Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling - We Don’t Make The Rules

Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling - We Don’t Make The Rules

Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic. The watches we cover are dictated by the community and one brand that consistently pops up is Breitling. There are few truths in the world of intelligence, but one of them is Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling.

Before the Breitling fan clubs take out their pitchforks and start a bonfire, we want to be clear that this phrase is neither a commendation nor a criticism. It’s an observation that, while it remains relevant today, particularly applies to the 1990s and 2000s when Breitling was the adventure watch for unapologetic men focused on aviation and diving. Breitling was a signal that the wearer is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools.

Blackwater CEO Erik Prince Breitling Emergency
Blackwater CEO Erik Prince in Afghanistan wearing a custom Breitling Emergency. (Photo Credit: Vogue)

Breitling - Tools For Professionals

While likely an unintended consequence of marketing watches as “tools for professionals”, the brand developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community with both good and bad actors. Breitling watches can be found on the wrists of many gray area operators — from CEO of Blackwater Erik Prince’s Breitling Emergency (READ HERE), former Soviet arms dealer Viktor Bout’s Breitling B-1, and Director of CIA George Tenet’s Breitling Aerospace. When Leonardo DiCaprio played Danny Archer, a former Rhodesian smuggler turned mercenary in the movie Blood Diamond, he wore a Breitling Chrono Avenger. All of these men are sketchy, some good sketchy, some bad sketchy, but sketchy nonetheless. 

Then Director of CIA wearing Breitling Aerospace while testifying for the 9/11 Commission
Then Director of CIA wearing Breitling Aerospace while testifying for the 9/11 Commission. (Credit: AP)

Breitling - A (Very Brief) History Lesson

Breitling SA was founded in 1884 by Leon Breitling and passed down through his bloodline until 1979 when the brand was purchased by Ernst Schneider, a professional soldier turned watch executive. Under the leadership of Ernst and later his son, Théodore Schneider (an aviation enthusiast and helicopter pilot), Breilting found its niche manufacturing “tools for professionals”, developing several partnerships with military aviation units including the Frecce Tricolori, the aerobatic team of the Italian Air Force.

Breitling aerobatic jet team aerospace
Breitling Jet Team (MigFlug)

Sketchy Breitling References

While collectors value several vintage Breitling references, including the iconic Navitimer 806 and Cosmonaute 809, several analog-digital models cemented Breitling’s role as a leader in producing practical tool watches built for adventure.

Breitling Aerospace:

W.O.E.’s Jordanian Breitling Aerospace
W.O.E.’s Jordanian Breitling Aerospace. (Photo Credit: James Rupley)

While we are certainly biased, the Breitling Aerospace maintains legendary status in our community because, at its core, it is a highly functional tool. The dual digital screens of the chronometer-certified "SuperQuartz" have practical features including a digital chronograph, a second-time zone, day and date, an alarm, and a countdown timer. The combination of a well-finished titanium case and bracelet with traditional analog hands results in a robust piece that can be worn to a black tie dinner in Mayfair or the cockpit of a Caravan on a dirt strip in Mozambique.

The Aerospace was introduced in 1985, more than a decade after the “Quartz Crisis,” where many consumers moved to cheaper, more accurate timepieces, resulting in a dramatic decline in the mechanically-driven Swiss watch industry.  

Breitling Aerospace Jordanian King Watches Of Espionage

As previously documented, I was gifted a Breitling Aerospace with a gold Royal Crown of Jordan on the dial from King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein and wore it for much of my career while operational at CIA. The Aerospace’s technical complications were legitimately useful for conducting clandestine operations where time matters. The Aerospace as we knew it was quietly discontinued, the recent release of the updated but likely-limited Aerospace B70 Orbiter indicates more is on the horizon for one of the brand’s sketchiest model families.

Breitling Emergency:

Breitling Emergency Search and rescue watches of espionage

Perhaps the best example of Breitlings legendary tool watch status is the Breitling Emergency. Developed in 1995 in partnership with French aviation manufacturer Dassault Electronique, the original Emergency contained a beacon that transmits a signal on the international distress frequency of 121.5 MHz. In an emergency, the wearer unscrews the cap at four o’clock and extends a thin wire antenna which automatically activates the signal.

Commercial and military aircraft monitor the frequency and are able to alert search and rescue teams of an individual's location, anywhere in the world. The watch was specifically marketed to the military and aviation sectors and, according to Breitling, has been used to rescue individuals including in 1997 when a reed boat was blown off course while sailing from Easter Island to Australia.

Breitling emergency vintage ad
Breitling Emergency Catalog (1985)

The Breitling Emergency would go on to be favored by those who operated on the fringe of nonpermissive environments including several specialized aviation units, Blackwater personnel, and former SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann. Today, the Breitling Emergency is still available at a massive 51mm diameter and complete with dual frequency distress beacons at 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz, both of which are monitored through the international Cospas-Sarsat system and based on a network of satellites in low-altitude earth orbit (LEOSAR).

Breitling - The Unit Watch Pioneer

breitling avenger unit watch
Breitling Avenger Seawolf commissioned by Breitling SAS D Squadron in 2003/2004.

We have covered modern “unit watches” extensively and much of what we see today implemented by Tudor, Bremont, IWC, and others was originally pioneered by Breitling in the 1990s and 2000s. This was a core aspect of Breitling's sketchiness, and the close relationship between Breitling and several elite units made it a prized possession for many operating at the tip of the spear. Originally focused on aviation squadron watches, Breitling branched out to Special Operations Forces, including US Army Delta Force and the British Special Air Service in the early 2000s.

