In a tumultuous world, it’s good to know there are some constants. Breton stripes will always look good, the Sydney property market will always be outrageous, and Steve McQueen will always be cool. We don’t make the rules, but there they are.
The ‘King of Cool’ was one the 60s and 70s’ most successful actors, and at the height of his fame he was the highest-paid movie star in the world. The dapper gent became famous for playing charismatic anti-heroes in classics like Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven, The Sand Pebbles and The Thomas Crown Affair, and is widely considered a 20th-century sex symbol.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to his ‘King of Cool’ moniker however is his well-publicised love of big boys’ toys and his willingness to do all his own stunts. McQueen was a keen pilot, motorcyclist, horserider and driver who loved nothing more than being in control of something dangerous, both on and off the screen.
Fine watches and performance machines go together like apple pie and ice cream, and the all-American superstar is just as well-known for his exceptional choices in wrist candy as he is for his filmic exploits. Most commonly associated with the Heuer Monaco he wore in the classic motorsports film Le Mans, McQueen was actually more of a Rolex fan, commonly wearing a Rolex Submariner and also has the unique accolade of having a watch named after him, the Rolex Explorer II ‘Steve McQueen’.
But it’s the original Breitling Chronomat, featured in a photo watch blogger @niccoloy recently posted to Instagram, which has us excited in this instance. The classic black-and-white photo shows McQueen posing in a v-neck sweater, with the timepiece proudly displayed on his right wrist, and is a perfect demonstration of how timeless designs never go out of style.
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The Breitling Chronomat is one of the Swiss brand’s most iconic models: a classically brilliant chronograph that’s just as cool now as it was last century. It’s a model that’s changed significantly since it was first introduced, but any watch with the Chronomat name is a work of art.
Breitling as a brand is particularly associated with aeronautics and racing – it’s the perfect fit for a man like Steve McQueen.
Breitling has been making chronographs since the 1800s but the first Chronomat (ref. 769) appeared in 1941. Uniquely, the first Chronomat featured an integrated slide rule, a tool used for rapid calculations and conversions common before the electronic calculator made them obsolete. This Chronomat McQueen is wearing in this archive photo appears to be one of these original Chronomats.
The version of the Chronomat that we know today is actually derived from the 1983 ‘Frecce Tricolori’, originally made for the eponymous aerobatic demonstration team of the Italian Air Force. Famous for the raised ‘rider tabs’ on its bezel and its ‘onion-shaped’ crown, the modern Chronomat is an exceptionally beautiful watch. Earlier this year, Breitling re-released the Chronomat, taking the 1983 design and tweaking it subtly to match modern sensibilities.
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Yet the DNA from that original ref. 769 is still obvious, and an aficionado like McQueen would notice it as a Chronomat immediately. Despite its departure from engineering to aeronautics, the Chronomat’s core design remains intact, demonstrating its timeless appeal.
Just as a nice sweater will always have a place in a man’s wardrobe, a nice watch – particularly one from a heritage brand with a clean, functional design and little superfluous ornamentation – will always be in style.
And Steve McQueen will always be cool.