#TBT Baby Breitling Chronograph ref. 174

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#TBT Baby Breitling Chronograph ref. 174 The one your wife doesn’t know she needs, yet by Tomas RosputinskyMarch 12, 2020 MIN READ#TBT Baby Breitling Chronograph ref. 174

This early up-down Breitling ref. 174 chronograph powered by a Venus 170 is truly a rare piece, especially in a black dial version.

It would be a killer chronograph if it had a 38mm case. Well, it doesn’t, but it still makes for a spectacular timepiece. The design, originality and unique feeling under your fingers when you start playing with the timer functions all contribute to the wow factor of this 33mm Breitling chronograph.

Baby Breitling

Bigger Breitling watches easily fetch north of 2,000 euros and getting a decent piece has become more and more challenging. As Mike used to joke, smaller diameter Breitling is just too small for Fred Mandelbaum (check his Instagram, if his name doesn’t ring the bell), so you still can find some around. I spotted this Breitling ref. 174 at a Swiss dealer Yves that offers fair watches for fair prices. This little gem grabbed my attention immediately, so I called dibs. Honestly, any price south of 1,000 euros for a decent Breitling chronograph is reason enough to open up a bottle of Champagne.

Breitling ref. 174

As always when I think about purchasing any Breitling, I reached out to Fred to get his thoughts on it first. To quote him, “the Breitling ref. 174, i.e. waterproof cal. 170 is quite rare, good black dial examples are really rare.” As far as we could find, the Venus caliber 170 was launched in 1938 and could be found in the 1939/40 Breitling catalogs onwards. As a courtesy from Fred, to whom we are very grateful, we are adding a few valuable screenshots from early Breitling catalogs.

There are a few facts worth noticing. The variety of chronograph offering is spectacular. You can find watches with different case shapes, lug shapes, dial or hand styles. A set of chronographs featured in the 1940 Breitling catalog is introduced with a headline reading “Low Priced Chronographs”. Just take a brief look at this page and you can see oval, round and rectangular pushers. There is a snail track dial or pulsation dial, thicker and thinner cases and the same can be said about the lugs. The offering at the right bottom corner seems to be the closest example to the chronograph featured today.

Minimalistic perfection

Some people say that what’s tiny is beautiful and this case truly delivers on that statement. The case proportions are well balanced, with the lugs neither too long, too short or too chubby. The overall look gives you the impression of a sporty watch. A big part of the watch’s hard to resist cuteness has to be attributed to the round pushers. If you are aware of Breitling chronographs from that range, you have to admit that the round pushers stand out.

Where is my bezel?!

Calm down, please. I assure you, there is no bezel missing. Although, I have to confess I was a bit puzzled too. During my first days with the Baby Breitling, I could not pinpoint what was so strange when I looked at it from above. Only after closer inspection of the step upper ring around the dial did I realize what it reminds me of. This particular Breitling case basically looks like an Omega Speedmaster stripped down of its bezel. Usually, the upper ring is flat or slopes down gradually from the center to the side. This one looks like its half ready for a bezel installation. After my mind processed the peculiarity of this strictly step profile, I now find it amusingly raw and original.

Black sea

The dial was the main reason why I decided to land this Breitling ref. 174. Black dial versions are hard to come around and the same can be said about the well-preserved lume. I am happy that here, both details are perfectly combined. The matt black seems genuinely tired of the sun. Some spots seem like they decided to give up the fight with sunlight and faded into lighter pale shadows that spread mostly around the sub-registers. It happened gently and it’s visible only under closer inspection. All else seems under control with the black dial maintaining its original glory.

Lume stop

The Arabic numbers and especially the lume styling belong to the top three in my watch collection. The lume mass is so thick that it looks juicier than a hefty dose of mustard on your morning eggs. Look at number eight or ten, the precision of the mass application is of insane quality. It becomes even more insane when you realize that Breitling was selling it as a ‘Low Priced Chronograph’. It only goes to show that eight decades ago even cheaper things were built to survive forever. Circling my UV lamp over the dial makes the numbers pretend they’re trying hard to glow. It’s like trying to get my dog to go for a walk at 2 AM. However, it bears repeating that the lume material is some 80 years old and it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been touched along the way. By the way, the 33mm diameter comes in handy here as it allows the luming to shine.

Chronograph testing

To see a sub-seconds and minute counter at 6 and 12 is much more refreshing than the typical setup at 3 and 9. When I place my finger over the top counter, I see a pretty decent three-hander. A simple detail such as placing the minute counter at 12 changes so much. Activating the Venus 170 chronograph movement for the first time was as memorable experience as it was with Gallet Excelsior Park EP 40-68.

It’s tough trying to reproduce the beauty of old Venus 170 movement and how it comes alive under gentle care.

Pressing the upper pusher is routinely easy, with a strong and high click that seems to happen not right below the pusher, but surprisingly much deeper. The jet-like arrow hand in minute sub-register moves from minute to minute precisely in the last second of the central second lap. Resetting the chronograph is equally satisfying. The click of the bottom pusher sounds more hollow. The flight of the central second hand back to zero is one of my favorite details. Not only it is very jingly, but that move reminds me of a slap. I use the chronograph often when this Breitling ref. 174 happens to be on my wrist.

My wife’s chrono

I said the last sentence on purpose, as from the moment I spotted it online, I immediately saw it on my wife’s wrist. You can’t deny it is very captivating to see a woman with a manual chronograph on her wrist. I am pretty sure this Baby Breitling belongs there. It is not as daring and opulent as many modern chronographs, on the contrary, it underlines smart beauty and self-esteem. I call it the perfect gift for your wife.

Shotgun notes

Subtle silver early-style Breitling logo looks as cute as angels on Raphael’s paintings. The syringe hands have kept the lume intact, without a single crack. A minute track with numbers imprisoned in it is printed in noble, gold like tones. Four lines on the case back are pretty “heavy content”, but in line with the minimalistic Breitling case back execution. A thinner and shorter light brown leather strap with uneven coloring (from anOrdain) ended up as the best match for this Breitling ref. 174, for the time being.

Last thoughts

As brutal as it may sound, today’s trends suggest that a 33mm diameter is a no-go for many modern watch fans. I urge you not to be such a purist and open your wrist up to smaller sized watches. I dare say that this Baby Breitling shows the best of dial artistry and based on my own experience, it never felt lost on my wrist. Only wearing big watches is boring. Are you ready to break up your stereotype?

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About the author

Tomas Rosputinsky

During the day time, Tomas is an entrepreneur in the advertising, automotive and IT software industries. At night he turns into a watch enthusiast searching for quirky movements or vintage pieces with strong stories behind. Tomas was born and bred… read more

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