California plays a very important role in Donald Trump’s America. First, it’s a Democratic state. It’s powerful. It’s the main opponent of the current occupant of the White House, and it’s also the state that is building the world of tomorrow.
Innovation is everywhere. It’s the very embodiment of the dream of the American pioneers, the taming of the Wild West, backed up by a culture of cutting-edge innovation and a constant willingness to question the foundations of our society. It’s the world of breakthrough technologies, those disruptive ideas that could change the world. It’s also a mecca of image, of appearances, of Hollywood and Netflix. And finally, it is one of the main drivers of Watchmaking 2.0, a major watch producer and the birthplace of the Apple Watch... which we shan’t be discussing today. Today, we’re focusing on a different topic.
Not everyone realises that California is also at the forefront of measures to combat climate change. In a United States that has withdrawn from all international environmental treaties, where climate change denial is commonplace, this powerful western state is playing a very different game. It has anti-pollution regulations that are stricter than those of many sovereign states, and it’s positioning itself as a world leader in the field of environmental protection. Environmental awareness is everywhere, from the plethora of vegan restaurants to the new meatless meats developed by Beyond Meat and Impossible Food, not forgetting the many Teslas and Karmas (both Californian brands) cruising down Freeway 405 and 55. And beginning in January 2020, California will be launching an environmental attack on our wrists. Not with the launch of a revolutionary new gadget or app, but with a ban that ought to be causing considerably more of a stir than it appears to be. There’s very little information about it – almost nothing in the media, not the slightest hint on the main watch sites, and no sign of a declaration or battle plan from our Swiss watch brands. There’s nothing. Or almost nothing.
What am I talking about? Well, quite simply, from 1 January next year California has decided to ban watch straps made out of alligator or crocodile leather. And this is just the first step towards a complete ban on all accessories made from exotic leathers. It’s the end of the road for all those refined complements to our watches. When you understand California’s power, both financially and in the collective imagination, it’s not much of a stretch to assume that other states won’t be far behind. And yet, when I browse the watch boutiques that jostle for position in the famous South Coast Plaza, or in the equally well-known open-air mall, Fashion Island, and I ask “What are you going to do?”, the answers are all rather evasive. In short, no one really knows. And yet every watch brand is exposed. They will have to find a lasting solution before the end of the year. They only have a few months to answer some important questions, such as, what will happen to the thousands of alligator straps already fitted to watches in stock? What will they be replaced with? Will the prices have to change? etc.
Personally, I’m completely in favour of the decision. It will push collectors and watchmakers, who are often very conservative, to think about their ecological impact, and look for other solutions for their watches. Thankfully, some brands have already begun to consider some interesting options. Obviously, there are the steel bracelets for which Rolex is known. Then there’s rubber, fabric NATO straps and, of course, the new kids on the block: straps made out of recycled materials. At the beginning of the year, Panerai introduced Submersibles with straps made of PET plastic.
And now there’s Breitling, with two models developed in collaboration with eco-friendly brand Outerknown, fitted with straps made of Econyl. I hope it’s not going to stop there. We need to see how the strap manufacturers react, and trust they will come up with some creative solutions. Some, like Swiss brand Rubber B and its famous iUnique models, are already well positioned to respond to the rising demand. But the trend shouldn’t stop with straps. There are many other components whose environmental impact merits reappraisal. Chopard’s watch cases made from “sustainable” gold are one example. Panerai’s eco-titanium is another.
But today I’ve decided to talk about the Breitling SuperOcean Outerknown, for several reasons: because the timing of its launch is in sync with the new Californian legislation; because the watch’s price positioning makes it more accessible and thus more ecologically visible; and because it comes from a brand created by an environmentally committed surfer – the Floridian Kenny Slater – who supports several initiatives to protect the oceans, including this one.
And also because it’s a beauty.
We’ve already talked about the brand with the wings in several Why Nots. Each time, we have discussed watches linked with the world of aviation, which is a key part of the identity of the Saint Imier brand. And at the beginning of this year, Breitling reissued the legendary Navitimer 806, probably one of the finest chronographs the watchmaker currently produces. In parallel, Breitling is continuing to offer the Aviator 8, and has just launched a Mosquito model that bears some resemblance to the famous Breitling Co-Pilot 765 of the 1960s.
Navytimer 806 © Breitling
Navytimer 806 © Breitling
Aviator 8 B01 Chronorgaph 43 Mosquito © Breitling
But, I hear you say, what does Breitling have to do with the sea? Well, while aviation is still an aspirational activity for many, it is coming under increasing scrutiny because of its considerable carbon footprint. And, as ecological awareness continues to rise, this love affair is perhaps one we can no longer continue to encourage. That’s why it’s important for Breitling to continue to flesh out its aquatic ranges, and raise their profile within the brand’s catalogue. CEO Georges Kern is keenly aware of this, which is why he’s planning to strengthen the SuperOcean range, which was created in 1957. People often think that Breitling is “just a pilot’s brand”. But that’s not the case at all. While the first dive watches produced by Rolex and Omega had a depth rating of 100 metres, the SuperOcean 1004 (three hands) and 807 (chronograph) of 1957 could descent to 200 metres!
