Those feeling jaded by yet another motorsport-watch collab may want to give the new Breitling x Triumph pairing a look. The partnership may have the usual trappings – a focus on performance and innovation, marketed with a special edition watch to match a special edition vehicle – but because this is Breitling and Triumph, in comes a dose of rebellious, retro-cool. Plus bucketloads of history.
The new Breitling Top Time Triumph specifically harks back to the “café racers” of the 1960s, a subculture that sprung up in post-austerity, post-war UK and America, when stylish motorcycles became the must-have wheels, their riders shuttling from hip café to hip café. Think James Dean on his Triumph Trophy and the biker outlaws in The Wild One. “It was a birth of a subculture of people in their teens who had time, who could borrow money – when the world was a bit of a brighter place post the second world war,” describes Miles Perkins, Triumph’s head of brand management. “You had an explosion of popular culture: music, movies, motorcycles.”
Channeling this spirit on the wrist was the Breitling Top Time Triumph , a daring chronograph that launched in the 1960s. The watch’s highly graphic dials and unconventional square cases were designed for a younger crowd – “to speak their language,” said Willy Breitling in 1964 – with the watch featuring in the likes of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. “It was a little bit more nonconformist and disruptive,” says Gavin Murphy, managing director of Breitling UK. “It appealed to a much younger, hipper generation.”
Fast-forward to 2022, and the new 41mm Top Time Triumph unsurprisingly oozes a modern-retro vibe and is complemented by the Triumph Speed Twin Breitling motorcycle, limited to 270 pieces (the speed and RPM gauges were co-designed with Breitling). The crowning feature on both is the eye-catching ice-blue hue, which recalls the history of both brands: the polychromatic blue from the 1951 Triumph Thunderbird 6T, which Marlon Brando later immortalized in the film The Wild One. And a rare, blue-dialed Breitling Top Time Ref 815 from the 1970s.
Breitling has notably fashioned the dial in its hallmark Zorro motif – an ultra-graphic, bow-tie look where the contrasting colors of the two chronograph counters recall the mask of Zorro. But rather than contrasting tones here, Breitling lets the ice-blue color do the talking, and employs a beautiful, brushed finish that frames not only the sub-dials but the two brand logos at the 12 and six o’clock positions. Boosting the graphic look is a black tachymeter scale, which matches the racing-themed black leather strap, as oversized mushroom pushers further the vintage, sporting theme. The caseback is engraved with a sketch of the Triumph parallel twin-engine and houses the Breitling self-winding caliber 23, a COSC-certified chronometer with a 48-hour power reserve. Buyers of the Triumph co-branded bike will also have the opportunity to purchase a special owner’s edition of the watch, this one with a sunray dial and engraved with the individual number of the bike.
These days it feels like every watch brand has teamed up with a motoring one, but something about this collaboration feels especially refreshing. That’s partly down to motorbikes being slightly more niche – and dare we say it, cooler than cars, which Breitling seems to be embracing full throttle (this is the second motorcycle collaboration it has launched in a year, plus Breitling’s CEO Georges Kern is a keen motorcycle rider, which helps). Meanwhile, the strong history on both sides of the collaboration also adds authenticity.
Triumph celebrates its 120th birthday this year, and the British marque has been behind key motorcycle innovation and development, earning accolades along the way like the only maker to have broken the motorcycle land speed record five times (fact: it held the World’s Fastest Motorcycle title between 1955-1970, save for about a month). Such heritage no doubt appeals to petrol heads, and for the rest of us, there’s Hollywood star power: there’s Dean and Brando, as mentioned, but also Steve McQueen jumping and crashing his 1962 TR6 650 Trophy in The Great Escape and Tom Cruise’s two Triumphs (a Daytona T595 and Speed Triple) in Mission Impossible II, followed by a Thruxton in Edge of Tomorrow. Most recently, a Tiger 900 and Scrambler 1200 did some pretty bad-ass stunts in the latest Bond film, No Time To Die. Throw in the whole nod to café racer culture in this particular watch, and it makes for a compelling story, especially for the less motorcycle-inclined (like this writer, admittedly).
Like Triumph, the Breitling Top Time Triumph has both insider and outsider appeal. The watch and that striking Zorro dial have their place in horological history as a daring 1960s creation for the hip, Swinging Sixties crowd. And there’s Bond cred all its own, too: a modified Top Time had a starring (and world-saving) role in 1965’s Thunderball – a watch that hammered down in 2013 at Christie’s pop culture sale for a cool £103,875.
These coinciding histories mean that both Breitling and Triumph should attract attention and new audiences – which ultimately is what all these collabs are about. Indeed, it seems already on-track: all 50 of the Triumph Twin Speed motorcycles allocated for the UK market were snapped up within 12 minutes of the partnership going live last week with buyers no doubt keen to engrave their matching Breitlings with their bike’s unique number.
But hype aside, this watch hands-down is a real looker. That ice-blue dial is truly beautiful and instantly grabs attention, and especially pops against the contrasting black tachymeter scale, black subdials, black logos and black perforated leather strap. The “squircle” counters and oversized mushroom pushers channel the ongoing craze for 1960s watches and all that retro geometry. Finally, Breitling’s caliber 23 will definitely deliver, the watchmaker being a pre-eminent house alongside Rolex and Omega in serving up the best chronometers in the biz. This is the first watch in Breitling and Triumph’s reportedly long-standing partnership, and we’re intrigued to see where the road leads.