Watch Spotting: The Breitling Chronomat Fused The ‘Seinfeld’ And ‘Friends’ Universes
So no one told us Breitling was gonna be this way – or these Breitlings are makin’ me thirsty!
Cue the bass slaps, double dip your chips, and soak yourself in a fountain on the Warner Bros. backlot holding an oversized cappuccino because we’re hopping into a time machine back to Thursday nights in the 1990s. We’re talking primetime “Must See TV,” courtesy of Seinfeld and Friends – with a horological bent.
These two shows held up the NBC comedy machine for over a decade, from 1989 into the early aughts, but had their heyday in the ’90s. There was little crossover between the two shows save for an unrelated guest appearance by Courteney Cox in a late fifth-season Seinfeld episode (just before her run on Friends) where she plays Jerry’s pretend wife just for a dry-cleaning discount. But that’s not the only connection the two stars, and the two shows share. You better believe the other one is a watch.
Astute enthusiasts and comedy lovers probably know that Jerry Seinfeld is not just into horology but has a particular proclivity toward Breitling watches. You can frequently catch him rocking a white-dial Aerospace on episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (a concept I once riffed on, without the comedy, or a comedian, for an episode of A Week on the Wrist). But his Breitling habit – nay passion – dates back to the late 1980s and early ’90s on-screen in Seinfeld.
Aside from the occasional Navitimer – and Cartier Santos – appearance, his watch of choice was the Breitling Chronomat, likely the ref. 81950A in two-tone with a “Rouleaux” bracelet. That bracelet, with its unique look, makes the watch easy to spot – that, and the form factor of the case, and rider tab bezel. The watch was a commercial success in the 1980s, and its popularity poured right into the ’90s with Seinfeld (the man) adding to its popularity then and its mystique now on Seinfeld (the show).
The 39mm Chronomat was released in 1984, the culmination of years of work by then Breitling head Ernest Schneider, who had originally developed the watch under a different name – The Chronograph “Frecce Tricolori” – for the eponymous Italian Frecce Tricolori Jet team (that watch was launched in 1983). The recessed crystal and the bezel with protective rider tabs became design staples of the Valjoux 7750-powered Chronomat. In many ways, Schneider made it one of the key watches of the ’80s – but Seinfeld made it the watch of the ’90s.
Seinfeld debuted in 1989 with a truncated pilot/first season order of just five episodes. The suits at NBC didn’t believe in the show about nothing – and clearly didn’t see the future watch spotting value. Friends kicked off five years later, in 1994, and while the format and comedic stylings were vastly different from those of Seinfeld, there was a familiar and friendly (hehe) wristwatch to be found on Cox’s wrist in her role as Monica Geller: The Breitling Chronomat … well, sort of.
Her watch looks like a Chromonat in basically every way aside from the case size (36mm) and the movement (quartz). It appears to be a model called the Breitling Sextant ref. B55045, also in two-tone, with a blue dial. It looks like it’s based on the Chronomat (and is more often than not referred to as a Chronomat), but then again, in the ’90s, just about every other Breitling looks like it’s based on the Chronomat. However, there’s a reason we don’t technically call it one. And that’s because the Chronomat name is a combination of the words Chronograph and Automatic. But for all intents and purposes, the B55045 design draws almost entirely from that watch.
One thing’s for sure, her Sextant/”Chronomat” has the same Rouleaux-style bracelet as Seinfeld’s in Seinfeld. It’s like an unofficial, universe-crossing, horological memento of their time together on that one episode in season five – a stretch maybe, but not a wrong one.
While there’s no actual connection between Seinfeld and Friends other than the network on which they aired, let’s get conspiratorial and make a timeline. The Seinfeld episode entitled “The Wife” guest-starring Cox aired March 17, 1994. In that episode, Seinfeld is seen wearing his Chronomat in scenes with Cox (sadly, we don’t see her wrist). Almost six months to the day later, on September 22, 1994, the Friends “pilot” aired on NBC. But it gets better. You see, the pilot episode was shot on May 4, 1994 – less than two months after Cox’s Seinfeld appearance.
So what does that mean? Well, to take a page out of Larry David and George Costanza’s book: Nothing. But it sure is neat, and begs the question – did Seinfeld influence Cox’s watch decision? If nothing else, it cements the Breitling Chronomat, and its design language, as a key horological touchpoint of the decade that was the 1990s.