Earlier this year, Breitling introduced a new addition to their Transocean collection, the Chronograph 38, a watch that has since received equal parts admiration and admonition. It has been lauded for its lovely symmetrical dial and conservative stature, while being being criticized for having been labeled a ladies watch. After wearing the watch for a week, and having judged its merits free of any gender bias, I believe I can put this controversy to rest.
The Breitling Transocean was first introduced in 1958 in hopes of building on the success of the cult-favorite Navitimer. Breitling went with an understated design and upscale COSC movement for the Transocean, playing nicely into the hands of a post WWII boom and men that we might equate with Don Draper. The slogan for the new watch read: "Men who have faith in the mighty liners of the sky will trust the Transocean, for behind every Breitling wristwatch lies the experience of aviation precision." And so, the watch was a hit in the new, smaller world enjoying the fruits of transatlantic flight.
In 2010, Breitling saw fit to revive the Transocean in the spirit of the original. Released as a chronograph model, the new Transocean retained the understated design and COSC movement, though this time with the brand's first foray into the land of manufacture movements, the B01. The size on the other hand, might have left fans of the original a little turned off. At 43mm, the new Transocean Chronograph's size could be considered average at best within the context of other modern Breitling watches. While the looks and internals certainly make the Transocean Chronograph lust-worthy, they may not be enough for new buyers to forget about the size (43mm) and heft (14.35mm thick).
Breitling's solution, the Transocean Chronograph 38, is released 3 years later and is a breath of fresh air to buyers who prefer to stay south of the 40mm border. The design is restrained, just 2 sub dials adorn the dial at 3 and 9 o'clock. The date window moved to 6 o'clock completes the symmetrical dial. A width of 38mm illicits thoughts of "Finally, a new watch sized for a gentleman" from the James May types among us. Then, the tag line hits you: "First class femininity." It certainly doesn't look like the stereotypical ladies watch. Where is the mother of pearl, the diamonds, the floral patterns? "It looks like a men's watch," you're thinking. One of the great things about this watch though is that it will challenge any antiquated thoughts you may have of gender specific features.
Who's It For
In short, this is a watch for anyone who finds it attractive and enjoys wearing 38mm watches. Last I checked, neither of those things is gender specific. Let's face it - while it might be labeled a ladies' watch by Breitling, a lot of guys will prefer this watch to its larger brother. A man wearing this watch out of the house is certainly not analogous to a man wearing his wife's dress out of the house (not that there's anything wrong with that, if you're into that kind of thing). Unless you bring it up, no one will be any the wiser that you're wearing a watch labeled as "feminine" by its manufacturer.
While sitting with a group of friends, both male and female, I asked what they all thought of the watch. "Really beautiful," "I love it," "How much does it cost?" were all among the questions asked. Not once did I get a "This looks like a girl's watch." So why is it labeled that way by Breitling?
This is really the only mystery here, and if you can get past that bit, you'll probably be pretty happy with the watch. One could speculate that, given Breitling's "tough, masculine man, I shave with a knife" kind of image, they didn't want a 38mm men's watch in their catalogue. Perhaps Breitling really thinks that men don't wear 38mm watches, but that doesn't change the fact that many men do, and a lot of us prefer sub-40mm watches. Does that say anything about our masculinity? All I can say is that doesn't about mine.
With Looks Like These
With all of that out of the way, we can now get to the actual watch. The Transocean Chronograph 38 is, to put it simply, a beautiful watch. The dial shows of a lot of detail which begs a closer look. The sub dials are set into the dial ever so slightly, but do not differ in surface texture to the rest of the dial. As a result, they do not call attention to themselves and add to the overall matte look. In fact, I think they could have done with fewer hashes around those sub dials and would have been left with an even cleaner looking workspace. The large Breitling "B" is applied to the dial and commands a lot of attention as the only stylized element to the watch. To balance this, the hour indices are applied batons that stretch deep into the dial and reflect a fair amount of light. Each is capped with a dot of lume at the chapter ring.
