The Breitling Top Time Collector's Guide


Breitling Top Time is the name given to the series of watches characterized by a bold and elegant design, which were also useful tools for professional pilots and racers. These watches were first introduced in 1964 [1] and were primarily intended for young men [2]. Breitling Top Time watches were positioned as entry-level chronographs [1], with much lower prices than the company’s flagships, the Navitimer and Chronomat.

The Breitling Top Time eventually became a classic among watch enthusiasts, thanks to its continued popularity. The many celebrities from the entertaining and sports worlds who were known to wear a Breitling Top Time paved the way for the watch to be etched forever as a part of pop culture.

Sean Connery wearing a Breitling Top Time in Thunderball

Sean Connery in the movie James Bond: Thunderball

The most famous among these celebrities is actor Sean Connery who played Agent 007[3-7] in the 1965 James Bond movie “Thunderball.” In the film, Connery’s character was tasked to find two NATO atomic bombs that had been stolen by the criminal organization Spectre. To aid in his mission, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) presented James Bond with a modified version of the Breitling Top Time Ref. 2002, equipped with a Geiger counter.[3] The watch featured in various scenes in the movie as Bond uses it to survey radiation in places where the stolen bombs were thought to have been hidden, including in the Disco Volante boat and the Nassau Palmyra estate [4].

The Breitling Top Time Ref. 2002 is one of only two watches worn by Sean Connery alias James Bond. The other is a Rolex Submariner 6538 featured in  “Goldfinger”, “From Russia with Love”, and “Dr. No”, as well as in “Thunderball” [4,8-9]. The Top Time 2002 is the first Q-modified watch to appear in the spy film franchise [3], but not the only Breitling featured. The Breitling Navitimer with Ref. 806 can also be spotted on the wrist of François Derval (Paul Stassino), NATO pilot and brother of Dominique "Domino" Derval (Claudine Auger) [7,10-11].

Sid James wearing a Breitling Top Time

A Breitling Top Time Panda on the wrist of comedian Sid James

A Breitling Top Time Watch is also worn by actor and comedian Sid James in the 1973 movie “Carry on Girls” [12] although, the Breitling Top Time Panda he wore was not nicknamed after him or the movie.

Jean Killy and Breitling Top Time

Breitling Top Time Ref. 1765 nicknamed after the ski racer Jean-Claude Killy

In the world of sports, Olympian Jean-Claude Killy is well-known not only for being an alpine ski racer but also as the owner of a Breitling Top Time Ref. 1765, for which the watch was nicknamed “Jean-Claude Killy”. Killy is said to have worn the watch before, during, and after the 1968 Olympics. He also reportedly wore the watch during his car races [13].

Racer Jim Clark

Another sportsman who has been associated with Top Time is Scottish Formula One racer James “Jim” Clark, after whom model 810 has been wrongly nicknamed. Clark’s ownership of a Top Time is heavily debated upon by the community of Breitling watch enthusiasts and some Breitling experts now have photos to prove Clark was wearing an Enicar Sherpa Graph, rather than a Top Time [14-15].

History

Breitling Top Time timeline

Today, the Breitling Top Time watches are considered to be classic of their era [16] like other Breitling watches, the Top Time is also linked to aviation and also racing.

Breitling is generally associated with the aviation industry, thanks to its partnership with airlines and aircraft manufacturers which use the company's chronograph watches as part of their standard equipment [2]. The same connection can be made regarding Top Time series, which the company started producing as early as the 1950s [1,16,19-21] in the Swiss factory of Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland [17].

The watch maker’s relationship with aviation started during the leadership of Willy Breitling, grandson of founder Leon Breitling. Willy, who took the helm in 1932, developed the aircraft chronograph and went on to supply the Royal Air Force. This particular contract was instrumental to the company’s popularity and success worldwide.[17]

Thanks to its popularity, Breitling continued to produce Top Time watches years after the introduction of automatic chronographs in the late 1960s.[1]  Breitling Top Time’s production run ended in the late 1970s[1,16,19-21], roughly two decades after its original release. Unfortunately, Breitling does not provide information on its production numbers so there is no way of knowing how many watches actually entered the market [18].

Design

Breitling specifically design the Top Time watches to appeal to young men under 25 [2]. Within this market, the watchmaker positioned its chronographs as befitting sports, and technology, enthusiasts and generally anyone with an active lifestyle. The timepieces were advertised as “instrument panels” that young men could wear on their wrists [2], most probably alluding to the tachymeter scale featured on the watches’ outer rim, useful in measuring speed and distances.

