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The Breitling Emergency Orbiter 3: Limited Edition with a Rich History


The Breitling Emergency Orbiter 3 features an oversized analog quartz in a gimmicky approach for some watch enthusiasts, but for others it is a means of satisfying their guilty pleasures. The limited edition of this prized watch is the reason why it is difficult to find one in brand new condition and unworn, but there are a few still left out there. Only 1,999 of them were made for distribution.

History of the Breitling Emergency Orbiter 3

The Breitling watch company was headed for certain disaster with financial issues that would certainly bankrupt them. It was Ernest Schneider who had a fondness for this watchmaker because of his appreciation of the avaition timepieces that they manufactured. He bought the Breitling watchmaking company and endeavored to build up the enterprise and continue to make watches for pilots. This magnificent creation was aptly named on a few different counts.

This watch was made in commemoration of the fist balloon flight achieving a trip around the world with no stops along the way, hence the name, Orbiter 3. It was made in 2000 and found instant popularity with Breitling enthusiasts who insist on the best in high end quality and performance. The Emergency was a part of the spinoff lines which evolved from the Aerospace. Schneider conversed with NATO officials with regard to the need of pilots to have access to a small auxiliary transmitter which could be worn on their bodies.

This could help search parties to find any airmen who had to ditch their planes. It was delegated to Scheider to come up with a plan to incorporate the transmitter into the design of a watch that would be worn on the wrist. The company partnered with the Dassault aviation firm out of France to engineer a miniature transmitter to fit under the watch. The engineering team was able to perfect the miniaturization process flawlessly.

The prototype was completed in 1995 and after five years of miliary use, the watch could be sold to private citizens, although they were cautioned not to activate the transmission of signals unless there was a real emergency taking place.

Cost of development

The Emergency took many years to develop and the price tag for development topped seven million dollars. The watch was one of the most useful and highly functional timepieces of its day. This is one of the attributes that serves as a powerful attractant to this particular watch. It has its place in history and has significant importance.

The watch is still outfitted with the emergency transmitter but the satellites no longer monitor the 121.5 frequency. It may, however be used if you're even in a dire situation because SAR and commercial aircraft professionals do monitor the 121.5 frequency on all radios. It could be used to save a life under certain conditions.


The back of the Emergency is made of titanium for durability and long life. You'll find two antennae located under the back of the case but they are not connected with the watch module. It is fully functional if you need to use it, but it doesn't interfere with the working of the watch as a timepiece. There is an inscription on the inside of the watch that clearly states "don't push" on the larger red colored button near the Emergency's antennae.

If the emergency signal is transmitted just for the fun of it, the offender could be subjected to some hefty fines, so it's best not to test it out just to see if it works. On the inside of the watch, you'll see the inscription that reads, "Warning: For Aeronautical Use Only." You'll also find a black plastic ring whih is tamper proof so the signal is not inadvertently sent.

The crowns are made of polished stainless steel with four screws passing through to secure the watch portion in its place on the top of the case. This watch has a detachable watch module which can be easily pulled out and then snapped back into place when the screws are removed.

The titanium materials are light weight so the otherwise slight bulkiness of the watch is amazingly comfortable to wear. The diameter is 43mm. The watch comes mounted on a bracelet of lightweight titanium but this may be replaced with a compatible watch band from Breitling.


Similar to the Aerospace of the 1990s, the Emergency Orbiter 3 is completed wit a digital chronograph, second time zone, digital running second, countdown alarm, and day and date display. Crown operated functionality is still featured in the Emergency. The crown may be spun for digital windows scroll and pressing it will activate the functions. Setting the watch is accomplished by pulling the crown upwards. The bi-directional compass is also useful for the more adventuring types who need a little help in navigation.

Final thoughts

The Breitling Emergency Orbiter 3 is a limited edition watch that comes with a rich history behind it. Don't let the bulkiness caused by the addition of the two antennae fool you, the watch is very comfortable to wear and it is light in weight. Perhaps Breitling fans who weren't as impressed with the Emergency will have a change of heart in light of the significance of this dedicated timepiece. You don't have to be a great explorer, nor must you be a pilot or balloonist to appreciate the value of this unique spinoff of the Aerospace.

It is a fully functional watch that will provide the wearer with all of the amenieties that are expected from a Breitling product, except it has a little something extra. Although many watch enthusiasts believed the transmitter to be nothing more than a gimmick for marketing, it is much more than that. It is a reality and is a fully functional component that gives this watch its uniqueness.

The price tag for this limited edition Emergency Orbiter 3 will run you between four to six thousand dollars, depending on the condition and whether or not it has been previously worn. If you're fortunate, you may be able to locate one that is pre-owned, but still brand new in the box.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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