Running around the dial is a tachymeter scale, which it could be argued has no place on a watch like this. It will be a hot point of contention for many, as tachy scales often are, but considering the watch's lineage, I don't take issue with it. Easily lost amongst the shiny bits are the cross-hair lines that are only noticed as your eye follows the line north of the date aperture at 6 o'clock.
The polished case is clean in design but will scratch easily; that said, its only real flaw is its height, which is a whopping 14.25mm. The chronograph actuators are clean and polished, and the crown carries the Breitling "B" on its head. One thing worth noting about the business side of the case band, the pushers for the chronograph and the crown are offset, with the crown sitting a few mm below the centerline of the case. This is due to the modular design of the movement.
Flipping the watch over, you won't find any display window (your first hint of what is or isn't on the inside). Rather, you will find the two stylized planes symbol recognizable to those familiar with the brand.
Wearing the Transocean Chronograph 38
Your experience wearing the Transocean 38 will largely be dictated by how you choose to strap it to your wrist. It can be ordered with either a leather strap or a mesh steel bracelet, the later being what our unit was provided with. The lug span is 20mm, so strap options are pretty much limited only to your imagination (or our own HODINKEE straps, for instance #shamelessplug). The mesh bracelet is a love it or hate kind of deal as far as looks go, but it's difficult to argue with the comfort level on your wrist. If you enjoy the look of a steel bracelet but want the comfort of a leather strap, this is a very good option.
Being a ladies watch (technically), it's easy to imagine buying this for dual usage. In this type of scenario you would be better served by a leather strap (unless you have a similar wrist size as your significant other), for easy transitions from day to day. The mesh bracelet will require a proper tool to re-size, and removal will almost certainly result in minor scratching to the lug walls.
In order to get a lady's perspective on the Transocean Chronograph 38, my wife agreed to have a go with the watch and offer her impressions. While she was impressed with the aesthetic of the watch, she felt the heft would impede her daily activities both in the office and at home. Furthermore, the mesh bracelet did not impress her the same way that more traditional linked bracelets do. She did provide an interesting perspective on Breitling's decision to intentionally sell this as a ladies watch:
"Today, most women - the stylish ones at least - looking to buy a watch don't want something dainty and encrusted in diamonds. They want a heftier watch and they're looking to vintage men's watches or (gasp!) fashion brands with batteries because that is where they can find it. Breitling is acknowledging the trend that's been seen for two plus years and filling a void in the marketplace."
The Transocean Chronograph 38 sadly does not use Breitling's own B01 movement, partially due to size restraints. In its place you'll find the Breitling 41, otherwise known as the ETA 2892/A2. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this movement (it's proven to be well-engineered and consistently accurate), it obviously lacks the cache of having the manufacture B01. It doesn't, however, lack the price tag, at just over $6,000 for the watch you see here.
I experienced bang-on accuracy during my time with the watch, observing only a one second gain over a 24hr span. This is thanks in part to the movements 28,800 bhp and 9mm balance. Chronograph actuation is well weighted, providing a smooth but noticeable click into action. Timing can be performed for 30 minutes before coming full circle on the timing sub dial at 9 o'clock.
For a wonderfully in-depth review of the base ETA 2892, head over to this article at chronometrie.com.
After a week with the Transocean Chronograph 38, I found a lot to love. An intoxicating design has a funny way of forgiving any weaknesses. Regardless of labels and marketing jargon, this is a damn nice watch for anyone, guy or gal. Sure it's heavy and doesn't have the sexy manufacture movement, but there is something about a handsome 38mm watch on the wrist that just feels right. I would sincerely love to see more brands take this 38-40mm sizing window seriously, regardless of which demographic they chose to target. The fact that this watch exists at all, especially from an unexpected source, leaves me with a swell of optimism.
The Breitling Transocean Chronograph 38 is available now from authorized distributors and is priced from $5,650. The stainless steel mesh bracelet seen in the pictures here is an additional $700. Learn more about the Transocean Chronograph 38 at Breitling.com.
Sized Just Right
A Bit Pricey
Not The Great Movement
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