Launched in its present form in 1995, the Emergency, Ref.E56321, was intended for aeronautical use as a supplement to an aircrafts locator beacon. Due to the potential for misuse, the FCC ruled it could only be sold to those who could provide proof of a pilots license as the first watch to feature an integrated emergency beacon. Shortly after, possibly due to demand and as Breitling felt its uses went beyond licensed pilots, the emergency was made available to mere ‘adventurers’ provided full contacted details were provided upon purchase and a contract signed.
The titanium model underwent several minor updates, the reference was changed to E56121 in the late 1990s, then Ref.E76321 with a Super-Quartz movement until production ceased circa 2010. The titanium model was produced with either a yellow or black dial followed later by orange, grey or blue versions, models in yellow gold/yellow gold and diamond and white gold also becoming available with a different reference prefix letter. Apparently if you ordered 50 pieces or more you could have a custom logo applied to the dial and examples of these limited editions are today highly sought after. Usually supplied on the titanium Pro1 bracelet, the example pictured is fitted with the (later) Pro2 bracelet and also supplied with a Pro3 rubber strap. The Emergency model was presented in a hard plastic case with test module (when fitted to the back of the watch an audiable beeb can be heard so you know the beacon is working) screwdriver to open the test module, 4 AAA batteries, COSC certificate and instruction DVD and box. The early versions were supplied with a VHS instruction video and later models a printed instruction manual.
The Emergency model has its place in watch history; as the first watch to feature an integrated beacon transmitting on the emergency 121.5 Mhz frequency, the model was intended for use by pilots in the event of a crash. Despite finding little favor among professional pilots, it gained popularity among amateur pilots and would-be adventurous, who would likely, hopefully, never need an emergency beacon. Possibly the reason it was never fully favored with professionals is the emergency transponder is analog and works like a homing beacon, in a similar way an avalanche transponder does, thus can only be detected provided someone is looking on that frequency within the required range (approx. 200 miles.) Even then, the search plane would have to perform a series of maneuvers to triangulate the signal. In short, a search party needs to be already looking for you for the watch to be useful. That said, Breitling advertise the emergency feature has saved numerous lives since launched and certainly gives the wearer more confidence in remote locations. To prevent misuse, the owner is liable for all costs involved in a search-party rescue if activated when there is no emergency, in addition, as it is a one-time-only transmitter, once activated the watch needs to be returned to Breitling for the beacon to be reset. If activated in a genuine emergency this will be undertaken without charge. Due to the complex electronics a battery change should only ever be performed by a qualified Breitling technician.
Tragically, the famous American adventurer and aviator Steve Fossett auctioned his personal Breitling Emergency for charity at Bonhams in London shortly before crashing his plane and disappearing while flying across Nevada, you can only ask the question, would he have been found and lived had he still been wearing his emergency locator watch?
The updated Emergency 2, announced in 2013 after apparently 5 years of R&D, and with a possible release date in 2015 (provided Breitling can get approval from the FCC) is a vast improvement on the original model. Retaining a similar look with yellow, orange or black dial within a titanium case, the main advantage is the use of 2 separate emergency beacons, one that sends a digital signal on the 406 Mhz channel, this signal can be received via satellite and as it is digital contains your personal contact details so emergency services can confirm prior it was not accidental. The second beacon emits on the same 121.5 Mhz local frequency as used by the Emergency One. The addition of the satellite transmitter greatly increases your chances of being found as, instead of waiting for a search partly to be in your vicinity, they are alerted to your distress. However the latest technology comes at a price, and size. Estimated to retail between US15,000-20,000 and with potential lengthy purchase contract to prevent misuse, it is unlikely to be bought by an ‘armchair adventurer’. With a case diameter of 51mm, it will be the largest diameter Breitling wristwatch in production, assuming of course it gets approved by the FCC.
Cinema Spotting: For anyone watching the January 2015 action movie 'Taken 3' take a close look at the watch the character played by Forest Whitaker is wearing. Yep, its an identical grey dial titanium Breitling Emergency on a titanium bracelet. I am not sure who the prop guy was for the movie but credit goes to him for picking a watch well suited to an LAPD detective.