The analog-digital watch came into its own in the 1980s, straddling two eras: that of the traditional three-handed watch, and that of the digital timepiece’s high-tech functionality. Time telling at a glance is still more intuitive and quickly read off an analog dial, while depth, altitude, elapsed time and alarms are more easily tracked and set via a digital interface. To combine the two was a logical evolutionary step, and though these hybrid watches have never enjoyed widespread favor, they have been put to good use by those for whom a watch is more a tool than a fashion accessory.
Early examples of these “best of both worlds” watches included the first generation Citizen Aqualand, the Chronosport Sea Quartz UDT, the Seiko H558 and the OMEGA Speedmaster X-33, the latter of which became NASA’s official timepiece for space shuttle missions. Breitling has been at the forefront of analog-digital watches since those early days, and today we feature the latest in its vaunted Aerospace range along with an alternative from Victorinox Swiss Army that does almost as much for far less.
Breitling Aerospace Evo
Breitling’s history in analog-digital watches goes back to the 1980s, when the company co-branded the Chronosport Sea Quartz UDT, selling it under the “Pluton” name with a variety of bezels and case finishes. That watch was the archetype of the brand’s now-famous line of Professional timepieces. In 1985 Breitling’s first homegrown analog-digital watch, the Aerospace, made its debut, and it’s been in the company’s lineup ever since. The watch was innovative in that it eschewed traditional push pieces for a multi-function crown, by which all watch functions were selected and activated.
The new Aerospace Evo ($4,375 on bracelet) is, as its name suggests, the latest evolution of the Aerospace. It makes use of Breitling’s renowned SuperQuartz movement, which is thermo-compensated to resist temperature changes (the bane of batteries) for chronometer-certified timekeeping. The case is cut from Grade 5 titanium, giving it a light weight, corrosion resistance, and the ability to withstand 100 meters of water pressure. In addition to its prominent hands, the rotating bezel makes it suitable for old-fashioned elapsed time tracking. But let’s face it, this one is all about its functionality: perpetual calendar, second time zone, multiple (loud!) alarms, a 1/100th second chronograph and countdown timer are all visible on the backlit digital display and controlled by merely spinning or pushing the crown. The watch is a favorite of countless real world pilots flying sorties off of carrier decks, who appreciate the watch’s utilitarian purpose; that’s testimony enough to its various functions.
Victorinox Swiss Army Chrono Classic XLS MT
If you still want lots of functions but don’t want to shell out for the Aerospace Evo, affordable favorite Victorinox Swiss Army comes through again with the Chrono Classic XLS MT ($1,250). The handsome watch bears a strong resemblance to the Breitling, though its 45-millimeter case is made from gunmetal PVD stainless steel instead of titanium. Functions are much the same as the Aerospace too, thanks to a Swiss ETA quartz movement that toggles through modes via the crown. In fact, the ETA 988.333 is the same movement that Breitling modifies for the Aerospace. You get second time zone, alarm, perpetual calendar, countdown timer and chronograph just like the Breitling, but the Victorinox is neither thermo-compensated nor chronometer certified, so if you’re planning to navigate to the North Pole, you might need to upgrade. Also, the absence of a backlight makes nighttime use of the digital display impossible, and its alarm volume is more suited for use in a library than onboard an aircraft carrier. Still, for a quarter of the price of the Breitling, you’re getting three quarters of the watch, and that’s good enough for most.