“We are sweeping into the field of youth and we are going to speak their language … Our special models are particularly suited to the needs of the young and active professionals … [W]e are designing a superb range of ultra modern chronographs, led by a completely new model, the Top Time.” - Willy L. Breitling, 1964 [2]

Despite being a sports watch at its core, the Breitling Top Time also attracted a solid base of young women, thanks to its “bold new lines,” “rare and distinctive air,” and overall elegance.[22] In other words, the Top Time was also an elegant dress watch because as Breitling puts it: “The young man, or woman, who buys a Top Time isn’t necessarily a specialist in short time measurements.” [2]

Specifications

Movement(s)

By the time the first Top Time was produced, Breitling had already transitioned from in-house to third-party movements, which allowed it to save costs while focusing on its core task of designing special dials [17]. For the Top Time series in particular, the watch maker used five movements from Venus and Valjoux: Venus 178, Venus 188, Valjoux 7730, Valjoux 7733, and Valjoux 7736.

These movements were all manual-wind chronographs that made used of 17 jewels at 18,000 bph [23]. Most of them, with the exception of  Venus 178, had sub second cam switches. The Venus 178, the earliest movement among the five, had a sub second pillar wheel.

The Venus movements were used in earlier models, while the Valjoux movements were used in later models. However, it’s important to note that Valjoux bought Venus when the later was facing some financial difficulties. When the deal was done, Valjoux selected Venus’ best movements, continued their production, and stamped the Valjoux brand on them. For instance, Valjoux 7730 is made from the Venus 188 movement, though it was given a new name. The Valjoux 7733 was also based on Venus 188, although Valjoux included some improvements such a new bridge form [16,23-24].

Venus and Valjoux movements are well regarded among watch enthusiasts and can also be seen in a number of watches designed popular brands like TAG Heuer, Hamilton, and Omega. Venus 178, in particular, is a highly accurate movement and is considered to be iconic by many watch collectors [25]. Meanwhile, the three Valjoux movements, all based on Venus 188, also gained much respect among the watch collecting community.

Dial(s)

Breitling provided watch consumers with a number of options when it came to dial color. The company produced seven dial color variations.

Breitling Top Time used either a 60-second, 30/45-minute subregister or a 60-second, 30-minute, 12-hour subregister. On the dial’s face, Breitling placed its logo, “Breitling,” and “Geneve” at the 12 o’clock position, while “Top Time” can be seen at the six o’clock mark. The latter, however, was removed in Ref. 815 and 814. The tachymeter scale is present in all variations.

Breitling Top Time watches mostly featured index and obelisk hands, although a Ref. 2007-33 variant also used dauphine hands. The numbering consist mostly of batons, except for reference 824, 1765, and 7656. Top Time 824 used Roman numerals, while 1765 and 7656 both used stick markers. As for the lume, Breitling used tritium.

Breitling Top Time "Panda"

Breitling Top Time Panda

The term “panda” refers to watches having a silver main dial and black sub dials. This color combination and the placement of the sub dials create a look that recalls that of a panda, and is the most likely the reason behind its name. A variant of the panda dial called “reverse panda” features a black main dial and white sub dials. Another variation is known as the “Panda bear” or “true panda”, with a white main dial and black sub dials [22,25].

Among the three, the reverse panda appears to have come first, followed by the panda bear or true panda and then the panda. It is believed that Breitling was the first to introduce the reverse panda style in 1957 with its SuperOcean Chronograph Ref. 807. This was followed by its AVI Co-Pilot Ref. 765 which entered the market in the early 1960s. TAG Heuer and Rolex followed suit, with the former releasing its Autavia in 1962 and the latter launching its Cosmograph in 1963. During the same year, Breitling’s popular Navitimer Ref. 806 embraced the reverse panda design as well [22].

However, when it came to the true pandas, Rolex took the lead, releasing its Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 6239 in 1963. Breitling’s true panda hit the market in 1966, the TAG Heuer Carrera launched in 1968, and the Zenith El Primero A384 released in 1969. Zenith also released the first tri-color panda Ref. A386 in the same year [22].

For its Top Time series, in particular, Breitling produced reverse pandas when the line released in 1964. True pandas were only introduced in 1966 [22].

Breitling Top Time Panda catalog

The image above shows what is believed to be the first appearance of the Breitling Top Time pandas in a catalog from early 1964 [22].

