Breitling Chronomat 44 Frecce Tricolori

About time: let it fly

Abid Rahman

OK, confession time. I think I might be obsessed with collecting - although, curiously not using - air miles. Aside from accumulating miles through credit-card spending, I am now a member of no fewer than eight airline-loyalty schemes and I've even started to frequent the FlyerTalk online forum in anticipation of my first "mileage run".

For the benefit of sane, normal people, a mileage run is when you fly to a destination, or sometimes just around the houses, purely for the points - flying, for example, from Hong Kong to Tokyo, enjoying some sushi and sake at Narita, and then flying back.

Why bother? Well, for elite status - that tantalising utopia of upgrades, lounge access and priority boarding - of course.

I suppose, in a weird way, the air-miles thing makes me a fly boy of sorts, but if you're a real fly boy, as in one who enjoys flying for the sake of flying then, obviously, you're going to be more interested in a pilot's watch than air miles (although it so happens buying a watch means a shed load of points - just saying).

And so we start this column with the daddy of pilot's watch brands, Breitling, which to this day remains independent and family owned. Breitling is famous for its chronometers and the Chronomat 44 Frecce Tricolori (top) is a collaboration with celebrated Italian aerial acrobatics team Frecce Tricolori. The 44 in the name refers to the 44mm steel case, which is a reasonable size given the sheer enormity of many pilot's watches on offer these days.

This watch is the same as the standard Chronomat in design and specifications, with a Calibre 01 chronograph movement driving a power reserve of 70 hours, while the dial layout includes space-age numbers on the bezel. The only addition is the Frecce Tricolori logo on the face. Features-wise there is a date indicator, 12-hour, 30-minute and small-seconds counters, and the strap is a sporty black rubber. Limited to 1,000 pieces, the special-edition Breitling Chronomat 44 Frecce Tricolori is priced at about HK$73,000.

Next up, we have a prize-winning pilot's watch - not, I hasten to add, on account of the length of its official name. For brevity purposes we'll call the Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th Tribute to Felix Baumgartner (above right) simply the Stratos Flyback. Baumgartner, as you will no doubt know, is the Austrian skydiver who basically jumped from space to complete the longest and highest skydive in history.

Visually, the watch is a feast, with its 45.5mm steel case housing a dial that, with its now-iconic sub-counters in three colours (anthracite grey, light grey and midnight blue), is a nod and a wink to the El Primero watches from the late 1960s and early 70s. Inside is an El Primero 4057B Automatic movement that has been tested, lest we forget, in the extremely thin air of the upper stratosphere. The watch is priced between HK$70,000 and HK$80,000, depending on strap choice.

Finally, we have a more affordable pilot's watch in the Victorinox AirBoss Mechanical Chronograph (right). Limited to 300 pieces, the AirBoss Chronograph is a surprisingly feature-rich watch, considering the price: a mere snip at HK$22,000. The case is sized at 42mm and comes in Grade 2 titanium, a material one doesn't come across all that often and which gives the watch its distinctive sand-grey colour.

The dial design has all you would want from a pilot's watch, with the cockpit-influenced date window accompanying the three subdials - 30 minutes, 12 hours and small seconds. Inside is a robust Valjoux 7750 mechanical movement, while other features include the words "Swiss Air Force", engraved on the back, and the leather strap, which is meant to evoke aviator jackets.