My great Breitling search

For as long as I can remember, Breitling timepieces and aviation have been synonymous. While my flying capacity maxed out at 200 hours, all in a Cessna 172, I like many others, still have the aviation bug.

In the years since my aviation activities went from left seat to economy row, Breitling has advertised in countless aviation periodicals. From Aviation International News, Business & Commercial Aviation, Business Week to Flying and more, you can’t miss the glossy Breitling advertisements with the perception that Breitling and pilots are synonymous.

First off, you don’t have to be a pilot to know that Breitling watches are cool, very cool. The latest iteration of its iconic Navitimer 01 is a staggering 46 mm in diameter and nearly 15 mm thick. Its presence on the wrist of the wearer is a showstopper.

Never one to take marketing claims at face value, a number of years ago, during my waiting times at airports and in hotels frequented by flight crews, I started a Breitling search. I wanted to see if commercial pilots really do wear Breitling watches.

My research method was rather simple — observe the timepieces of pilots and flight engineers to ascertain the model of the timepieces they are wearing.

Over the past decade, this search has taken me as west as LAX, SEA and SFO, as far east as TLV and DXB, and in the middle at MAN, CDG and LHR. From the shuttles of Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt and more, with all that, save for the duty free counters; I never once came across a Breitling on the wrist of a pilot.

Wanting to correlate my findings, I asked Jayson Agagnier, a man with over 3,000,000 miles in his docket, who spends much of his time above FL35. As to his experience in Breitling spotting, he noted, that I cannot recall ever seeing a Breitling being worn by any commercial aviator. To date I have seen three different individuals sporting a Breitling, one was a first class passenger on Singapore Airlines, one was a Global Express pilot and the other was an aviation “brand ambassador”. My feeling is that the Breitling is trying to sell the “aura” or “feeling” of being a part of the select and elite club (everyone wants to be a pilot — especially a pilot of a private jet) to those who can only dream of ever being part of this (mostly imaginary) club that does not really exist.

According to the Unofficial Breitling FAQ, only about 5% of Breitling customers are actual pilots. So right there, we see that pilots are only a marginal amount of Breitling customers.

The truth is that the concept of an aviator watch is a product of a bygone era. Long ago, navigators carried separate watches for their navigational duties. Today’s navigators are named Rockwell Collins and Honeywell. There once was a time for an aviator watches; but there was also a time when the 707 had 5 seats in the cockpit.

A lot of what aviator watches provide is the aura, and nothing else. If you look at their advertising, one sees dashing pilots and other aviation fixtures. All nice, but not reflective of the current real world of aviation.

If you are looking for a classic timepiece, then these aviator watches are objects of beauty, and most impressive.

While the Breitling Chronospace has a circular slide rule for all calculations relating to airborne navigation, why bother? Isn’t there an app for that? One of the features of the Chronospace is that it’s water-resistant to 20 ATM. But if you really do need that feature, then you have much bigger problems.

Perhaps the biggest reason why only 5% of Breitling customers are pilots is the cost of the watch itself. With a Chronospace having a price in the area of $5,000 and the Navitimer nearly $9,000, very few pilots can afford such a timepiece. In fact, the average regional pilot would have to give up about 1/3 of their annual salary for a Chronospace.

With that, I asked pilots from airlines such as UA, AF, BA, LY, G4 and EK if they ever wore a Breitling. Some of the responses were:

· What is Breitling?

· I don’t really need a watch as there is a clock in the cockpit and one in the hotel room to wake me up

· My Timex works fine

· Who can afford such a watch?

· Who the hell is going to do a calculation on a watch in the first place?!

· I haven’t worn a watch in years

· Never seen one

Conclusion

My exploration shows that if you are looking for Brietling in an airport, go to the duty free store. So-called aviator watches are nice, but you’re unlikely to every see one on a pilot. If you really want to feel like a real aviator, spending a few thousand dollars would be better spent on attending ground school than on an aviator watch.

If you really do want to look like a pilot, a cheap Timex or Casio are the most likely brands you should purchase. And if you want to ensure the complete the look of a commercial pilot; make sure you have a hotel pen in your pocket. Real pilots take the pens from the hotel. Just like their watches, nothing fancy.

I work in information security at Tapad. Write book reviews for the RSA blog, & a Founding member of the Cloud Security Alliance and Cybersecurity Canon.

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