Hands-On Review – Breitling Superocean Automatic 42

The Skinny

  • Movement: B17 (ETA 2824-2), Self-winding Mechanical
  • Dimensions: 42 x 13.3 x 50.6mm
  • Material: Stainless Steel
  • Water Resistance: 500m
  • Strap: Steel Bracelet or Rubber Strap 20/18mm
  • Price: $4,200 (Bracelet) / $4,000 (Strap Pushbutton) / $3,700 (Strap Tang-type)

I collect watches that like to get wet and go on adventures. I own a Rolex Submariner, an Explorer II, a Tudor Black Bay GMT and when I saw the Breitling Superocean Automatic 42, I thought it could be a great addition to my collection.

Breitling is a large independent Swiss watch manufacturer known for its aviation watches, especially the rather famous Navitimer. Breitling might not be the first brand that you would consider when shopping for a dive watch, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make great divers, and, actually, lots of them. Retailing close to the Tudor Black Bay ($3,800 on bracelet) and the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M ($4,400 bracelet), the Breitling Superocean Automatic 42 ($4,200 on bracelet) has some serious competition. Though often overlooked due to the ubiquity of its rival dive watch brands, I’ve concluded that the Superocean deserves to be considered alongside the Rolex, Omega, and Tudor divers that most of us reach for first. Here’s why…

Breitling Superocean 42 vs Rolex Submariner 116610

The Case

The Breitling Superocean Automatic has a classic “sub” style dive watch case that should seem familiar to most watch enthusiasts. The big advantage the Breitling has over a Rolex Submariner is that the Superocean Automatic comes in five case sizes: 48, 46, 44, 42, and 36mm. In addition, there are over a dozen color and case material combinations for the Superocean. Further, most of the Superocean Automatics can be purchased with a choice of bracelet or strap. The massive menu of possible combinations allows you to select a watch that feels more personal because you’ve had some say in what it looks like. This concept would constitute a faux pas from Rolex, especially if such options were available for the Submariner. With Breitling, it’s a little more like choose your own adventure. Not everyone is up for making these choices, and not everyone wants a unique watch, preferring the standard-issue models for what they so easily signal to the world. But if you’re looking to express yourself more uniquely via a dive watch, Breitling may be your ticket to individuality.

BREITLING SUPEROCEAN AUTOMATIC 42

The Superocean loaner that I had was a stainless steel 42mm case and it wore extremely similar to my Rolex Submariner with its 40mm case. As with most modern dive watches, you get polished case flanks with a brushed top. Compared to the Rolex Sub’s Oyster case, the lugs of Superocean are softer and follow the shape of the wrist more naturally. If you can pull off a 40mm “maxi-case” Rolex (as many call the modern Sub’s case), you’ll have no problem with the 42mm Superocean. If 42mm is too large for your comfort zone, you might consider the 36mm version of The Superocean.

The 42mm version of the Superocean is not a thick watch, despite the robust 500m of water resistance. The watch is 13.2mm tall including the crystal, maybe 11mm without the crystal. Flip the Superocean over and the back of the case shined with high polished steel. The caseback is brushed in a circular pattern and has enough branded engraving to make adding your own commemorative markings a little tight, but doable.

BREITLING SUPEROCEAN AUTOMATIC 42

The Dial and Bezel

Space is a precious commodity on dive watch dials. Subtract the wide bezel from the 42mm case and you’re only left with 30mm of exposed dial space. To move the watch from good or great, a dive watch dial must balance legibly with branding (of course!) and functionality (sadly often a secondary concern these days). The Breitling Superocean comes close to balancing legibility, branding, and functionality perfectly. The “12, 9, 6” Arabic numerals aid in legibility, though they are kind of big. Some of you may consider them unbalanced. Of course, watch nerds would love a no-date version with a big ‘3’ instead of that tiny date window, but as of yet Breitling has not offered it.

BREITLING SUPEROCEAN AUTOMATIC 42

I did find the font on the date wheel a touch slender. I chalk this up mostly to starting through too many cyclopes date magnifiers on my various Rolexes. Other confusing design choices included the Breitling “winged” logo. For me, it’s too aeronautical for a dive watch, and it reminds me of the John Travolta ambassador era of Breitling (2005-2017). That winged logo does have an anchor, but even that does not remind me of SCUBA adventures, which presumably this dive watch is meant for. Hand me the designer’s mouse, and the next update to the Superocean would include the plain cursive “B” logo Breitling uses on many of their watches since Georges Kern took the helm at Breitling in 2017 and steered the company toward the past with a slew of retro-styled watches and back-catalog gems. It’s especially difficult to understand why the modern Superocean diver has the wings and the nostalgic Navitimer pilot’s watch does not.

