Announced at this year’s Baselworld, the Superocean 44 Special is a serious, military-themed, addition to Breitling’s Superocean series of dive watches. The “Special” part is its limited production run. It’s not a limited edition per se, so there are no numbered series markings on its case, but it won’t be part of Breitling’s permanent production rotation. Does that mean you should rush out and get one? That depends. Where the standard Superocean is sporty — almost playful-looking — and the Heritage Superoceans have a lovely vintage vibe inspired by the 1957 original, the Special is the most purposeful-looking watch I’ve put on my wrist in a long time. ‘Purposeful’ in the context of luxury diving watches — or even diving watches in general — is a bit of a misnomer. For nearly 30 years, diving watches have been displaced by dive computers. Dive watches can, of course, serve as a back-up, but the category (and this is true of mechanical watches, full stop) emblematizes the post-utility status of watches in our century. This is not to say specifications like depth rating, lume intensity and bezel sturdiness aren’t important to diving watches, but to point out that these specifications are (now) as much symbols as they are practicalities.
Dubbed the ‘ocean pilot’ by Breitling, this Superocean is really not messing around. It shares some of the same design DNA with Breitling’s Avenger series. The satin and brushed black-steel finish, volcano-black dial, and high-contrast dial markings intentionally echo pilot watch aesthetics. Dive watches are required to be legible at depth and in dim lighting conditions, but the Superocean Special takes that imperative to another level. The double entendre is intentional: the Superocean’s depth rating is an eye-popping 1000 metres. 300 metres is considered good; 1000 metres puts you into elite territory. At 1000 metres, the pitch blackness would demand legibility as astounding as the Special offers. Other diver watch features include a Helium escape valve and red crown stem to let you know at a glance that the crown is not water tight and that you should screw it down before entering the water.
Among the other things that make the Special, well, special is the ceramic bezel. It’s crafted from a single block. Where most watches opt for a ceramic insert within the bezel, the single-piece construction is unusual and provides you with one of the few hints at this watch’s luxury brand origins. The function-first aesthetic of the watch is qualified visually by the rich and almost oily sheen given off whenever light strikes the polished ceramic…a small, beautiful reminder (apart from the price) that the watch is a Breitling. Ceramic is more scratch-resistant, but also more brittle, so this watch won’t like a serious knock. The bezel continues the high-contrast theme of the dial with its bright white markers and raised, lumed pip at 12 o’clock. It’s a 120-click, unidirectional bezel and is a bit stiff to turn, but has zero give in the clockwise direction. You don’t have to fiddle with it to have it land on the minute mark you intended it to. The ratcheting action is just about perfect and doesn’t have the softer feel of some other diving watches I’ve worn recently.
The dial of the Superocean Special has received a mixed reception amongst watch enthusiasts online, not because of how it nods to the pilot watch genre, but because of the way the Arabic numerals on the internal 24-hour ring are obscured by the date window at 3 o’clock and by the larger hour markers at 6 and 9 o’clock. This fussiness on the part of the collecting community is a difference of opinion on aesthetic preferences that somehow becomes religious in the comments sections. It wasn’t feature that jumped out at me until it was pointed out; for a time after that, it was all I could see. After a while, once the compulsive attention to detail common to watch enthusiasts had subsided a bit, I decided that the only area where this was problematic for me was at 11 and 1 (or 13 and 23). The Breitling logo’s spreading wings overlap the 3 of the 23 and the 1 of the 13 on the inner ring. On the 13 side of the dial the effect of the overlay is negligible but on the 23 side, there is a gap between where the lower loop of the numeral 3 ends and where the logo sits on the dial. It looks like the 23 on the inner 24-hour ring was only partially printed in order to accommodate the Breitling logo where everywhere else it looks like the feature (date window etc.) sits atop a fully-printed numeral. It’s a small confusion on what is an otherwise great dial. Also, knowing Breitling applies their logo by hand to the dial, it could be a telltale of the human craftsmanship that went into the making of the dial; the small irregularity that indicates the watch wasn’t spat out by a machine.
Wearing the Superocean was, for me, a pleasure. At 44mm, it didn’t wear too large and the dark colour scheme reduced the visual impact of its overall volume, while the startlingly-bright markers really popped on the deep black of the ceramic. It achieved considerable wrist presence through the contrast without relying on brute dimensions. Did I mention this was a highly legible piece? It competes with some of the best pilot watches I own for clarity and ease of reading. Because the Special is so decidedly a military-inspired tool watch it is less amenable to easily switching context. It’s more at home on the deck of an aircraft carrier than it is at the boardroom table, but if that’s the no-nonsense, martial look you aspire to, the Superocean special delivers on that promise exceptionally well.
The Breitling Superocean 44 Special Specifications:
Calibre: Breitling 17 (ETA 2824-2)
Power Reserve: 40 hours
Lug Width: 22mm
Water Resistance: 1000m
Crystal: Anti-reflective sapphire
Strap: Ocean Racer
Retail Price: $6105.00 CDN