Breitling Top Time "Long Playing"

Breitling Top Time Long Playing catalog

The term “Long Playing” referred to Breitling Top Time watches that had an extraordinarily long mainspring providing users with a 52 hour power reserve from a single wind [26,27]. Some examples of the Breitling Top Time Long Playing include Ref. 810.3, 810.4, 824.3, and 824.4, pictures of which can be seen in the image above, taken from the 1969 catalog [22].

 

Breitling Top Time "Racing"

Breitling Top Time "Racing" ref. 2211

The Breitling Top Time Racing refers to a variation of Ref. 2211, characterized by the checkered markings located at the center of the dial and retro orange hands [28]. This particular variation comes with a stainless steel cushion case around 38 mm in diameter and a black dial with matching tachymeter.

Case, Crystal, and Bezel

Breitling Top Time watches came with round or cushion cases made from stainless steel, white metal, and 18-karat gold, or gold-plating material. The company started producing with cushion-shaped cases around the late 1960s and used them exclusively in Ref. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 810. Case size was in the range of 35 mm to about 40 mm. The watches either had a plexiglass or acrylic domed crystal [23] and featured no bezel, except for Ref. 1765 and 7656.

Meanwhile, the caseback changed depending on the variation, specifically if the watches were waterproof or not. The Top Time waterproof variations, like Ref. 2001 and 2002, featured a removable case back. On the other hand, the non-waterproof variants, such as Ref. 2003, used a monocoque case. Despite the difference in case construction, the watches looked similar, thanks to the line milled into the case of non-waterproof variants which creates the illusion of a separate case back [16, 23].

Variations

Ref. 2000

Ref. 2000-3

Breitling Top Time ref 2000-33 dials

Breitling Top Time Ref. 2000-33 released in 1960s offered a reverse panda variation (left) and a panda variant (right).

Ref. 2000.4

Breitling Top Time ref 2000-4 dials

The 1964 water-resistant Breitling Top Time Ref. 2000.4 offered three dial variations. One variant (left) came with a silver sunburst dial and silver sub dials. It also appeared in reverse panda (center) and panda (right) executions.

 

Ref. 2001

Ref. 2001.5

Breitling Top Time 2001.5 dials

Although the 1968 Breitling Top Time Ref. 2001 was released in only one model, Ref. 2001.5, it offered three dial options: panda (left), reverse panda (center), and a variant with white main and sub dials (right). It was run by Valjoux 7733 movement which is housed in a non-water resistant 18-karat gold case.

 

Ref. 2002

Ref. 2002-3

Breitling Top Time 2002-33 dials

Breitling Top Time Ref. 2002-33 houses a Valjoux 7733 movement within its round stainless steel water resistant case. It was available in two dial variations, panda and reverse panda

Ref. 2002.3

Breitling Top Time Ref. 2002.3 also came in two dial variations. One (left) featured a silver sunburst main dial with silver sub dials, while the other (right) had a black main dial with silver sub dials. It is powered by a Valjoux 7730 movement protected by a round stainless steel, water-resistant case.

Breitling Top Time 2002.3 dials
 

Ref. 2003

Ref. 2003.4

Breitling Top Time 2003.4 dials

The 1964 Breitling Top Time Ref. 2003.4 used the earlier Venus 188 movement enclosed in a round, gold-plated, non-water-resistant case. It was offered in two dial variants. One came with a silver sunburst main dial and silver sub dials (left) and the other was a reverse panda (right).

 

Ref. 2004

Ref. 2004.5

Breitling Top Time 2004.5 dials

The Breitling Top Time Ref. 2004.5 released in 1976 and ran a Valjoux 7730 movement, which was protected by a water-resistant, 18-karat gold case. It was available in reverse panda (left), panda (center), and a third variant (right) with silver sunburst main dial and silver sub dials.

 

Ref. 2006

Ref. 2006.3

Breitling Top Time 2006.3 dial

Breitling Top Time Ref. 2006.3 was run by a Valjoux 7730 movement housed in a stainless steel cushion case. The watch came with a black main dial and silver sub dials.

Ref. 2006-33

Breitling Top Time 2006-33 dials

Breitling Top Time Ref. 2006-33 runs the Valjoux 7730 movement and uses the same case as its sibling. However, it offered two dial options: panda (left) and reverse panda (right).

 

Ref. 2007

Ref. 2007-33

Breitling Top Time 2007-33 dials

Breitling Top Time Ref. 2007-33 features a textured white metal cushion case measuring 35 mm in diameter. Within this distinct case lies the Valjoux 7730 movement which runs the chronograph. It was available in two dial variants, panda (right) and one with a silver sunburst main dial and silver sub dials (left).

