A Vintage Chronograph: The Breitling Top Time
Breitling introduced the Top Time in the 60s as a more affordable point of entry into their brand world. Since then, these vintage chronographs have become collector's items thanks to their classic designs and panda dials.
5 Reasons to Buy a Breitling Top Time
- Vintage chronograph coveted by collectors
- Panda and reverse panda dials in a bi or tri-compax layout
- Reliable hand-wound calibers from Venus and Valjoux
- Round and pillow-shaped cases from 35 to 40 mm
- Suited to both men and women
A Proper Collector's Item
Early editions of the Navitimer and the Chronomat are some of the most coveted pieces by collectors of vintage Breitling watches. The Swiss watch manufacturer first added the Top Time to their catalog in 1964, where it remained until the mid-1970s. This timepiece was meant to serve as a more affordable entry into the world of Breitling and was targeted at young, active men in their mid to late twenties. That being said, its elegant designs and moderate size (from 35 to 40 mm) makes them appealing to women as well.
Early on, Breitling only offered the dial with a bi-compax layout, meaning it had two subdials. The minute counter was located at 3 o'clock, while the small seconds dial sat at 9. In the late 1960s, Breitling added models with three subdials to the family. Both layouts came in an attractive panda or reverse panda look. Panda dials have black subdials on a silvery-white dial, while reverse pandas feature silvery-white subdials on a black dial. Watches in the so-called "racing design" were just as popular. They resembled the displays on a racecar's dashboard. Every Top Time had a few things in common: Each was outfitted with a manual caliber from Venus or Valjoux and had a tachymeter scale around the dial's edge. In addition, they all had either plexiglass or acrylic domed crystal and used luminous tritium to tell the time in the dark.
The watch received a boost in popularity in 1965 when Sean Connery wore a Top Time ref. 2002 as James Bond in the movie Thunderball. Bond received the watch from Q, a maker of spy gadgets, who had built a Geiger counter into the timepiece to help Agent 007 seek out stolen atomic bombs. This watch also found a home in the world of sports. French skier Jean-Claude Killy won the gold medal in the downhill, slalom, and giant slalom competitions at the 1968 Olympics while wearing a Top Time.
How much does a Breitling Top Time cost?
|Ref. 2002||3,000 USD||Valjoux 7733||"James Bond" watch|
|Ref. 2004||4,800 USD||Venus 175||18-karat gold case|
|Ref. 7656||10,100 USD||Valjoux 7736||Rotatable bezel|
|Ref. 2211||4,400 USD||Venus 188||"Racing" dial|
Detailed Price Information
It should come as no surprise that the most popular early model is the "James Bond" version with the reference number 2002 . Breitling outfitted the earliest editions with the Valjoux 7730 before changing to the Valjoux 7733 for later versions. These watches come with panda, reverse panda, or non-panda dials, the latter of which is purely silvery white. Depending on its condition, prices range from 2,700 and 3,000 USD.
The Top Time ref. 2003 entered the market at about the same time and sits in a similar price range. The main difference between it and its sister model is that the ref. 2003 is available with a gold-plated stainless steel case. It also features a monobloc case with no water resistance, unlike the ref. 2002, and it is powered by a Venus 188 caliber. Plan to spend around 2,800 USD on one of these timepieces.
Acquiring a Top Time with the reference number 2004 requires a much larger investment. Unlike the other watches in the collection, its case is made of solid, 18-karat gold and not stainless steel. A Venus 175 or Valjoux 7730 powers these watches. You can purchase one of these golden pieces in good condition for around 4,800 USD.
If you prefer watches with three subdials, you should take a look at the Top Time ref. 810. The Venus caliber 178 ticks away inside its 38-mm stainless steel case. The hour counter sits at 3 o'clock, the minute counter at 6, and the small seconds dial at 9. Breitling still used monobloc cases for examples built between 1964 and 1966. The Swiss watch manufacturer first made the transition to cases with attached case backs in 1967. Regardless of the method of construction, expect to pay about 6,500 USD for a Top Time 810 in good condition.
The Top Time ref. 7656 has a special place in the hearts of collectors. This model is from the 1970s and features a bidirectional bezel, which sets it apart from the other Top Time models. What's more, it measures in at 42 mm in diameter—a massive size for its time. Its power comes from the Valjoux 7736. Breitling only offered this chronograph with a reverse panda dial featuring three white subdials on a black background. Since it is so rare, it's not uncommon to find pieces selling for around 10,100 USD.
The Top Time with a Pillow-Shaped Case
All of the watches mentioned up to now have had classic round cases. However, starting in the late 60s, Breitling also began offering a pillow-shaped version . One of the most sought-after models is the ref. 814. The Venus caliber 178 provides this watch with its small seconds dial, hour counter, and minute counter in a tri-compax layout. It's also hard to miss the bright orange stopwatch hand. You can get a model in good condition for around 2,800 USD.
Models with the reference numbers 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 are somewhat less expensive. They differentiate themselves in their fine details, such as ornamentation on the case as well as the shape and arrangement of the hour indices. Unlike the ref. 814, these models predominately have two subdials thanks to their use of the Valjoux 7730. Their chronograph pushers are also different and rectangular in shape. Prices for these timepieces sit between 1,700 and 2,300 USD.
Breitling made some modifications to the dial for the ref. 2211. Its subdials at 3 and 9 o'clock are oval-shaped instead of circular. What's more, not only the stopwatch hand, but also the hour and minute hands are all bright orange. Inside you will find the Venus 188 or Valjoux 7730, depending on the piece's year of production. You'll need to invest almost 3,500 USD to buy one of these pieces. If you decide on the Top Time Racing, that price will increase by almost 1,000 USD. The Racing model is the same as the standard ref. 2211 except for its dial design. The net-like pattern in the middle of the dial and the white edging around the black subdials resemble the dashboard of a racecar—hence the name.