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Breitling Blackbird is one of the Breitling's models that always attracted my interest. Considering this, I decided to share with you a brief review of the history and development of the Blackbird.

My intention is to gather a variety of information from a variety of sources (Chronologs, the web) in one place but it doesn't mean that this has to be taken for granted or as a definitive reference. I know there are more knowledgeable members of this forum, so feel free to correct me or provide some more info.

Also I hope I'm not violating some forum rules, if this is the case I apologize and will correct this post if necessary. I tried to provide image credits at the end of the post, some of the images are mine, some from the web and I tried to track the source.

OK, so we know what is Breitling but do we know what is the Blackbird?

The SR-71 Blackbird was advanced aircraft designed and built for high-altitude, high-speed (more than 3 Mach) strategic reconnaissance (SR) by Lockheed as the successor to the famous U-2.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_SR-71_Blackbird



The development of this full titanium aircraft was revolutionary because it was the first such aircraft so special methods and tools had to be developed for production. At such high speeds the heating of metal and thus the change of geometry of the parts was so big that the plane on the ground leaked fuel through the cracks between parts. Initially, it was filled with fuel only to take-off and then, after 7-minutes of flight, parts were warm enough to stretch to close the cracks and plane was fully loaded in flight to fly the mission.

The whole idea of the plane was to fly so fast and high that it was practically impossible to reach the plane by hostile missiles as well as the best Russian fighter planes that couldn't fly so high and fast (the engine and intakes on Blackbird used some new and revolutionary techniques).

The legend even goes that, because of the secrecy of the project, titanium was procured in small amounts on the market, and that the Russian titanium was also used on the plane :).

The aircraft was designed to minimize radar reflection and was painted in black matt color (very dark blue in fact) for better invisibility on the night sky and better heat dissipation. So she was named Blackbird.

Unlike the U-2 and the infamous shot-down of that plane by Russian missile, no Blackbird has ever been lost due to hostile action, and speed records she set for the "breathing" jet aircraft are still unbeaten.

Blackbird cockpit (with the latest technology of that time):



In the end, however, spy satellites and high costs of exploitation and maintenance resulted in retirement of the Blackbird in 1998 (while U-2 still flies), and the production tools were destroyed. Several Blackbirds can be seen today in museums around the world.

Well, I wanted this part to be brief but couldn't do it :). You can notice my fascination with this really revolutionary aircraft and its technology that was far ahead of the times. It was a great vision and courage to conceive, and then to build such a plane - a masterpiece of Lockheed's Skunk Works and the ingenious engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson.

This fascination was obviously shared by Breitling when in 1995, its Chronomat line (* - see the note at the end of the article) was enriched with a special model (not limited but special edition) called Blackbird.
It carried the reference number A13050.1, which was the standard reference for Chronomat from that time, so Blackbird itself didn't have a specific reference number.





It was a standard Chronomat with a 39.8 mm diameter powered by Breitling 13 caliber, based on ETA 7750. But, while standard Chronomat had high-polished finish, the Blackbird had a brushed case, and subdials were black on black resulting in somewhat subdued "under the radar" image, just like the Blackbird plane. Hands were all white, with red tipped chrono second hand. Below the applied Breitling wings there was inscription "Breitling Blackbird Automatic" and (in red color) the inscription "SERIE SPECIALE" above the position 6 chrono subdial.

Pushers and screw-in crown were onion like, evoking aviation theme (see end of article) just like on other Chronomats of that time. The watch was not COSC certified, so it was not a chronometer. WR was 100 m. The dial had a variation with numerals or batons. In addition to the black dialed Blackbird there was a limited version of 250 Blackbirds with blue dial - known unofficially as Bluebird.

The next model in Blackbird history was reference A13350. Form the outside it looks practically identical to the ref A13050.1 but has a COSC certificate ie is a chronometer. This feature is not visible on the dial, just in the ref number (3 in the third place) and on the back of the watch were it has "chronometre" inscription. Reference number is still the same as for all other Chronomats from that time i.e. Blackbird still has no own reference number.







Picture from the Breitling Chronolog 3 (1998):



The development path of Chronomat Blackbird goes on to reference number A13353 which was introduced in 2002. This is, finally, a reference number reserved only for Blackbird and (in my humble opinion) this is the developmental zenith of Breilting Chronomat 39.8mm and the last model from that Chronomat series that was in production (although this Blackbird was officially part of the Windrider line).

