer strap, while the top one shows a centimeters to kilometers conversion scale for maps. The all-black look of the Skyracer also evokes the PVD cases of the aforementioned 1980s Compass, Maritime, and Colt models.
Nostalgia is the key element that made me enjoy this watch so much. As a Breitling enthusiast, you have to pay attention to the 1980s, a decade when Breitling not only managed to survive, but launched some of the hottest watches of the time. In Paris at that time, for instance, the newly released Chronomat suddenly became a must-have, and singer Serge Gainsbourg was prominently wearing his stainless steel Navitimer 81600, which marked the relaunch of the Navitimer in a more classic 41mm round case, with a manual-wound Lemania chronograph caliber to boot.
Interestingly, even the smart strap system is derived from the patent CH661173 that Breitling received in 1985, which was already based on full lugs and springless bars. The lugs of the Colt Skyracer carry the strap, while the strap bar fits into a notch on the inner part of the lugs. This allows for a quick strap changing set-up, where no spring bar tool is needed, and allows you to quickly use the scale on each part separate from the watch head.
It is simple enough (as often are the best fixes), but it limits the number of straps that can be attached to the case. NATO straps are an option, although the unusual 21mm lug width of the Skyracer might make such a switch trickier than expected. That said, Breitling announced some new colors for the proprietary rubber strap, which would result in a more versatile look (military green was already presented, and there is hope for the signature Cobra yellow as well).
In the end, I wore the Skyracer so much that it got closer to a Week on the Wrist than a Value Proposition. Honestly, I was truly not expecting this fling, but I could not resist its sheer comfort, especially in a stifling New York summer. On the wrist, its lightness did wonders for ensuring comfort and the case remained at a cool and even temperature. There was another reason for my prolonged test drive: much like any G-Shock, this watch looks ready to take anything, and makes you feel much tougher and adventurous than you really are.
Would I have enjoyed the Skyracer better if its diameter were 41-42mm instead of 45mm? Probably, but solely looking at the current watch, the Colt Skyracer constitutes nonetheless a very interesting entry-level piece for Breitling. This is especially true if you consider the use of Breitlight, which was previously reserved for the more expensive Avenger Hurricane chronographs, and the $2,000 price point, on which few leading Swiss brands can align nowadays. With a slightly more subdued styling, the watch would have spoken to me even more, beyond the sentimental connection to the 1980s and its technical wonders. Now, let’s see how Breitling under Georges Kern’s stewardship builds upon the Colt Skyracer, and whether Breitlight gets introduced to other Breitling families maybe with some tweaks to the design codes as well.
The Breitling Colt Skyracer retails for $2,000; more information can be found on theBreitling website.