Ref. 2007.1

Breitling Top Time 2007.1 dial

Unlike its sibling, the Breitling Top Time Ref. 2007.1 was only produced in the reverse panda dial variation. However, it was powered by the same Valjoux 7730 movement housed in the same 35-mm textured white metal cushion case.

 

Ref. 2008

Ref. 2008.4

Breitling Top Time 2008.4 dials

The earlier Breitling Top Time Ref. 2008.4 watches introduced in 1967 used the Venus 188 movement, although this was later on replaced by the Valjoux 7730 movement. It was available in three dial variations: panda, reverse panda, and one with a silver sunburst main dial and silver sub dials.

Ref. 2008-3

Breitling Top Time 2008-33 dials

The Breitling Top Time Ref. 2008-33 of 1969 featured a fancy scallop design on its gold-plated cushion case. This model came in two dial variations, reverse panda (right) and with a silver sunburst main dial and silver sub dial (left).

Ref. 2008.3

Introduced to the market in 1968, the Breitling Top Time Ref. 2008.3 was limited to the panda dial design.

 

Ref. 2009

Breitling Top Time ref 2009 dials

Ref. 2009.4

Breitling Top Time Ref. 2009.4 offered the interesting “race look” dial (first from left). It also came in the usual panda (second from the left), reverse panda (first from right), and the variation with a silver sunburst main dial and silver sub dials (second from right). All variations used a 36.6-mm gold-plated cushion case.

Ref. 2009-33

Breitling Top Time ref 2009-33

Breitling Top Time Ref. 2009-33 used the same case as its sibling, Ref. 2009.4. It used the Valjoux 7730 movement and came in only one dial variant featuring a black main dial with silver sub dials.

 

Ref. 810

Ref. 810.3

Breitling Top Time 810.3 dials

Breitling Top Time Ref. 810.3 used the Venus 178 which featured the sub second pillar wheel. The movement is housed in a 38-mm stainless steel round case, while the dial is protected by plexiglass crystal. Three dial variations were available for Ref. 810.3: panda (center), reverse panda (right), and an execution featuring a silver sunburst main dial with silver sub dials (left).

Ref. 810.4

Breitling Top Time ref 810.4

The Breitling Top Time Ref. 810.4 was released a year after its sibling in 1967. It used the same case as Ref. 810.3 but carried one less dial option. Ref. 810.4 was offered in panda (left) and reverse panda (right).

 

Ref. 814

Breitling Top Time 814 dials

Ref. 814 used the earliest Breitling Top Time movement, Venus caliber 178. It’s characterized by its stainless steel screw-back[29] cushion case and the pop of orange hand or hands. Some consider this particular model as a transition piece from the comparatively dull monochromatic and dichromatic schemes of the 1960s to the more colorful and “progressive” 1970s [29]. This watch was available in two dial variations. One featured a black main dial with white sub dials (left), while the other used a white sunburst main dial with black sub dials (right).

 

Ref. 815

Breitling Top Time 815 dials

Breitling Top Time Ref. 815 appeared for the first time in the 1970 catalog.[29] It features a stainless steel, snap-back round case, within which lies the Valjoux 7736 movement. It came with a silver sunburst main dial and three black sub dials.

 

Ref. 824

Ref. 824-3

Breitling Top TIme Ref. 824-3

Breitling Top Time Ref. 824.3 used Venus 178 movement housed in a stainless steel, water-resistant round case. The model was offered in a reverse panda dial.

Ref. 824.4

Breitling Top Time ref 824.4

Breitling Top Time Ref. 824.4 is also a water-resistant watch, although unlike its sibling, it used a gold-plated round case. It was also only available in a 24-hour black main dial with white sub dial option.

 

Ref. 1765

Breitling Top Time ref 1765

The Breitling Top Time Ref. 1765 is also known as the Jean-Claude Killy, after the famous alpine ski racer who owned this particular model. It used the Valjoux 7736 in a 42-mm stainless steel case, which was larger than most Top Time cases. It came with a black dial with three white sub dials and a bezel.

 

Ref. 2211

Breitling Top Time 2211 dials

Breitling Top Time Ref. 1765 came with a slightly smaller 38-mm case than Ref. 1765, although still bigger than the typical case size of this series. It used the Venus 188 movement within its stainless steel case. One variation of Ref. 2211 is also known as the Breitling Top Time racing (third from the left) due to the checkered design featured on its dial. This model also used of colorful hands.

