When watch fan Fred Mandelbaum turned guardian

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Breitling collector and historian, Fred Mandelbaum, talks about design integrity and the TLC his watches get

Breitling collector and historian, Fred Mandelbaum, talks about design integrity and the TLC his watches get

The Breitling Navitimer, an icon since 1952, has just gone through an update. But the new watch is familiar — maintaining its circular slide rule, baton indexes and notched bezel. The three chronometers on the watch face are also maintained. What has changed then? Fred Mandelbaum, who runs the popular Instagram account, @watchfred, where he showcases his private collection, elaborates. “What the design team did here, was again, go back to the history — look at the essence and the source of every component of the original watch and then reinterpret it.” The Austria-based collector of vintage chronographs is now working closely with the Breitling team on this new model.

Navtimers produced between 1963 and 1973

Nothing is the same

“There’s not a single component on this watch that is the same as it used to be in the past,” he goes on to say, adding, “What we did was look at the elegance of the case profile, of the lugs, the chamfering, the polishing that the original had and we took the most modern production capacity available and applied them to the new watch.” The final design then, makes the watch more readable. A new dome has been created out of sapphire, where previously it was made of acrylic. The calibre has been refined, the watch has, as Mandelbaum says, been given, “the deepest attention to detail.”

The new release, which comes in stainless steel or 18k red gold, is available across three sizes (41, 43 and 46mm) and sees the AOPA wings return to the 12 o’clock position. The Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01 continues to power the movement and features a slimmer silhouette along with alternating polished and brushed finishing to the metal.

Navitimer Rattrapante

Navitimer Rattrapante

Soul-saving duties

Mandelbaum has been given the title of ‘Guardian of the Heritage’ by George Kerns, the CEO of Breitling. This is because Mandelbaum has taken on the role of, “discussing design characteristics and the soul of certain models with the design team. I’m working a lot on historical facts, on documenting the past and building a stable basis for the company to work on and be assured of its heritage.”

He’s able to contribute meaningfully because of his personal eye and the depth of his collection. While he doesn’t answer when asked how many watches he has, he says, “I decided to try and document every execution and model of chronographs that Breitling manufactured after the year 1940.” As a result, he says, “it’s not the quantity that is relevant but how complete it is in covering the heritage of a brand,” which in his case is Breitling. In addition, he collects chronographs from brands like Excelsior Park, Enicar, Universal Geneva and pilot’s watches issued to armed forces. The watches are stored in a secure vault in a bank, and Mandelbaum says, “As I am wearing many of my watches, or all of my watches actually, I make sure they are running and they are maintained. I know the service history of [every] watch.” He adds that he typically changes his watch about 2-3 times a week.

A Breitling Navitimer advertisement from 1964

A Breitling Navitimer advertisement from 1964

Are new collectors different?

The pandemic put a pause on in-person watch collector meeting, which Mandelbaum hopes will return. He says, “There was a lot lost, no doubt about it,” when speaking about meeting fellow collectors and buyers. He does allow though that there is a new breed of collector explaining, “Too often watches are seen as an investment item, which is something that I don’t really respect too much.” However, he tempers that with an admission that there is more openness among collectors for, “new kids on the block,” while pointing out that the independents have really changed and they’re making interesting niche products.

Teasing a memory

What then is a watch that Mandelbaum is waiting to add to his collection. With a glint in his eye, visible behind his rimless spectacles he says, “There is one watch that is seen in a catalogue from 1946 but we’ve never seen it in metal, so we don’t know if it was ever produced or if it was only a design displayed in a catalogue and then they decided it was too expensive and it was just never really made.” He refers to this model as “a theoretic Rattrapante double chronograph with moon phase,” is one that he’s on the lookout for.

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