Where there is Rolex, Breitling is not far away. The two Swiss watchmakers are heavyweights in the world of luxury watches: Both brands have a long and exciting history and are very popular among watch enthusiasts and collectors. But what are the differences between the two? How do their watches differ in terms of style and design? What about the quality and technology? Which brand has the better watch catalog? How do prices differ, and how well do the watches retain their value over time? Find out in our ultimate Rolex vs. Breitling brand comparison.
Rolex and Breitling: History
Breitling was founded by Leon Breitling in 1884. In the company’s early days, Breitling focused on the development of chronographs, which would later become the brand’s best asset. In 1936, the company began supplying the Royal Air Force with onboard chronographs for its aircraft. By 1942, Breitling had launched the Breitling Chronomat, a manual chronograph with a slide rule bezel, which was quickly adopted by the US Army Air Force. This iconic model was the forerunner of the legendary Breitling Navitimer, which was introduced in 1952 and, thanks to an even more complex bezel, made it possible to calculate fuel consumption, climb and descent rates, and average speeds. Both the Breitling Chronomat and the Breitling Navitimer remain in the Breitling portfolio to this day and are arguably among the most influential watches of all time. The Breitling Superocean, released in 1958, is also included in the current collection.
“Diving watches” is a good keyword for briefly illuminating the history of the opponent. In contrast to Breitling, Rolex, founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf under the name Wilsdorf & Davis, are a real rookie. It wasn’t until 1920 that the name “Rolex” came into existence. With it, innovation was not far behind. In 1926, Rolex introduced the Oyster, the world’s first patented water-resistant watch. The watch rose to fame when Mercedes Gleitze wore it to swim across the English Channel. The watch survived the record attempt undamaged. The Datejust, which came along in 1945, is an integral part of the Rolex catalog to this day. One of the brand’s most famous timepiece is the Rolex Submariner, unveiled in 1953. This diving watch is now one of the most celebrated watches of all time, and the most copied and replicated watch in the world. Along with the Submariner, watches like the GMT-Master, Daytona, Day-Date, and countless other important Rolex models still find favor today. Both luxury watch manufacturers enjoy an excellent reputation in the industry: While Breitling could be called the king of the skies thanks to their many pilot’s watches, the Oyster case made Rolex king of the sea.
What collections and models do the brands offer?
Needless to say, both luxury watch manufacturers have a wide range of collections and models. At Breitling, it is primarily the Navitimer and Chronomat collections that are making a name for themselves. Both watches are now available in countless sizes and colors, so there really is something for everyone. I find the 40-mm Chronomat GMT particularly impressive. It offers the perfect symbiosis of multifunctional design and luxury feel, and is currently available for around $5,000. My all-time Breitling favorite, however, is the Breitling Avenger. The pilot’s watch has the perfect Breitling DNA: brutish and uncompromising. If you’re looking for a chronograph with a less tooly aesthetic, you should check out the Breitling Premier.
So, what does the competition have to offer? The Rolex catalog is packed with popular models. The Rolex Submariner has become synonymous with “diving watch,” and the GMT-Master II (especially the Pepsi version) continues to fascinate enthusiasts. Not to mention that the Daytona has lost none of its legendary status, even 60 years after its debut. I’m particularly fond of more elegant Rolex models like the Datejust and Day-Date. They’re a touch more luxurious than their sturdier counterparts.
Rolex vs. Breitling: Style and Design
It’s the design language that sets the two brands apart. Although Breitling now offers smaller versions of its bestsellers as well as some great women’s watches, the Rolex competitor is primarily known for its brutish, uncompromising men’s watches designed first and foremost with a view to functionality and utility. That’s why you’ll find some watches in the Breitling catalog come with diameters in excess of 43 mm. Rolex watches, on the other hand, have a more minimalist look and strike the perfect balance between functionality and style. The Submariner looks just as good with jeans and a T-shirt as it does with a tuxedo or swim trunks. Larger watches such as the Sea-Dweller are also well-represented in the Rolex collection, but they’re much rarer than their Breitling counterparts. Watches like the Datejust 41 and Oyster Perpetual 41 actually have a diameter of 39.5 mm, despite the “41” in the name, and the Daytona still hasn’t outgrown its traditional 40 mm.
In general, Rolex is a little more consistent in their design principles than Breitling. While the brand with the crown always proceeds with caution when it comes to tweaking the look of its watches, Breitling is much more willing to experiment: The logo of the Breitling Navitimer has been changed once or twice, and the Breitling Superocean recently got a complete makeover. Ultimately, however, there is one thing that Rolex and Breitling have in common when it comes to design language and style: both brands provide even their most basic watches with many polished components. This gives the watches an irresistible gleam, making it clear for all to see that these are luxury watches with a high level of craftsmanship.
Which brand is better in terms of quality and technology?
Qualitatively, both brands know how to win over watch lovers and offer everything you expect from a luxury timepiece: superior know-how, fabulous workmanship, and amazing haptics. Although both companies make their watches mainly with machines, the typical Rolex feel is and remains more or less unrivaled. It offers that certain something over Breitling: Whether you’re turning the bezel on a Rolex diving watch, operating the clasp, or winding the crown, every action feels perfect. It’s almost more fun to let a Rolex slide through your fingers than it is to actually wear it. Rolex is also slightly ahead of Breitling when it comes to movements, at least in terms of prestige: While Rolex have been offering in-house movements in all of their watches without exception since the beginning of the century, Breitling’s timepieces are sometimes powered by calibers from third-party suppliers. The Breitling Superocean Heritage, for instance, is equipped with a B20 movement – a Tudor caliber that was specifically modified for the diving watch.
What about prices and investment potential?
When it comes to prices, you can expect to pay more for a Rolex. This becomes clear when we compare two chronographs: The most recent version of the Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 on a steel bracelet has a list price of $9,700, while the current Rolex Daytona sells for around the $15,000 mark.
The price gap between brands becomes even greater if we look at how the watches move on the secondary market. Unfortunately, neither of us can simply walk into the nearest Rolex boutique and walk out with a Daytona on our wrist. The reason for this is the scarcity of the model and a hefty price tag of over $30,000. The same Breitling Navitimer I described above, however, changes hands for as little as $7,000. This shows how these two luxury watch brands perform in terms of investment. But don’t worry: Even if you can’t expect a huge profit, Breitling favorites like the Navitimer are stable in value and can be sold quickly if you want to look for something new later down the line.
Rolex vs. Breitling: Who wins?
Both luxury watch manufacturers deserve their place among the most popular watch brands in the world, and both have storied, exciting, and fascinating histories. Rolex may have a wider range of famous models, but icons like the Breitling Navitimer and Breitling Chronomat are never far behind. In terms of overall quality and value, Rolex has the upper hand, but I still can’t pick a winner because when it comes to design and style, the two brands couldn’t be more different. If you like your watches tooly and bold, Breitling is likely to be the better option. However, if you’re looking for a subtler watch with an indisputable level of prestige, Rolex may very well be the brand for you. Collectors and enthusiasts will likely own timepieces from both luxury watch brands anyway, right?