 

Ref. 7656

Breitling Top Time ref 7656

Breitling Top Time Ref. 7656’s distinct feature is its 12-hour rotating bezel. It’s one of only two models in this series that included the feature. The other Top Time that used a bezel is Ref. 1765. The watch has a black main dial with three white sub dials.

Recommendations

Breitling Top Time watches are good entry-level timepieces for anyone looking to start watch collecting. Any of the different variants mentioned in this article have simple yet elegant designs and quality hand-winding movements, thus making them good starting points for beginner watch collectors.[10,30] In addition, traditional cases add to the watches’ vintage value.

Start with

Breitling Top Time ref. 810

Watch enthusiasts can start their own Breitling Top Time collection with any of the various models, provided these are in good original or mint condition are available for $2,500[31] - not cheap but definitely lower than one would spend for a Heuer Carrera or Rolex Daytona. The Top Time watches with Venus caliber 178 and 188 are generally well regarded movements. The Venus 188 movement, in particular, commands a higher price than the Valjoux movements used in the series [25].

Something different

Breitling Top Time ref 2211

Those looking for something different can try Breitling Top Time Racing Ref. 2211. This features the checkered design in its dial plus colorful hands, which really make it stand out from the rest. This currently costs about $2,000 [32,33].

The grail

Breitling Top Time Thunderball

The ultimate Breitling Top Time collectible watch is Ref. 2002 or the Thunderball. With its rich history and significant link to pop culture, it’s the must-have model to add to any Breitling Top Time collection. The watch used in the James Bond movie was sold at an auction for $160,000.[3-7]

From The Spring Bar Store:

 

References:

  1. thewatchblogspot, Breitling Cosmonaut Chrono-Matic Ref 1809, Blog spot 2015
  2. watchuseek user Dracha, nice old ad's from the 60ies % 70ies, Forum post 2006
  3. Eric Wind, On The Block: The James Bond Breitling Top Time Geiger Counter From Thunderball, Article 2013
  4. Editor, James Bond Breitling Top Time Watch In Thunderball Sells for $160,383, Article 2013
  5. reuters, James Bond watch with geiger counter sells for $160,000, Article 2013
  6. Brian Vinciguerra and Ed Maggiani, Original Thunderball Geiger counter watch found by Bond fans, Article 2013
  7. jamesbondlifestyle, Breitling Top Time, Article
  8. Robert Klara, How James Bond Made the Submariner Rolex's Coolest, Most Recognized Watch, Article 2015
  9. Matt Klahre, FROM ROLEX WITH LOVE- A LOOK AT THE BOND WATCH LEGACY, Article 2013
  10. watchuseek user bradders, Re: Breitling Top Time - info sought, Forum post 2006
  11. jamesbondlifestyle, Breitling Navitimer 806, Article
  12. watchtalkforum user jeniffer, Breitling in Movies, Forum post 2014
  13. vintage-breitling, Breitling 765 AVI – CP family chronology 1953 to 1978, Article
  14. watchuseek user DragonDan,  Jim Clark & Motor Racing Watches of the 60's & 70's, Forum post 2013
  15. GVM, Jim Clark and Enicar Sherpa, Article
  16. vintage-watches, Breitling TopTime chronograph steel with papers 1967, Article
  17. timezone, Unofficial Breitling FAQ, Article 2007
  18. timezone, Unofficial Breitling FAQ - More Specifics, Article 2007
  19. Idan K, Breitling from 1950-1959
  20. Idan K, Breitling from 1960-1969
  21. Idan K, Breitling from 1970-1979
  22. watchuseek user sempervivens, Which was the first Panda ?, Forum post 2013
  23. watchuseek user Maniacfive, Help IDing dad's battered 60's Top Time., Forum post 2013
  24. breitlingsource, The History of Movement Manufacturing, Article
  25. rolexforums user BB83, "Panda" Dial on Vintage Daytona?, Forum post 2010
  26. omegaforums user cssmhs, SOLD Breitling 815 Long Playing Triple Register, Forum post 2014
  27. corrvintagewatches, Breitling, Online retailer
  28. retrovintagewatch, BREITLING Top Time 1969 Racing Chronograph - Venus 175 - Vintage monaco, Online retailer
  29. breitlingsource user Roffensian, Where to start with vintage watches?, Forum post 2012
  30. ebay, Your Guide to Vintage Breitling Watches, Article 2014
  31. Benjamin Clymer, Ten Vintage Watches That Should Be More Expensive Than They Are, And Why, Article 2013
  32. chrono24, Breitling Top Time, Online retailer
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