Hitting the Road with Three American Classics

A trio of bold, colourful, and retro-look Top Time chronographs inspired by three iconic American muscle cars of the 1960s was launched at the recent Geneva Watch Days 2021. We speak to Sylvain Berneron, Creative Director, Breitling, in an exclusive interview with Lifestyle Insider.

Breitling Top Time Classic Cars capsule collection

The Breitling Squad is back! This time, the Swiss luxury watchmaker, with its roots in racing and piloting timepieces, looks to the most iconic American Classic cars from the 1960s – the Chevrolet Corvette, the Ford Mustang, and the Shelby Cobra – for inspiration for their new Top Time Classic Car Squad, a trio of colourful, sporty chronographs based on the original Top Time models of the 1960s, for young professionals.

Launched at the Geneva Watch Days 2021, the range includes the Top Time Chevrolet Corvette in red and black, based on the striking design of the Corvette C2 from the mid-1960s, often referred to as the “Sting Ray” by aficionados. Then there’s the green and brown Top Time Ford Mustang version, inspired by a car developed in record time in 1964, sparking a new genre of compact and affordable sports cars. The third model is the Top Time Shelby Cobra version in blue and brown. The colour scheme for this watch revolved around the formidable machine created by the iconic American race-car driver and manufacturer Carroll Shelby for 1960s competitions, which mixed classic British chassis design with American racing ingenuity and engineering. The watch hints at one of its distinctive paint jobs: blue with white racing stripes.

Sylvain Berneron, Creative Director, Breitling

Breitling’s Creative Director, Sylvain Berneron, gives us the details of this exciting homage to the 1960s American Classics, in an exclusive chat with Lifestyle Insider.

What is the importance of American muscle cars in Breitling's new journey and the way it sees itself?

We believe in neo-luxury; we offer casual, inclusive and sustainable luxury. This neo-luxury approach makes Breitling the cool, informal and inclusive alternative to the more traditional brands in the watchmaking industry.

The American car culture from the 1960s is a perfect fit for Breitling, and for the Top Time Classic Cars Capsule Collection in particular. They were born at the same time and share the same values of authenticity, minimalism and yet intense creativity.

The three. icons of US car culture - Chevrolet-Corvette, Shelby Cobra, and Ford Mustang, left to right

The colours that you chose are significant – is it for the retro flavour or is it something else?

The dial colours were directly inspired from the three cars, so in that sense it has a retro influence.

But at the same time, we brought all our modern watchmaking techniques to the execution of these dials, using a special construction that allows us to give it a strong mechanical feel, made of a duality between more mat galvanic surfaces and highly reflective and deep reflexions in the lacquered background. Overall, it gives a modern-retro touch to these watches, which is our design mantra at Breitling.

The Breitling Top Time Ford Mustang The Ford Mustang

Also the shape of the chronometer dials are not circular, but have circular edges – which is very interesting. What is the reason behind this?

First of all, let me point out that the Top Time was launched in 1964, the same year as the Ford Mustang! At that time, it was a clear departure from the traditional design codes, with an audacious and creative approach.

Almost 50 years later, we wanted to keep this modern spirit alive, and this goes through constantly re-interpreting our design codes to keep them relevant and audacious.

These “TV-shape” counters as we call them, add some visual richness to the overall composition of the dial, as well as the touch of roughness, which illustrates the fresh and creative mindset of the Top Time collection.

Breitling's Top Time Classic Cars Capsule collection based on iconic American cars of the 60s

Could you explain the painting process of the dials – to get that car varnish look?

When we first looked at the cars in reality, one of the elements that immediately struck us was the intensity of the paint, and we knew we wanted to capture this feeling. We went through a long process of many months to develop a dedicated dial construction for these pieces which are made of two distinct layers.

The base plate is a traditional galvanic treated layer which carries the tachymeter scale as well as the chronograph registers. On top, we added a second plate, which is vertically brushed and covered with a thick layer of translucent varnish. This special combination reflects the surface tension of the paint around the counter edges and the depth of a proper car paint job.

