When is a watch not a watch? When your plane crashes into a forested mountainside or your sailboat starts taking on water as you round the Cape. Then the Breitling Emergency -- whose alarm woke you in the morning, whose chronograph timed your journey and whose hands told you that it was lunch time -- transforms from a watch into a Personal Locator Beacon. There may be plenty of other watches that can survive your adventures, but few that can help you survive them, too.
Breitling added the Emergency to its lineup in 1995, and the watch has been a cult object ever since. As a timepiece, it had all the battery-driven features of several other Breitling "ana-digi" watches: countdown timers, loud alarms, a stopwatch, a second time zone clock and thermocompensated chronometer-certified quartz timekeeping. But the tumor-like bulge on its 6:00 lug was what set it apart from the Aerospace and B-1. That knob, when unscrewed, deployed and activated a radio antenna that transmitted a steady SOS signal on the 121.5 MHz frequency, signaling search parties and passing aircraft that help was needed. Now. It should be said that there were tales, some true, some apocryphal, of downed pilots and backcountry hunters being rescued thanks to their Breitlings; these only served to fuel the legend. But as satellite use became more prevalent and search-and-rescue technology became more advanced, the 121.5 MHz transmission became less useful. So Breitling set an ambitious course to improve the Emergency and update it for the modern adventurer -- an effort that bore the Emergency II.
The new Emergency (the 'II' has since been dropped) is the first wristwatch to be officially certified as a Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB, thanks to its revolutionary dual-frequency transmitter. In addition to the old 121.5 MHz antenna, Breitling managed to shoehorn in a powerful 406 MHz transmitter. This new antenna makes the watch capable of sending a distress and location signal to orbiting satellites monitored by the Cospas-Sarsat network. Once Search and Rescue (SAR) has been mobilized, the 121.5 MHz antenna is still useful for alerting lower-flying aircraft and nearby teams that are on the ground (or at sea). Because the "crying wolf" potential is high with a device that calls in the cavalry with the twist of a knob, Breitling issues numerous warnings to consumers that the antennae should only be deployed in a real emergency. Fail to heed these warnings, and you'll not only pay hefty fines but will also have to deal with a group of pissed-off Coasties and SAR professionals when they arrive on the scene.
To make the new Emergency a reality, Breitling had to decrease the size of the watch's transmitters and solve the problem of supplying their extra power consumption. The resulting timepiece is a miracle of micro-engineering. The miniaturized transmitters are the smallest in existence to date, and, to account for their power needs, Breitling developed a rechargeable battery system that not only tops off the transmitter battery but also tests their function (safely) while the watch sits in its docking cradle.
Micro-engineering may not be the word that comes to mind when you see the Emergency. It's a behemoth of a watch with a 51mm case and 140-gram weight. Still, rendered in titanium, it's surprisingly wearable and -- given the alternative of hauling around a separate PLB -- downright practical for the intrepid adventurer.
The Breitling Emergency is an uncompromising, category-busting wristwatch-cum-lifesaving device. To judge it merely by its bulky size or $15,000 price tag is to overlook its significance and usefulness. In fact, it's nothing short of revolutionary, and we congratulate Breitling for taking on the enormous challenge of building it for what is undoubtedly a very limited target audience (around-the-world balloonists, polar explorers, and the like). They've created what may be the most useful complication ever fitted in a wristwatch.
Excellence, innovation, craftsmanship, and an unwavering desire to challenge expectations -- these are the constants that have captivated our attention since Gear Patrol's inception in 2007. This year we're proud to announce the next step in our role as a champion of quality in product design and execution: welcome to the GP100. Our inaugural product awards are dedicated to honoring the 100 best consumer products released during the calendar year by companies of all sizes and scope.
The GP100 is not a ranking or a contest. These selections represent the collective expertise of our entire editorial staff, who have scoured every corner of the vast product universe -- from automotive and electronics, to men's style essentials, home goods, spirits and outdoors -- to find the inspiring and the practical, the ground-breaking and the traditional, the priceless and the accessible. In short: products that define or defy their respective categories to better the life of the modern man.
Motoring Watches Style Technology Sports Outdoors Home Spirits
Jeremy BergerBen Bowers