This is a Blackbird model I like the most. It took some time to find and buy one of the nice and preserved examples which is still in my possession (probably until I die, and then it goes to my sons :)).



This Blackbird is recognizable by the "meaty" and more imposing shape of the case, while keeping the same diameter as previous Blackbirds. Pushers are no longer "onion" shaped but octogonal, and the bezel is noticeably thicker, more elaborately brushed with characteristic deep incisions at positions 1,2,4,5,7,8,9,10 and with 120 clicks. The main hands got a different, more prominent shape.

The first specimens of this model had the inscription "SERIE SPECIALE" above the subdial at 6, while later had "EDITION SPECIALE".

With its imposing shape this Blackbird announces the development of the Chronomats to Evolution version with 43.7 mm case and end of production of the 39.8 mm size model.





Picture from Chronolog 03 (2003):



Picture from Chronolog 04 (2004):



Under the Breitling wings, dial now has a "Chronometre Automatic" inscription, which highlights the fact that the watch complies with COSC standards.

You can compare difference in the pushers, bezel height and case form from these two pictures - A13350:



and A13353



A13353 also appears with numerals or batons and in Bluebird variation with blue dial.

Because of its appearance, Blackbird was a nice platform for special squadron, commemorative, anniversary etc. editions. For instance there is Alfa Romeo Edition of 30 pieces, Lancaster edition (English World War II bomber) of 60 pieces, a special version for the Canadian producer Bombardier of 200 pieces etc etc. An example of anniversary edition for the USAF:



A13353 was in production until 2004.

Blackbird is back in 2007 in a new, more striking form and in the size of 43.7 mm under the reference number A44359.



This is visually perhaps the most attractive Blackbird due to its dimensions, a combination of brushed and polished surfaces and a big date. The lug width increased from 20 to 22mm, and the watch now features the Breitling 44 caliber, which is, in fact, a modular chronograph based on the ETA2892 with a DD module. Some say that servicing modular chronograph can be a problem. From my own experience - it isn't :).







If you can get away with 44mm, heavy, watch on the wrist (I do not :)) I think it's the best Blackbird you can get because of its striking appearance. This is maybe the most attractive classic Breitling model in general.
Dial is dominated by big date, Breitling's applied bold white gold wings and Chronometer Automatic inscription. Back of the watch has a nice big engraved inscription "Blackbird" so nobody can mistake it for anything else :).

The WR raised to 300m, and the pushers now have a lock mechanism to keep them from underwater activation, which could endanger the waterproofness of the watch. I personally don't really like that feature because I like to fiddle with chronograph all the time :).

Another nice feature of this model is that all hands (and that includes the chrono hands) are luminova coated for night visibility.



Maybe the love-hate moment of this watch is a "navigational" bezel that displays 360 degrees for geographical orientation. Despite the questionable practicality of that bezel, on the positive side it gives the watch an uncommon note and distinguishes it from other watches with a classic diving bezel, making it a special one. The bezel is bidirectional (like pilot's watch bezel should be) and has 72 clicks, so every click is a 5 degrees of the circle - nice touch!

Basically, this watch has TOOL! written all over it and it sends the message that the owner is a testosterone filled macho pilot guy with bold mustaches :).

It remained in production until 2011.

Example of Bluebird with black subdials:



2010 saw a release of limited Blacksteel edition of this watch with case coated in black DLC and reference number M4435911 in a batch of 2000 pieces. The special feature of this Blackbird is that it's all polished.





In 2012 after Blackbird production already ended, a limited batch of 2000 pieces - the Blackbird Red Strike version was released in a classic brushed and polished steel case with many red details on the dial. The red/black combination is also associated with Blackbird plane because some parts of the plane where the titanium was thin were marked in red. The reference is the same as for the standard Blackbird - A44359.



Blackbird appears again in 2014, now in the Breitling Avenger line, with Breitling 17 caliber (based on ETA2824-2) ticking inside and the reference number V17310. The size is now gargantuan 48 mm but the case is finally made of matte black titanium. Lug size is 24mm.





It has a stunningly beautiful black dial and luminous material on markers and hands is made with so called "aged radium look" color to it that is controversial to some, but I think it suits it very well. It comes on Breitling military canvas strap and WR is 300m. Bezel features military style stencil numerals that look very "toolish" and modern to me.



