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Always Looking Where Others Are Not

In the years before I became an artist and started wearing a cravat and monocle, I used to work in advertising. For a while I worked for a legendary ad man. He was famous for two things. One was a story he would tell that involved manually stimulating his hound dog, "because he looked sad." The other was that he had a way of understanding exactly how people functioned. One day, on the way back from a meeting, he looked at me and said, "Phil, you're a pathological contrarian."

He was absolutely right.

Now, I know I mentioned this in the last column, but there's a reason I bring it up again. The good thing about being a pathological contrarian is that it obliges you, reflexively, to always look where others are not. The bad thing is that sometimes the direction you're looking in is a direction that no one will ever look. So, occasionally, you end up alone holding an anvil-sized Hublot made of unicorn dust and Swarovski crystals.

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Looking elsewhere has often led me into dim corners in the collecting world ?in cars, it's resulted in things like my 1987 Porsche slantnose, which I couldn't pay someone to take away five years ago. But it's also led me to my current love of 1980s Group B rally cars, so I've learned to trust my strange urges (or at least withhold judgement until I see where they lead). This is where cars and replica watches differ. It seems that with watches, there are almost no brands left to uncover. While there are very few dark corners, there are certainly brands that are unloved (or at least not as loved as they could functionalobjects.com). Case in point: Breitling. Here's a company that sets my contrarian instinct to Defcon Five.

Vintage Breitling 765 AVI, late 1960s.

No offense (isn't it funny how the phrase "no offense" is usually followed by a tsunami of offensiveness?), but the current offerings seem to have been designed by a blind clown who previously worked at a bedazzling stand in the Mall of America. (Was that too strong?) There seems to be no distinct design language, but rather a horological orgy of vague references from the last 50 years.

But when you look at what the company was making from the 1940s through the early 70s, it's kind of breathtaking. Bear in mind, this observation is coming from a man with an entire year of fake watch collecting under his belt.

A Breitling pilot's chronograph that doesn't get enough love.

The Chronomat, the Superoceans, the Navitimer, the 765 AVI, the Chrono-Matic, the Top Time. Many of these replica watches are historically significant, but more importantly, from a design standpoint, Breitling was taking creative leaps, especially in the 1960s, which as far as I can see, was a decade when horological design was so dull that just looking at your fake watch could induce narcolepsy.

Breitling had a point of view, and many of the creative decisions it was making were bold and surprising, from dial design to case size. It's fascinating (but not shocking) to see how the contemporary Breitling brand image ricochets backwards, and so negatively affects how what it made 40 or 50 years ago is often viewed in the eyes of serious collectors.

I'll give you two examples ?one I own, the other I'm desperate to own. Let's start with my Superocean from 1966. First of all, from a design standpoint, it looks like nothing else from the period, diver or otherwise. The dial is clean, but it's original. The center chrono hand has a lovely fat diamond shape at the tip, which in later versions migrated to the hands and hour markers. When it arrived, I thought the chrono function was broken because nothing happened when I pressed the pusher. Frenzied googling revealed the Superocean sports a "slow chronograph" that tracks minutes not seconds. As far as I know, there's no other fake watch that does this. Will I use it? No. Do I care how it works? Not particularly. But it's a smart and surprising piece of technology that makes perfect sense. When you're diving, who need seconds?

Breitling "Digital" AVI Mk. 1.2 (Photo: @watchfred on Instagram)

The other fake watch is the 1951 765 AVI, with the digital counter. Rather than the usual subdial at three o'clock, there's a counter that looks like a date window, which measures time in increments of 15 minutes. There was a reason pilots in the 1950s needed 15 minutes to do something, but I have no idea what it was. Polish their cufflinks? The point is that it was an innovative and unusual solution. Also, if anyone has one to sell, please contact me ASAP (I'll throw in a dinner at Olive Garden ?unlimited breadsticks!).

So what's the point of this Goldschl├Ąger-induced rant? Almost every car I've ever bought was a car that was mostly unloved or ignored at the time but at some point its qualities were recognized. People eventually began to see the car itself, rather than the perception of the car. I'm not saying I'm any kind of seer (well okay, maybe slightly), but what I am saying is that being unloved now is no predictor of being unloved in the future. It's something we all tend to forget. So if you can resist the gravitational pull of consensus, more often than not you'll be able to see something for what it is. Like vintage Breitling, for instance.

Image of the Breitling 765 Digital AVI courtesy watchfred on Instagram.

Phillip Toledano is an artist and automotive enthusiast who relatively recently jumped headfirst into collecting watches. He's become a serious collector very quickly (serious enough to be featured on Talking Watches), with only his wit, charm, and taste to help him. Now he's a columnist for us here, sharing the trials and tribulations of someone trying to make his way in the ever-confusing world of horology. Enjoy. You can follow his misadventures, both horological and automotive, on Instagram.

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