Regardless of whether you’re fan of the brand or not, most of us have likely heard of the Breitling Navitimer, Cosmonaute, and Chronomat. However, there is another model that has laid dormant in the world of vintage watch collecting up until recently. The Breitling Top Time is the name that was given to a very bold and elegant chronograph wristwatch that was aimed at professional pilots and racers to be used as a tool watch.
First introduced in the early 1960s, the Breitling Top Time catered to an untapped market, but more importantly, it was positioned as an entry-level chronograph with a much lower price point than the flagship Navitimer, Cosmonaute, and Chronomat.
Top Time Variations
As mentioned, the Breitling Top Time had a specific target market: young males and females. The brand positioned the Top Time as the perfect chronograph for an active lifestyle. The watches were advertised as “instrument panels” for young men and women to wear on their wrists. However, while it had a sporty design, it was also seen as a dress watch due to its elegant lines.
Most Top Times featured dials in several variations. There were around seven different combinations of all-black, all-silver, and black and white (panda and reverse panda) dials using either a 60-second and 30/45-minute two-register layout or a 60-second, 30-minute, and 12-hour three-register layout. On the dial face, Breitling placed its logo alongside the text “Breitling” and “Geneve” at the 12 o’clock position and “Top Time” at the six o’clock mark. However, the “Top Time” text was removed on reference numbers 815 and 814. A tachymeter scale is present on all variations.
As for the case of the Top Time, there were only two designs: a classical round case with lugs that extended from the case and a cushion-shaped case, which is a design that was more vogue in the 70s. The case materials were a bit more interesting with models offered in stainless steel, 18-karat gold, or gold-plated metal. Case sizes ranged from 35 mm to about 40 mm.
Over the years, the Top Time either featured a Plexiglass or acrylic domed crystal front without a bezel as the tachymeter scale was incorporated into the dial. However, references 1765 and 7656 are exceptions to this rule as they not only sported external scales, but also looked completely different to all other Top Time models.
The Top Time housed many third-party chronograph movements throughout the years. Many used movements from Venus and Valjoux; for example, the Venus 178 (also used in early Navitimers and Cosmonautes), Venus 188, Valjoux 7730, Valjoux 7733, and Valjoux 7736. These movements were all manually-wound chronographs and most – with the exception of Venus 178 – had a sub-second cam switch instead of a column-wheel.
The Venus movements were used in earlier models, while the Valjoux movements were used in later models. That said, it is interesting to note that Valjoux bought Venus when the latter was facing some financial difficulties. So, the Top Time versions technically all use the same movements in some sense.
The Top Time had a presence in popular culture like many watches from that era. Perhaps the most famous wearer was actor Sean Connery, who played Agent 007 in the 1965 James Bond film, “Thunderball.” In the film, James Bond wore a modified version of the Breitling Top Time Ref. 2002, equipped with a Geiger counter.
As the watch was aimed at active sports people, it was no surprise that Olympian skier Jean-Claude Killy owned a Breitling Top Time Ref. 1765. The watch thus got the nickname “Jean-Claude Killy.” Killy is said to have worn the watch before, during, and after the 1968 Olympics.
There seems to be a bit of a buzz around vintage Breitling timepieces at the moment. The brand is now under new ownership with Georges Kern at the helm, which perhaps bodes well for the future. Previously, vintage Breitlings were largely ignored by collectors for some reason.
However, I believe the Breitling Top Time not only offers great value for money, but its simple, clean, and sporty design is appealing – not to mention the fact it was donned by some rather cool icons of yesteryear.
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