Words no­body wants to hear whilst on a plane. But, if you are un­for­tu­nate enough to, at least you can trust in an Emer­gency watch from Bre­itling. It might just save your life.

Plaza Watch International - - Brace! Brace! - WORDS JOSH SIMS

Pic­ture the scene: you are alone in the ocean af­ter your yacht has sunk, or you have crashed your light air­craft in the mid­dle of the desert. You look to your watch. Yes, you re­call the old boy scout trick of iden­ti­fy­ing south – it’s roughly half way be­tween the hour hand and the 12 o’clock marker when the hour hand is pointed to­wards the sun. But then you can’t re­mem­ber whether day­light sav­ings has been ap­plied. Or you re­alise this only works in the north­ern hemi­sphere and be­comes less and less ac­cu­rate the closer you are to the equa­tor. Or you re­alise that you are wear­ing a dig­i­tal watch. What good your time­piece then? To know the ap­prox­i­mate hour of your death per­haps?

But wait, there is one watch that re­ally could help. When Bre­itling launched its con­cisely-named Emer­gency model in 1995, there was no clear con­sumer de­mand for what was as much a sur­vival in­stru­ment as a time­piece: af­ter all, its bulk and price pre­cluded it from many cus­tomers other than se­ri­ous col­lec­tors or those few ad­ven­tur­ers who might gen­uinely find them­selves in need of its func­tion­al­ity. This, af­ter all, was a watch with a mi­cro-trans­mit­ter broad­cast­ing on the in­ter­na­tional avi­a­tion dis­tress fre­quency that would not start a search, but would def­i­nitely help a search team when it got go­ing.

Cer­tainly it was a stylish chrono­graph – the avail­abil­ity of repli­cas is tes­ta­ment to this – and the bea­con, de­vel­oped with Das­sault Elec­tron­ique and ac­ti­vated by pulling out an in­te­grated an­ten­nae, had more than an ap­peal­ing touch of James Bond about it. But, un­like a chrono­graph, this was not the sort of func­tion one could play with while idling away time in a dull meet­ing. Not un­less, per­haps, the meet­ing was life-threat­en­ingly dull. And even then it might still prove a pricey way out: own­ers of Emer­gency watches are con­trac­tu­ally obliged to cover the cost of any res­cue if they mis­use their watch.

All the same, the model (and its more luxe sis­ter model, the Emer­gency Mission) was a sales suc­cess, sell­ing some 40,000 pieces. It looked the part. It was tough – it would sur­vive the crash, or sink­ing, even if you didn’t. And, af­ter all, the re­quest to de­velop the model in the first place had come, in part, from NATO. The de­sign was pi­o­neer­ing. Once the COSPASSARSAT in­ter­na­tional search and res­cue sys­tem (a net­work of geo-sta­tionery, low-earth or­bit, ground re­ceiv­ing sta­tions and con­trol cen­tres) had cal­cu­lated the ap­prox­i­mate po­si­tion of the downed air­craft – all air­craft are man­dated to carry a dis­tress bea­con sys­tem that is au­to­mat­i­cally ac­ti­vated on im­pact – the watch’s sig­nal would al­low search and res­cue teams to hone in on the lost in­di­vid­ual, and any lucky com­pan­ion who was smart enough to stay close by, (now not quite so smug about their $10 dig­i­tal watch and its “bet­ter time-keep­ing”).

Now Bre­itling’s Emer­gency has been up­dated with the equally concise moniker of Emer­gency II. Firstly, this is a de­vice that can now be used for

“A cari­bou hunter in the Alaskan back­coun­try de­cided to leave his group in search of help when shal­low wa­ters pre­vented them mak­ing their way

safely up the Ty­ron River. Two days later he con­cluded he was lost and pulled out the an­ten­nae.

SAR got to him be­fore the bears.”

any kind of emer­gency sit­u­a­tion in which the wearer is se­ri­ously lost – own­ers of the orig­i­nal Emer­gency had to agree to only use the bea­con in aero­nau­ti­cal in­stances, surely an agree­ment which pre­sum­ably any ra­tio­nal per­son would promptly ig­nore if the worst hap­pened.

Se­condly, as well as trans­mit­ting a 121.5MHz sig­nal de­tectable per­haps 100 miles away (depend­ing on con­di­tions), the Emer­gency II also trans­mits at a more re­li­able, 406MHz dig­i­tal fre­quency. This fol­lows the 2009 de­ci­sion by COSPAS-SARSAT that its satel­lites would no longer pick up at the 121.5MHz ana­logue fre­quency (which is, how­ever, still used for close range search­ing).

The re­sult is, at 51 mm di­am­e­ter, a siz­able if light piece of ti­ta­nium kit, which sells for around $15,000 – a lot for a seem­ingly small ad­vance.

But that ad­vance took five years of devel­op­ment. The R&D team had to work out how to cre­ate a de­vice now ca­pa­ble of trans­mit­ting on two fre­quen­cies, with the an­tenna length vary­ing ac­cord­ing to wave­length. The so­lu­tion is an orig­i­nal sys­tem by which, ac­cord­ing to cir­cum­stances, the trans­mit­ter uses part or all of the watch’s two an­ten­nae. Just as im­por­tant was how to get this new dual-fre­quency per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­con cir­cuitry into what is still a rel­a­tively small space – a first for any watch – along with two bat­ter­ies. One bat­tery for the watch, the other – pi­o­neer­ing, recharge­able and su­per-charged – for the bea­con. That gives you some 24 hours in which to be found be­fore the bat­tery dies and, quite pos­si­bly, you do soon af­ter.

That 24 hours, of course, makes all the dif­fer­ence, although the real test of such a watch is whether it ac­tu­ally works. Never mind the time. Is it a life-saver? In a word… Yes.

Since the COSPAS-SARSAT was launched in 1985, some 26,000 peo­ple have been re­trieved from a po­ten­tially fa­tal sit­u­a­tion. More than a few of those were down to the Emer­gency. It didn’t take long for life-sav­ing tales to sur­face af­ter the orig­i­nal model’s launch. There was, for ex­am­ple, the Swiss (of course) mil­i­tary parachutist who be­came dis­ori­en­tated in cloud, in­jured his leg on land­ing and used his Emer­gency to be found. The story goes that he was the only mem­ber of the team mak­ing the jump that day to wear an Emer­gency, which he had bought a few months ear­lier.

So too with other tales of der­ring-do gone wrong. Two Bri­tish pi­lots on a pole-to-pole ex­pe­di­tion crashed their he­li­copter in Antarc­tica and, drift­ing away from the crash site, used their watches to be lo­cated by a res­cue air­craft. A cari­bou hunter in the Alaskan back­coun­try de­cided to leave his group in search of help when shal­low wa­ters pre­vented them mak­ing their way safely up the Ty­ron River. Two days later he con­cluded he was lost and pulled out the an­ten­nae. SAR got to him be­fore the bears. The Emer­gency, in short, was in­sur­ance on a bracelet. Bre­itling’s lat­est ver­sion gives you a more fully com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy.

The Bre­itling Emer­gency II , on l oca­tion one of many po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­ments. in

L e f t: T h e B r e i t l i n g E m e r g e n c y h a s s av e d t h o u s a n d s o f p e o p l e fr o m dis­as­trous sit­u­a­tions R i g h t: A n e x p l o d e d v i e w o f the Emer­gency

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