We faced multiple challenges such as the thickness of the plates, the intensity of the colour tones, the finishing, and the interaction with the anti-reflective coating on the glass as well. It has been a complex development, but the result is very rewarding. It was worth it!

Breitling Top Time Shelby Cobra

Why is the size of the Shelby Cobra a bit smaller at 40 mm than the other two at 42 mm?

We selected these three cars because each of them takes a slightly different approach to the muscle car culture, but as a trio they capture very well this iconic free spirit of the 1960s.

The Mustang and the Corvette are slightly longer, wider, and more sophisticated, which is why we went for a larger 42 mm case, featuring a 30s chronograph and a tri-compax dial layout.

On the other hand, the Shelby is much more compact, radical and stripped down to the bare essentials. And we wanted to capture this philosophy in the watch as well, which is why we went for a tighter 40 mm case, with a more minimalist two-register dial.

Breitling Top Time-Chevrolet Corvette 42 mm

And the tachymeter scale – have you added that because of the racing history?

Over the 50 years of its existence, the Top Time carried either a decimal or a tachymeter scale. In the context of this project, we spontaneously opted for the tachymeter scale, as it is strongly linked to the automotive world, as well as the heritage of Breitling, that has been one of pioneers in measuring speed.

The Breitling Top Time Chevrolet Corvette

Also the straps – they directly reference car seats – what is the genesis of the straps?

This strap design is a modern reinterpretation of the traditional “gentleman driver strap”.

They usually have large holes in them, through which the wrist hair is visible. We found this design had aged and came up with a new take on it, with retains the original spirit and visual appeal, without the downsides that go with it.

The Shelby Cobra Front of the Shelby Cobra

Mr Georges Kern (CEO, Breitling) mentioned that vintage cars are the most sustainable – has that been kept in mind with the watches too?

Sustainability is and will remain the crucial topic of the 21st century, across all disciplines. In the Breitling creative team, we constantly brainstorm, exchange, and stay informed about the various technical developments that we could benefit from in our products.

We recently launched our innovative and sustainable watch box, which is created from upcycled plastic bottles. By its nature, a highly crafted mechanical watch like a Breitling is a very sustainable offering. It uses a minimal quantity of raw materials, then it lasts for many decades and can be serviced and repaired endlessly.

Breitling Top Time’s Shelby Cobra

Is the appeal for retro fashion and gear – very high for Gen Z – whom you are targeting?

Born in 1884, Breitling is one of the pillars in the historical Swiss watchmaking industry; we are very proud of this journey and will always, in some of our designs, pay homage to our legacy and our roots.

But at the same time, Breitling has constantly been a brand fuelled by innovation, courage and modernity. It is embodied in our DNA and this is why we keep challenging ourselves to push the limits each year a little further. As a result, modern retro is our design mantra.


Priya Kumari Rana

Lifestyle Insider is a kind of junction point, connecting people with diverse interests that touch on the more luxurious aspects of lifestyle – fashion, design, travel, food and spirits, art, watches and jewellery, cars, yachts, and aviation, and technology. People today don’t fit into boxes and categories. In our individual ways, we are interested in diverse themes, products, and the challenges that face our world today. You will judge how well this effort of mine caters to your passions and proclivities.

Lifestyle Insider is a showcase of all that is beautiful and luxe. Behind every creation, is a designer, chef, entrepreneur, or a design maison. I have delved into my own appreciation for objetsde luxe that I have admired over the years – be it a love of fashion from the world’s top Parisian and Italian fashion maisons and their ’90s muses, or the care that goes into sari and Indian textile collections in my own family. Growing up on four continents, as the daughter of a former Indian Ambassador, I’ve seen a remarkable array of historic places and met a myriad people. My aim is to bring my world view into this website, a curation of what I find particularly stunning, unique, and newsworthy.

It’s an exciting time for brands all over the world. With change comes opportunity. With the global ‘reset’ and uncertainty on many fronts, there is a chance to write a new script. Let’s be those pioneers.

A bit about me:
A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.

Priya Kumari Rana

Founder and Editor

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