Breitling Emergency review

Breitling Emergency watch – why you might want one

The reason to write this post is due to frequent questions about my watch, which I wear for the past 7 years or so: Breitling Emergency. It does not stand out as a luxury time piece, however one can notice its massive body. And to answer the most frequent question right away: yes, it’s heavy.

Breitling Emergency Watch
Breitling Emergency Watch

It came to my attention when I was taking a Private Pilot License course and was looking for piloting gadgets (calculation of fuel gallons imperial, speed vs. heading, orientation). At the time the watch was no longer in production by Breitling, so the only source of getting one was from resellers or the current owners. I’ve found mine when I got in touch with an eBay seller, who was specializing in Breitling’s, and since I was wearing Breitling SuperOcean piece at that time – we agreed on 1’800 US$ plus my watch, which was purchased at 2’200 US$ (new). The Emergency I’ve received also came with a catch – the beacon was already activated, battery of transponder dead, so in order to make the watch completely operational I had to spend additional 300-400 US$, which the seller compensated because he did not mention this in the description. In short – it’s not a VERY expensive time piece (you can, however go for a luxury editions, which are made of gold, platinum etc.). What the seller failed to identify, however, is that it was one of the rare military models, which where not offered to public.

By the way, a good rule of thumb if you purchased a used piece – to identify a “pulled” beacon – look at the large crone, which you have to turn and pull to activate: it should not be red.

An extract from Wikipedia:

 The Breitling Emergency version contains a radio transmitter for civil aviation use which broadcasts on the 121.5 MHz distress frequency and serves as a back-up for ELT-type airborne beacons.[4] (For military users, Breitling has equipped the Emergency with a miniaturized transmitter operating on the 243.0 MHz military frequency.) Under normal conditions—flat terrain or calm seas—the signal can be picked up at a range of up to 90 nautical miles (167 km) by search aircraft flying at 20,000 feet (6,000 m).[5] Since 1 February 2009, the Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System no longer monitors the 121.5/243.0 MHz frequency; however, the signal transmitted by the Emergency was never strong enough to be picked up by satellite, and Breitling has announced that, as these frequencies will still be monitored by aviation, particularly during the localization phase of a rescue attempt, there are no plans to modify the signal’s frequency.

The Emergency is available for customers who do not hold a pilot’s licence, but they must sign an agreement stating that they will bear the full costs of a rescue intervention should they trigger the distress beacon (I can not confirm nor deny this as I bought mine not via Breitling, also nobody checked my pilot licence, although I brought the watch for servicing to Breitling and it was sent to Switzerland since local service centers of Breitling largely don’t have training nor parts for this model).

The distress beacon can only be activated once, after this the watch needs to be brought to Breitling, which repairs it at no cost if you provide a valid proof of distress situation, which caused you to activate the beacon. In order to test the beacon’s functionality, Breitling offers a testing device, which can access the function without broadcasting distress.

First time the Breitling’s watch, initially designed for military use, surfaced in public news was in Jan 2003, when Reuters reported two British pilots, Squadron Leader Steve Brooks and Flight Lieutenant Hugh Quentin-Smith, crashed in a helicopter in Antarctica and were rescued by activating their Breitling Emergency timepieces. (Reuters article)

The model was also advertised by Breitling during the Breitling Orbiter 3 project— both Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard were wearing the Emergency. Breitling sponsored the Orbiter 3 project, which in 1999 successfully became the first balloon to completely orbit the Earth without landing.

The rare functionality of the watch attracted attention of many celebrities (source:

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin Breitling Emergency

Sir Richard Branson

Breitling Emergency Sir Richard Branson

Steven Seagal

Steven Seagal Breitling Emergency

And more…

Why do I wear it? I like it. Never used the beacon, but don’t mind having one. Occasionally pilots, who largely are familiar with the model, ask me if I’m in their “Club” and let me do things otherwise not normally accessible to public. Here: cockpit A320 – thanks to crew of Virgin Atlantic.

Dmitry Fedotov - airplane cockpit Airbus A320 - Breitling Emergency
Dmitry Fedotov – airplane cockpit Airbus A320 – Breitling Emergency


Update: Breitling Emergency featured in Top Gear UK (Richard Hammond’s rescue mission on TOP GEAR episode 6)