If there’s one watch type that Breitling is famous for, it’s the chronograph–particularly, aviation-inspired chronograph watches. From the Navitimer and Chronomat to the Aviator and Avenger, there’s no shortage of cockpit-ready Breitling watches. Today, we’ll be zeroing in on one of these aviation chronographs, the Breitling Blackbird. Join us as we lay out the inspiration, history, and evolution of the Breitling Blackbird watch and highlight a few models from the archives.
Brief History of the Breitling Blackbird
Breitling launched the Blackbird chronograph in 1995. The watch takes its inspiration from the Lockheed SR-71 spy plane, developed in secret during the cold war. Thanks to its black-coated titanium structure, the plane was nicknamed the “Blackbird.” Introduced in 1964 and ultimately retired in 1999, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird remains the fastest jet aircraft in the world, reaching speeds of Mach 3.3!
The first Breitling Blackbird was released as part of the Chronomat watch family. In fact, it carried the same reference number as the Chronomat watches of the era, the ref. A13050.1. While the Blackbird shared the same reference number, it did have a few notable differences from other Chronomat Breitling watches.
Inspired by the secret reconnaissance aircraft, the first Breitling Blackbird watch was a stealthier version of the Chronomat where the steel case and bracelet featured an all-brushed matte finish rather than high polish. Furthermore, the Chronomat Blackbird ref. A13050.1 featured a matte monochromatic dial instead of contrasting subdials. Finally, the dial included special inscriptions such as the “Blackbird” name next to the date window at 3 o’clock along with a red “Serie Speciale” arching above the register at 6 o’clock.
Aside from these details, the first Blackbird model featured the same 39.8mm case size, Caliber Breitling 13 automatic movement (based on ETA 7750), 100-meter water-resistance, onion-style pushers and crown, and three subdials at 6, 9, and 12 o’clock as other Chronomat models of the time. While the vast majority of Blackbird ref. A13050.1 came with black dials, Breitling did produce a limited edition (250 examples) USAF version with a blue dial–aptly nicknamed the “Bluebird.”
A few years later in the late-1990s, Breitling replaced the Chronomat Blackbird ref. A13050.1 with the Chronomat Blackbird ref. A13350. Featuring identical looks to its predecessor, the Chronomat Blackbird ref. A13350 now ran on a chronometer-certified automatic movement, complete with a “Chronometre” inscription on the caseback.
Breitling Chronomat Blackbird A13353
By 2002, the Blackbird chronograph finally earned its own reference number different from other Chronomat Breitling watches in the form of the Breitling Chronomat Blackbird ref. A13353.
The watch kept the 39.8mm case measurement, customary ‘rider tab” furnished bezel, and dial layout, yet there were a handful of design tweaks. First, the bezel was thicker than the previous edition. Furthermore, the chronograph pushers were no longer onion-style but rather, octagonal in shape. The dial included a “Blackbird Chronometre Automatic” inscription at 3 o’clock; earlier examples had the familiar red “Serie Speciale” writing above 6 o’clock while later examples featured a red “Edition Speciale” designation.
Inside the third-generation Breitling Blackbird chronograph was the same chronometer-certified Breitling Caliber 13 automatic movement, with about 42 hours of power reserve.
Along with dial color variations like blue “Bluebird” or black and index style options like baton or Arabic numerals, there were also a few limited edition Breitling Chronomat Blackbird ref. A13353 models made, such as one in honor of the Lancaster bomber and one for the Japanese Blue Impulse aerobatic demonstration team.
Breitling Chronomat Blackbird A44359
Big changes occurred for this particular Breitling watch in 2007 with the introduction of the Chronomat Blackbird ref. A44359. Not only did the case size increase dramatically to 43.7mm and lug width expand to 22mm but Breitling also opted to go for a mix of brushed and high polished surfaces instead of just a matte finish. The bezel also underwent a redesign to include 360-degrees graduations and rider tabs with E/S/W for geographical orientation. The shape of the chronograph pushers changed yet again and they now lock to avoid activating the chronograph function whilst underwater.
Additionally, the dial of this generation of Blackbird Breitling watches was redesigned to house an oversized date window under 12 o’clock combined with the trio of registers at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. As such, the movement also changed to Breitling Caliber 44 modular chronograph movement (based on ETA 2892). Plus, water-resistance increased to 300 meters (1,000 feet).
Breitling discontinued the Chronomat Blackbird ref. A44359 in 2011.
Limited Edition Chronomat Blackbird A44360
One year after Breitling discontinued the Blackbird A44359, the brand presented the limited edition Chronomat Blackbird ref. A44360. Limited to only 2,000 examples, each Blackbird A44360 is individually numbered on the caseback.
Although the watch retained the identical silhouette and functionality of the standard ref. A44359, what sets the LE Blackbird A44360 apart is the dynamic red accents on the dial, which include the date window frame, central chronograph hand, and subdial hands. The watch looks especially good paired with Breitling’s iconic five-row Pilot bracelet with slanted lines.
The Avenger Blackbird Era
In 2014, the Breitling Blackbird branched off the from Chronomat collection to become the Avenger Blackbird–an entirely different watch. No longer a chronograph, the current-production Avenger Blackbird Breitling watches are now high-performance sports watches with rotating bezels graduated to 60 minutes and water-resistant to 300 meters.
The stealthy nature of the Blackbird is further emphasized with the current models as they sport ultra-light black DLC-coated titanium cases (clearly inspired by the original black titanium Blackbird aircraft). There are 44mm and 48mm versions of the Avenger Blackbird, all powered by the Breitling Caliber 17 automatic movement.
The Blackbird By Breitling Watches
From its origins within the Chronomat collection to its present-day home in the Avenger lineup, the Breitling Blackbird has evolved quite significantly over the decades.
- 1995 – 1997 Chronomat Blackbird A13050.1.
- 1997/98 – 2002 Chronomat Blackbird A13350.
- 2002 – 2007 Chronomat Blackbird ref. A13353
- 2007 – 2011 Chronomat Blackbird ref. A44359
- 2012 – Limited Edition Chronomat Blackbird ref. A44359
- 2014 – present Avenger Blackbird
Regardless of the era and specific reference, the Blackbird has always been one of Breitling’s most striking watches inspired by one of the most impressive aircraft ever built.