A luxury carmaker and a fine watchmaker craft products that truly complement each other—on the road and on the wrist.
Words and photographs by Andrew Hildreth
As compelling as strapping a new watch onto your wrist can be, it rarely comes with the thrill of driving a high-caliber vehicle like the new Bentley Continental GT V8 S. But this felt different. This was Breitling, the manufacture known for creating “Flight Instruments for Professionals,” so the proper way to test the watch is in the environment it was intended for—in this instance, the cockpit of one of the latest (and most powerful) Bentleys to ever be driven.
In my mind, the Breitling for Bentley B55 SuperSports is a watch that packs more usage into its functions than the “B55 Exospace”—Breitling’s previous smartwatch entry made exclusively for pilots—for the very simple reason that the car and the watch are linked through your mobile device. (You don’t have to be a Bentley owner to enjoy the chronograph functions the watch offers the motor enthusiast). However, the driver’s fun with the vehicle is enhanced by pairing it with the watch. Usually cobranded products are advertised as a watch for a car; here the watch and car become connected and integrated thanks to the modern technology we all carry in our pockets. This watch is truly a Breitling timepiece constructed to be used in tandem with Bentley automobile. It has a quartz movement but contains some useful smart features. The case is beautifully machined and finished. The carbon-fiber dial and red accents work well and match the inner lining of the strap. And the lattice-patterned bezel matches the design that appears on the buttons in the dashboard and the radiator grill.
Setting the watch is actually not as difficult as it may appear. Everything operates from the crown. You simply twist it (clockwise) and press the end button to activate the particular function that is displayed in the upper LCD window on the dial. First, synchronize your watch with your phone or tablet. A handy design touch is that when in setup mode the hands of the watch move to 9:15 (or 14:45), so that the two digital readouts remain unobstructed. Once you have completed the function you were setting, the watch reverts to the correct time. Synchronization happens when the watch is linked to the UTC time on the app. Obviously, such connection and synchronization makes the watch extremely accurate. And naturally, the watch comes with COSC certification.
Once the UTC is linked, you can set your local time. You can also set up a second time zone, which is ideal for this type of car. The idea behind a Bentley Continental GT is that you can cruise hundreds of miles, across multiple time zones, and with the press of a button you can instantly switch the watch between them. Another useful feature is the “tilt” mode. When the tilt mode is on, the watch can light up with a simple flick of the wrist—a very useful function when driving at night.
Bentley, or the Bentley Drivers Club (the “BDC” to those in the know) often holds “track days” for the owners of these supercars or for special event rallies (sometimes covering a time zone or two). The Exospace contains the usual array of chronograph functions: a flyback chronograph (using the standard buttons on the watch), a lap timer, and an electronic tachymeter. There are also three “racing” chronograph functions. The “chrono rally” records up to 30 stages as well as the departure date, the start time and duration of each of the stages, the intermediate times (where necessary), and any penalty time incurred (given the time for each stage has been entered beforehand). This is where the interaction with the smartphone software comes in. By displaying the expected and intermediate rally times, the watch can instantly tell you where you are in the race compared with where you should be. And at the end of the rally you can look at the diagnostics of the stages and the overall race on your smartphone. The two other racing functions for the chronograph are the “chrono race” and the “regularity rally” features. The chrono race function is designed for track days. It has the capability to record split times for every lap and provide an average speed for the circuit at the end of the race. The “regularity rally” function allows for expected (or target) times to be entered for a given distance and can check it against the time recorded. The software app on your phone will provide a host of diagnostic data should you wish to analyze where you lost or made up time.
On the open road, with an eye on the stopwatch counting down the minutes and seconds, the car is an exercise in self-control. Left to your own devices, with no speed cameras or restrictions, it seems capable of almost limitless speed. (Note to future software developers: An app to temporarily disarm any speed cameras on the road would be a definite plus.) As you continue driving, you feel sure that time is slowing down.
The B55 Supersports is a “smart” watch to have on the wrist. Not smartwatch in that it’s connected to your phone. No, smart in that it looks great on the wrist and in your car. To my eye, it looks better than the B55 Exospace. Even at some outrageous speed through the English country lanes, I was constantly looking at the watch as the light changed. The carbon-fiber dial was a good idea: It reflects light at different angles. And the bezel pattern design definitely fits in with the buttons and elements in the car. Not to mention the Bentley’s (traditionally patterned) radiator grill.
Another crucial feature is the comfortable fit of the watch on the wrist when you’re actually driving with it. The Bentley, despite its size, is a very nimble car. It has all the fast-reaction steering of a smaller sports car, but all the engine capacity and design for grand touring. One thing you do not wish to feel when driving at high speeds is a chunk of metal on your wrist that could potentially distract or slow your reaction time. The watch sits very comfortably and prevents distraction thanks to the rubber strap. The titanium case, with its rounded back, adds to that comfort. The case is nicely finished; it has edges that catch the light, but a smooth tactility. The gray titanium case, the charcoal-colored carbon dial, the black strap with the red interior, the red hands, and the highly polished hour markers all add to the attractive appeal of the watch. Much like the car, it stands out without being showy. As I neared the end of my journey: a loop out of London along the A3 and back in again along the M4, I was very reluctant to hand back both watch and car. The watch’s “regularity rally” was informing me that I was ahead in terms of time by approximately five minutes. (Not the best planning on my part if I wanted to prolong my time with the watch.) The timepiece has a rechargeable battery that was fully charged when I left and had depleted very little in the two hours or so I was gone. The battery on the watch, when charged from the port on the left-hand side of the case, lasts around 30 to 50 hours depending on use. It also contains software that closes down unused functions as the battery wears down, so as to preserve power for as long as possible. Like any smartwatch, the software and the associated phone app are continuously updated.
Time was always a consideration for Bentley drivers. It’s not like the old days when Tim Birkin—perhaps the most famous of the Bentley Boys—would “Make it from town to country in under the hour.” For a start, cars have changed. Telemetry, software to control acceleration and degree to which the car will engage the suspension. The car’s audio system links through the phone. So as you are pushing the g-force at ground level you can take a call from the restaurant asking for confirmation that you will be at your table on time. A quick glance at the readout on your watch will tell you if you are ahead, behind, or exactly where you expect to be! The Breitling for Bentley B55 Supersport watch adds in an extra component—the ability to assess all the metrics that can apply to a trip down to your favorite country restaurant or to see the relatives. It truly is a dedicated, integrated, and connected Breitling timepiece constructed for Bentley. It adds to the driving experience; it looks great on the wrist; and—sadly—is limited to only 500 pieces worldwide.