But the watch that would take Breitling deeper still was launched 55 years ago. This was the famous SuperOcean 2005 diving chronograph, with its characteristic dial featuring a 60-minute chronometer. The timepiece passed through various iterations over the years, each modification designed to improve the visibility of the chronograph function. In 1971 Breitling released the SuperOcean 2005 mark 2, which also came in a regatta version.
More recently, in 2007, Breitling reissued the SuperOcean Heritage, strongly inspired by the 1004 and 807 models, which continued to evolve up to 2017. This is the range Breitling chose for its first collaboration with Outerknown, and the first Econyl strap.
Today, Breitling’s nautical output includes vintage inspired pieces (SuperOcean Heritage) and the SuperOcean range of more classic divers, which come in several versions from 36 mm to 46 mm in diameter.
The new Outerknown is in the latter category.
The new SuperOcean range was released very recently. The watches have all been treated to a welcome facelift, from the bezel to the dial. Thanks to a number of changes, the SuperOcean is now simpler, more immediately appealing and more contemporary. The old version didn’t age well, and all its faults (including the cluttered dials) have been corrected in this new iteration.
The Outerknown version is the most interesting model in the new range.
By the way, if anyone is wondering what Outerknown means, it’s a surfing term that refers to the other side of the wave, the side you can’t see. It’s also the name of Kelly Slater’s clothing brand.
Superocean Automatic 44 Outerknown © Breitling
There are several elements that distinguish it from the other models. First, there’s the colour. It’s a beautiful matt olive green, quite an unusual colour for a diving watch, because green is usually associated with more military timepieces. But this diver offers a very different vibe. I’ve also been told the colour is a personal favourite of the surfing legend who inspired it. The Breitling Outerknown comes with an Econyl strap in the same colours as the dial. The overall effect is superb. The strap is a winner. The role of this accessory in the success or failure of a watch is often overlooked, but after all, a beautiful watch needs a beautiful strap. And that means the right colour, the right attachment, the right buckle and the right finish. This NATO Econyl ticks all the boxes. It looks incredible, it’s well finished, it’s original without being ostentatious; the Breitling buckle is spot on, and the way it attaches to the case is perfect. Breitling knows this strap will be popular, which is why they will soon be offering a range of different versions to go with all their other watch models.
The Breitling Outerknown is water resistant to 1000m. Its enclosed back, engraved with Outerknown’s OK logo, is in matt steel. Even though it has a diameter of 44 mm, it’s quite wearable and (relatively) discreet. It is equipped with the Breitling 17 calibre, based on the ETA workhorse.
The SuperOcean Outerknown is affordably priced, and it’s a piece that aquatic sports lovers should seriously consider taking surfing, diving or swimming. I look forward to spotting it on the wrists of some Californian surfers, as well as their free-diving colleagues, or the many stand-up paddle boarders who frequent Newport and Laguna beaches.
What? Saving fish and the planet with watches? Stopping us from killing alligators? What a load of nonsense. Watches with a heart? Whatever next… The Devil’s Advocate is not a fan. ;) But more seriously, what adjustments could we suggest to make this Outerknown the perfect diving watch?
I can think of four.
- A titanium case to reduce the heft on the wrist.
- A diameter of 42 mm, because I was lucky enough to try a SuperOcean in this size, and it’s extremely comfortable to wear.
- A “B” logo rather than the winged version.
- And a choice of several different NATO straps, because they suit this watch to a T.
But apart from that, bravo to Breitling for this green – and green – diver!
The obvious answer is a pair of Huntington board shorts, or a freediving wetsuit from Beuchat. But as the weather is turning cooler (actually, not so much here in southern California...) I’ll offer a few suggestions that might appeal to notable dandy Georges Kern. An Ambassador wool blazer in the pine colourway will be the perfect match for the watch’s dial. Denim trousers will do the trick, although jeans are some of the least environmentally friendly clothing on the planet. However, a number of brands have risen to the challenge of creating eco-friendly jeans, and that’s where we’re going to look. My favourites are still the Dylan jeans by Californian brand AG, but the choice continues to grow. As far as shoes are concerned, let’s stick with sustainable commerce and the modern classic sneakers by Veja. I think the Campo White Marsala with burgundy accents will go well with a pair of jeans and the OK blazer. For the shirt, why not complete the outfit with a message, such as “Defend Tomorrow”, on a t-shirt by another Californian brand, Apolis.
Now you’re ready for a stroll along Huntington Beach, a mecca for surfers, after you’ve plugged your 100% electric car into the self-service charging port! All that’s left is to admire the sunrise, and watch the first surfers as they enter the water in search of that big wave.