This debate over logos, however, may be pointless outside the geeky watch scenes I inhabit, as the Superocean 42 looks great and is intended for a mainstream audience – unlike many of Breitling’s recent vintage-inspired releases. As such, it’s a great-looking watch. The numerals, hands, bezel pip, and indices are treated with Super-LumiNova that dayglow after being hit with a little sunlight. I was concerned about the Superocean being too shiny in the sun. Breitling took care of that by treating the bezel with a matte finish and the sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment (on both sides). I was very impressed with the lack of glare on the crystal.

BREITLING SUPEROCEAN AUTOMATIC 42

The Movement

Powering the Breitling Superocean 42 is the B17 self-winding mechanical moment. It is an ETA-based movement, not the B20 which is based on the Tudor MT5612. The Superocean Heritage 42, however, does use the Tudor-based B20. Confused? I bet. However, the B17 in the watch on review here is based on the ETA 2824-2, a higher-end ETA movement that Breitling sends out for COSC-certification. So, this watch is officially a chronometer and not just a cased-up ETA movement.

BREITLING SUPEROCEAN AUTOMATIC 42

With the Tudor-based B20 movement, you get a 70-hour power reserve; with the B17, you get the standard – and now somewhat outmoded – power reserve of 38 hours. The B17 is still rugged, reliable, and easily serviceable. Again, the intended mainstream audience isn’t likely going to care about the nuanases of the movment. But, also, one expects ETA and Sellita to eventually up the power reserve in their workhorse movements once current stock is used up and they re-machine their plants. With relatively inexpensive Seiko and Longines divers showing up with 70-hours of power on tap, the old-school ETA with 38-hours of power storage is, I presume, on notice.

The Strap

My loaner Superocean was on a blue rubber strap with a tang-style buckle. Breitling calls this strap the “Diver Pro”. I loved it. Allen likes to remind me that I’m obsessed with rubber straps, so my approval is that of an avid connoisseur of nature’s bounciest material. The rubber was stiff enough to provide support while simultaneously flexible enough to wrap comfortably around my wrist. I’m not sure how the rubber strap would break in over a long period of time. In the two weeks that I wore the Superocean daily, the strap would lay flat again on my nightstand.

BREITLING SUPEROCEAN AUTOMATIC 42

The taper of the Breitling rubber strap was gentle starting at 20mm at the lugs down to 18mm at the buckle. The buckle was a tang-style. I’ll go on to say double-tang that eliminated the need for a second keeper. This is one of my favorite buckle styles because it adds so much to the wearing experience by keeping the strap’s tail tight and neat. Don’t be put off by the “BREITLING” branding on the rubber. On my wrist, you could barely make out the “BRE..”.(You know what it says). Besides, the text had a genuine regatta vibe to it. I was into it.

BREITLING SUPEROCEAN AUTOMATIC 42

If I was to purchase this watch it would be on a bracelet, and I’d pick up an additional rubber strap from Breitling for $75 for summer wearability. One note that the brushed tang-style buckle will cost you another $150. Still, $225 total is comparable to high-quality aftermarket rubber straps like those from Everest or Rubber B. It’s a small price to pay for the extra enjoyment that you’ll get out of the extra strap. But, Allen will likely remind me, not everyone is so passionate about rubber straps, but the options really are fun to play with and, as I said earlier, options allow you to personalize the watch.

Conclusion

The Navitimer dominates Breitling’s brand, no question, and no problem – unless you’re the Superocean, which becomes an afterthought, not only against the competition but also within its own brand. To really get in the limelight, the Superocean 42 Automatic may need the help of the B20 movement and my proposed script-B logo. While the daily wearing experience won’t change much, the upgraded movement would move the needle in the watch enthusiast community, which could generate that all-important buzz. Influencers could influence, and so on, but, yeah, enthusiasts sure aren’t the intended mass market for the Superocean – yet.

BREITLING SUPEROCEAN AUTOMATIC 42

Outside of the watch enthusiast community, I was surprised to experience the brand presence that Breitling still commands. I wore the loaner Superocean for about two weeks straight. I received “ooohs” and eyebrow raises upon simply mentioning the brand of the watch. It reminded me that in its current form, the Breitling Superocean Automatic 42 fulfills its intended purpose flawlessly. The Superocean is a rugged luxury sports watch that is versatile enough for daily wear in almost every setting that will appeal to a wide audience. Mission accomplished.