British SAS G Squadron Richard Williams wearing a custom 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf in Iraq. (Photo Credit: Richard Williams)
British SAS G Squadron Richard Williams wearing a custom 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf in Iraq. (Photo Credit: Richard Williams)

Breitling's customization program was not limited to the military or governments but extended to commercial entities. In 2010, Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich commissioned 50 Breitling SuperOcean automatics with "Eclipse" on the dial, the name of one of his 533 ft super yachts, pretty sketchy if you ask me . . .

Breitling superocean eclipse russian oligarch
(Photo Credit: Chiswick Auctions)


Breitling’s sketchiness also extends to the silver screen with several W.O.E. characters wearing the legendary tool watches in major Hollywood productions.

Blood Diamond (2006) - Breitling Chrono Avenger

blood diamond leonardo dicaprio breitling

In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a dreamy Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond amid the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger with a black dial and a solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap. A Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy so this watch is on point. The movie takes place in 1999 when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators and real mercenaries.

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout wearing a Breitling B-1 after his arrest in Thailand in a 2008 sting operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration
Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout wearing a Breitling B-1 after his arrest in Thailand in a 2008 sting operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. (Photo Credit: DEA)

Thunderball (1965) - Breitling Top Time

james bond sean connery thunderball breitling top time

While Bond is known for Rolex and Omega, several other brands have graced the wrist of the world's most famous spy. In 1965’s Thunderball, the real OG Bond, Sean Connery, was outfitted with a Breitling Top Time that Q modified to include a Gieger counter to track down missing nuclear warheads… as sketchy as it gets. 

Point Break (1991) - Breitling Navitimer Quartz

point break keanu reeves breitling pluton

As mentioned in a recent “Hollywood Watches of Espionage,” Breitling featured in Point Break on the wrist of bank robber/surf bro Bodhi, portrayed by the late Patrick Swayze. The Breitling Navitimer Quartz is shown in the scene leading up to a specific robbery where Bodhi ceremoniously declares: “The little hand says it’s time to rock and roll.” Very sketchy indeed.

Breitling Of Today

The past few years have seen massive changes for Breitling. In the early 2000s, the brand prospered in an era defined by massive case diameters and a masculine customer base. However, in many ways galvanized by the release of the Tudor Black Bay in 2012, the industry began to shift in favor of “vintage-inspired” styling, more attainable in-house calibers, and restrained dimensions. 

"Arabic Breitling" -  Aviator 8 Etihad Limited Edition. Limited edition of 500 pieces and features stylized Arabic numerals on the dial, as is the norm with most Middle East editions.
"Arabic Breitling" -  Aviator 8 Etihad Limited Edition. Limited edition of 500 pieces and features stylized Arabic numerals on the dial, as is the norm with most Middle East editions. (Photo Credit: James Rupley)

Breitling was admittedly slow to catch up but has made impressive improvements in its direction and product offering since being acquired in 2017 and appointing industry legend Georges Kern as CEO. Some enthusiasts still take issue with some of Breitling's price points or styling, however, it’s clear the brand is moving in the right direction in 2024, jumping from its 2017 $950M acquisition price to a 2022 valuation of $4.5Bn. The brand’s recent acquisition of Universal Genève is another intriguing development. It’s unclear what Breitling will do with the enthusiast-favorite vintage name, but we’re excited to see where it goes.

breitling ceo georges kern
Breitling CEO Georges Kern (Photo Credit: WatchPro)

Is Breitling Still Sketchy?

The question then becomes, is the kinder gentler Breitling of today as sketchy as it once was, especially as the brand enjoys a broader appeal and newfound level of mass market success? Yes and no. The brand’s long-standing military unit watch program is still active but appears to have waned, leaving the door ajar for brands like Bremont and Tudor. Producing military-specific personalized watches is likely not a key driver of revenue, but it is a central aspect of what has made Breitling one of the watches of choice for sketchy dudes. 

While we are supportive of these changes at Breitling, and the strategy is clearly working, we hope the brand will continue to be inspired by its roots producing tool watches for those that operate on the fringes of sketchiness. With rumors of a new incoming Aerospace, our fingers are crossed for a return to Breitling’s legendary levels of sketchiness.


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Point of historical correction. Willy Breitling closed his company La Chaux de Fonds in December 1978 and sold only the name to Ernest Schneider, the owner of Sicura AG in Grenchen. Sicura then started using the Breitling name and only later changed its name to Breitling. Willy’s property was sold off to interested buyers. Helmut Sinn and Albert Wajs were able to buy some Breitling parts, which they could use to produce their versions of former Breitling models. The current Breitling company, now passed to a holding company, only owns the original name and uses names of former models to acquire the original Breitling family’s history.

Bill in Sacramento

On the topic of the emergency. And also an alleged story.

Back when the Swedish airforce trained their first pilots for the Saab 39 Gripen, the pilots got (on loan) Breitling Emergency watches.

In 1999 there was an incident where a pilot ejected over lake Vänern.
He then tested to activate the emergency beacon on his watch. Unbeknownst to the pilot, the signal from the watch disrupted the emergency broadcast system in the pilots life jacket. Since they used the same 121,5 MHz frequency.

After that incident, the pilots were banned from activating the beacon in the watch.


My go-to watches are either the new Avenger B01 Chronograph or the AEROSPACE B70 ORBITER, it just works.


Rocked an Emergency throughout my time in the Army. My father was an F-4 aviator in the Marines, my cousin was an FA-18 captain in the Navy, both wore Emergency’s. I wore mine through my time in Iraq, Kuwait, and even throughout a NATO training mission all around Europe.

Truly an amazing watch. I absolutely love your coverage of them, and while I wasn’t in any clandestine CIA or PMC operations abroad, I saw my share of combat and never had to worry about my watch.


Is there a release time for the Mosebey Blade on the 21st or do we need to sign up for the notifications?

Thank you!


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