While its name is a mouthful, the Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph Curtiss Warhawk is just one of a barrage of new models to hit the market since Georges Kern took over at the helm of Breitling roughly two and a half years ago. Upon arrival, Kern laid down a plan of slimming and simplifying the Breitling lineup. While I cannot say that he’s succeeded at doing that, I will say that there have been more new Breitling models with enthusiast appeal than there have been in ages. Initially named the Navitimer 8 (and promptly renamed and mostly scrubbed from existence on all Breitling sites), the more aptly named Aviator 8 collection occupies an interesting middle ground between the classic Navitimer and more contemporary Avenger and Chronomat collections. Large oversized 45mm+ cases have been replaced with more market-friendly 41 to 43mm models (with a couple of exceptions), and all are fitted with some sort of timing bezel.
Now, Breitling has long been leveraging its connections with aviation—a position we cannot really fault them for. The Breitling Huit Aviation department was founded in 1938 as an aviation instruments division, and during their operation were quite successful in their production and sale of instruments for a wide range of planes. Now, Breitling Huit did not manufacture and fit instruments for the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk from which this watch draws inspiration, but the famed plane was first produced in the same year as the firm’s founding. In the process of developing the watch, Breitling’s team came across the longest flying P-40 Warhawk pilot, Ollie Crawford (whose story you can watch here). Any of these types of commemorative pieces—whether we’re talking aviation, automotive, or otherwise—can be a dangerous game, as you want to pay proper tribute without losing the attention of those less interested in the particular niche in question (think Ferrari collab watches, among others). As you can see from a cursory glance at the B01 Warhawk, Breitling knows a thing or two about dancing said fine line.
Frankly, I’d argue that the Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Curtiss Warhawk is the sharpest watch in the collection. The combination of its white subdials set against an olive drab dial and matching canvas strap makes the piece both appealing to the eye and highly legible. While the blue dial B01 in steel, and brown dial/red gold example are also an easy read, they come across a bit more generic by comparison. The newly launched reverse-panda Mosquito model is another animal altogether, and a separate topic for an upcoming Flieger Friday. Generally I’m not fond of polished steel bezels, and though on the B01 Warhawk the combination works relatively well, it’s certainly the piece’s weakest point in terms of legibility. Going against general market trends, this bezel uses friction-based resistance rather than clicking. Unlike several other pieces I’ve worn recently with the same setup, the resistance on this piece is firm enough that you won’t be too concerned about inadvertent bezel displacement. The thick ridging of its bezel does make it easy to operate as needed, and that texture detail is mirrored in its oversized screw-down crown.
Powering the piece is (you guessed it) the brand’s in-house manufacture caliber B01—a self-winding chronograph good for a power reserve of 70 hours. The movement is utilitarian in design, albeit well finished. A sapphire display caseback allows for viewing of the caliber, partly obscured by an etching of the Curtiss Warhawk. Aside from color choice this is the only real direct nod to the plane found on the watch itself, which was a smart move. The caliber is COSC certified, which is the case for all of their in-house calibers. That said, Breitling is still following this strange practice of offering chronographs in the same line with both in-house and Valjoux-based calibers. The differentiation between models can be seen in subdial layouts (12-3-6 chronographs are Valjoux, and 3-6-9 are in-house), as well as in subdial color choices. As a general rule, if you see a Breitling chronograph with subdials in the same color as its main dial, then it isn’t running an in-house caliber. Breitling states that the logic behind this is to be able to offer a more affordable chronograph model to consumers. While it’s true that the “basic” chrono is more affordable ($5,565 versus $7,710), it’s hard to agree with this practice. What immediately comes to mind is Panerai’s decision to migrate the Due line to in-house calibers without an increase in pricing.
Business details aside, the watch itself is still a good one, plain and simple. Without specs available, its lug to lug length lands somewhere under the 51mm mark (which is typically my break point for “too big). It’s a substantial piece, no doubt, without reaching wrist-clock/dinner plate status. The leather-backed canvas strap is a bit stiff at first, though it was already starting to break in after a week or so of wear. It’s worth noting as well that Breitling offers all of its strapped models with either tang buckles or deployant clasps, so there’s no issue with being pigeonholed into a less-than-ideal strap situation. That said, I do have one more item to protest in that regard. For some ridiculous reason Breitling opted for a 23mm lug width on the Bo1 Warhawk. If you aren’t the type to ever swap straps on your watches this is a non-issue, but those who appreciate a bit of versatility are left high and dry. of all the strap sizes out there, I’d say that 23mm is the most underserved dimension out there. At a purely visual level, the case design and proportions work wonderfully on this piece, but bumping down to a 22mm lug width (or even bumping up to 24) wouldn’t ruin its aesthetics in the least.
Though it did find a few points of criticism, those points didn’t particularly take away from my overall enjoyment of the Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Curtiss Warhawk chronograph. When it comes to the key details it ticks a lot of boxes; it’s built like a tank (and kind of looks like one, it’s comfortable, it’s easy to read, and there isn’t a lot out there like it. At $7,710 it’s not a cheap offering, and it faces some pretty strong competition from IWC and Zenith (among others), but its overall quality will at the very least ensure that the decision is more personal preference than anything.