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Review: Breitling AVI Ref.765 1953

If watches are anything, they’re subjective. Without a doubt. One man’s meat is another man’s hideous, oversized, jewel-encrusted poison—and vice versa. If you like one or the other, that’s your deal, and it’s certainly not for anyone else—least of all, me—to tell you otherwise. There are some brands and models I like, for example, and some I don’t—and for Breilting, I think I’ve just found my favourite. Meet AVI.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Breitling makes pilot’s watches. Has done for a while. I’m also not sure if you know, but Breitling’s also been having a bit of a hard time of it lately, too. Something about not making watches people want to buy. Seems like a rookie error. That’s why the people at Breitling had a strokey beard meeting and recruited one Georges Kern to try and make things all better.

You may have heard of Georges Kern. He was instrumental in the recent growth of Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne and IWC. He also worked at Kraft Foods. He’s been in charge of Breitling since 2017, and we’ve seen some changes, some new attitudes, some improvements within the brand. A year ago, however, I saw something I really, really liked.

So, these pilot’s watches. Breitling’s been in the game a while. Such a figurehead in the industry of aviation instruments was Breitling that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association pretty much begged the watchmaker to make the Navitimer. Breitling, after some consideration, obliged. The Navitimer was basically the first smartwatch for pilots.

Chronographs, too—Breitling’s had a fair old hand in making those what they are today. The pusher, for instance, a chronograph has those because Breitling thought of it. Two pushers, in fact, because Breitling doubled down on its original idea, thinking two would be better than one.

In the 1950s, Breitling pooled both facets of expertise together to create AVI, otherwise known as the reference 765 aviator’s watch. It was based on a 1930s design and was used by a number of air forces around the world. It was big, clear, luminous, rugged, water-resistant, shock-resistant and anti-magnetic, just like any good pilot’s watch should be. Not only that, but as you can tell by this 2020 re-issue, it looked pretty sweet too. A bit like the Breguet Type XX, you might be thinking. But the Breitling came first.

I reckon Kern knew he was onto something with this when he launched it on his own personal Instagram account. I think that because I feel the same. Whatever “it” is, this AVI Ref.765 1953 Re-Edition has a lot of it. And there are three variants, each limited. You’ve got this one in steel with black dial, of which there are 1,953 examples, the same in rose gold limited to 253 examples, and 153 in platinum with a very fetching blue dial.

So, we’ve established what it is, why it is and who’s responsible for it—let’s take a look at how it manages to pull it all off so well.

Side by side with the original watch from 1952, AVI is almost indistinguishable. Grandad AVI was 41mm in steel, AVI junior is also 41mm in steel. Grandad has small, yet prominent pushers and a wide, yet skinny crown, and so does junior. The shape of the hands, the layout of the dial, the fonts and colours are all identical. Even the thickness of the print, often so delicate and precise on the originals and scrawled by a ham-fisted interior decorator on the re-editions is sympathetically recreated. A great, domed sapphire encapsulates everything whilst still keeping the thickness down to eleven very un-Breitling millimetres.

Well, it’s almost identical, because for the first time in the history of watchmaking, the re-edition actually has less dial text than the original. Where senior said “Breitling Geneve”, junior says just “Breitling”. This is some second coming-level stuff here—appreciate it whilst you can. There’s no date parked on there like it’s rush hour in Manhattan, no elaborate design signature to differentiate the new version by ruining it and no watchmaker’s shopping list to tell you things like just how automatic the movement is.

And that last part … that’s because its isn’t automatic. Like the original, this gets its power from a good old pinch and roll from a good old finger and thumb. It’s two birds with one stone: by unscrewing the auto work on an in-house B01 and throwing it in the bin—which is exactly what they’ve done for this B09—you not only get the same experience as the original, but also save a few precious millimetres to make the watch not unreasonably thick. Smart thinking, Breitling.

It’ll never be the delicious Venus calibre 178 found in the original, but that’s probably for the best. I don’t think an 18,000vph beat with a 45-hour reserve would have been quite appropriate in this day and age. Instead, you’re getting a thoroughly modern 28,800vph and a much healthier 70 hours of power reserve—which means three days’ use before winding instead of two.

But those are specs, numbers, facts—what is it about this watch that makes it so visually appealing? Given its hereditary predilection, the question extends to: what makes the original so visually appealing too? Granted, it doesn’t to everyone, so I can only attempt to answer the question for myself, but I am acutely aware that many of these vintage reissues we’ve seen come and go have failed to capture the same balance this one has.

I think that is the key to this particular conundrum: balance. Take a look at a lot of modern cars and you’ll see a certain androgyny to the way they’re designed, their shapes and lines mostly dictated by pedestrian impact regulations and whatnot. I wonder if something similar has happened in watchmaking, where off-the-shelf movements and manufacturing techniques have forced unruly thicknesses and awkward proportions into our timepieces. Who knows?

What I do know is that with AVI, the spacing of the sub-dials, the air around the numbers, the simplicity of the fonts and ratio of dial to bezel do good things to my brain. Very good things. Well done, Mr Kern, well done …

It’s not particularly helpful me telling you that I find this watch attractive, I appreciate that. You’ve either already figured out for yourself that you like it, or you can’t believe I’d be so blind, but really what this Breitling AVI Ref.765 1953 Re-Edition reminds us of is just how personal this business is. For me, this really is my dream Breitling, the watch I’ve been willing the brand to make for such a long time. If anything, it’s great to see the brand appears to be in good hands.

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