Unfortunately, the B17 mechanism means that this model is not a chronograph. Sigh.

Like all newer Breitlings, there are more editions of this watch. This model is still in production at the time of the writing.

Soon, a smaller Blackbird brother (or sister :)) in more wearable 44mm size and with WR of 200m was introduced, bearing the reference number V17311.

For quick identification of 48/44 mm models in images, notice that the date on 44mm is framed in red and WR on the dial is 200m.





Nice video for the end:


This closes my presentation of the Blackbird history and I congratulate to anyone reading this far :).

If Blackbird intrigued you, it's time to start hunting for one, because I'm predicting that it will soon disappear from production.

Also, if you have a Blackbird watch or a plane, feel free to share your photos below |> !

(*) Chronomat originally emerged in the 40's looking closer to what we know today as the Navitimer. It was the first chronograph combined with the circular slide rule computer, so its name was ChronoMat ie CHRONOgraph for MAThematicians.



After the company's bankruptcy and Schneider's acquisition of Breitling, Chronomat experienced its new birth as a pilot chronograph, designed in collaboration with the Italian aerobatic group Frecce Tricolori.

Original sketch of legendary tab-riders on the bezel, that protects the crystal and helps turning the bezel while wearing gloves:



When you look at that first modern pilot Chronomat from the side, you can notice that it has the shape of an airfoil, and the forms of the pusher and the crown are reminiscent of the propeller spinners - talking about the aviation theme here :)





Image credit: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], Eric Kilby, Breitling S.A., Bernardwatch, Watches UK, Uhren-fan, Topperjewelers, H.Q.Milton, Hunterfate
 

· Pil-Mil, Breitling Forum Moderator
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Absolutely excellent article!!! :-! It is now copied into our "Articles" section above this main Breitling forum. :) Thank you so very much for this much needed and appreciated treatise on one of our favorite Breitling pieces!! |>
Kind Regards,
Ron
 

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In US military aviation we have a long standing joke,
"Big watch, little dick."

So I found it interesting and ironic that the first version was a modest 38.7mm.

I'm 6'3 or 190cm, and I still can't pull off a 44mm watch in my opinion. Looks cartoonish and a bit tacky, not withstanding certain insinuations of over-compensation.



Sent from my SM-N950U using Tapatalk
 

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Great information and photos. Thank you for your work on one of my favorite Breitlings. I remember that there was a run of Blackbirds, I believe in the year 2000, that did not have the faceted bracelet or lume on the sub dial hands. Also, there was a Blackbird done in white gold that I have seen on the used markets for a LOT more money.
As a side note, I was sent to Thailand in 1971 to build hangers for the U-2's. While stationed there they brought in a SR-71. I tried to get near it but my measly secret security clearance only got me close enough to it to be warned off by the armed guards. I did eat lunch under the wing of the U-2 though.
Thanks again for the great article, Frank.

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Wow, that’s a great read. Thanks for sharing your hard work and research. Makes me want to go get one.

There is (at least was) an SR-71 on display at the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum near Dulles airport outside of DC, always fascinates me. So much larger than I would have envisioned from photos and capabilities.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks again for kind words, latest news from Breitling were a motivation to write about Breitling's close ties of watches and aviation that meant so much to us. Hope they won't lose it.

@Heidelberg it must have been a real excitement being so close to Blackbird, listening to its thunder through the night |>

@notional great pictures of the 'Bird |> I hope one day I'll stand close to it - I managed to stand close or enter almost all aircraft I wanted to see in person (for instance Concorde, TU-144, Phantom F-4, Spitfire, ME-262, even Russian Buran space shuttle etc) but Blackbird still remains on my wishlist :)
 

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Hunterfate,

Thank You for a great article. I especially love all the photos you're taken the time to include. I give this thread FIVE STARS!!!
 

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I've always loved that article. :) Such a great read! May I also add that the caliber 44 Blackbird's amazing "complete" lume (ALL hands and indices) is one of my favorite features of that watch. The only other Breitling chrono carrying "complete" lume like that is the Windrider "Crosswind" which is also a beauty of classic Chronomat lineage. Thanks again for the read and information!
Kind Regards,
Ron
 
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