Breitling Emergency II watch doubles as a satellite emergency beacon


May 6, 2013

The Breitling Emergency 2 watch has a built-in rescue beacon

The Breitling Emergency 2 watch has a built-in rescue beacon

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Emergency beacons are great insurance for aviators and sailors, but they aren't worth much if a disaster leaves you in one place and the beacon in another. Just to be safe, you might as well strap the beacon to your wrist, which is what the Breitling Emergency II does. The Swiss-made wrist chronograph watch provides those who travel in remote, risky places with a dual-channel emergency satellite transmitter that activates with a twist and a yank.

The Emergency II is an improved version of the earlier Breitling Emergency, which only transmits on a single analog frequency. It’s intended for survival situations that can happen without a second's warning, such as plane crashes, ship sinkings, mountaineering accidents and the sort of potentially fatal mishaps that can occur in deserts, jungles and ice caps around the world.

The aesthetics of the Emergency II are not exactly what one would call slim and elegant. In fact, it easily wins the perennial “My watch is bigger than yours” contest, which sailors and scuba divers are forever playing, by weighing in at 140 grams (4.9 oz) – and that’s without the strap.

This weight comes from not only the massive titanium case, but also because that case holds a PLB Category 2 beacon micro-transmitter. This in itself required a lot of R&D; to squeeze the electronics into even a watch the size of a doorstop. It also has to work for 24 hours, so that means a bespoke battery that can not only punch out enough power for a satellite to pick up, but that can also be recharged regularly, so that power will actually be there in an emergency.

Part of the battery’s problem is that the Emergency II works on two different frequencies. These mean different power demands ranging from 30 to 3000 mW, hence the need for a rechargeable lithium-ion battery separate from the watch movement’s silver oxide battery. The watch even comes with its own charger/tester case to make sure it's working probably. “Maybe” isn’t a word you want to associate with whether or not an emergency beacon is working.

The Emergency II puts out signals alternately on two frequencies. The first is a digital signal on 406 MHz that goes out for 0.44 seconds every 50 seconds, and the second is an analog signal on 121.5 MHz lasting 0.75 seconds every 2.25 seconds. This dual frequency isn’t just to be thorough. It’s a strategy that not only helps to ensure that the emergency signal reaches the search and rescue teams, but also helps them to zero in on the target.

It’s all part of the international Cospas-Sarsat system, which has saved 26,000 lives since 1985. It’s based on a network of satellites in low-altitude earth orbit (LEOSAR) and in geostationary orbit (GEOSAR) along with ground stations and coordinating centers around the world. The satellites work on 406 MHz, which, theoretically, should be all that’s needed to find those in distress, since the Cospas-Sarsat system doesn’t listen to other frequencies. However, many search and rescue systems use the older 121.5 MHz and it’s still very useful for making those last-minute location fixes before visual contact is made. For this reason, dual-frequency transmitters are preferred.

The other half of the equation is the integrated antenna system. Designed to be used by someone who may be hanging upside down from a rock wall with broken bones, it’s made in two sections so that the transmitter can select between part or all of the antenna when switching between frequencies. Turning on the beacon is a simple matter of unscrewing the right-hand antenna cover. This also unscrews the left-hand cover. From there, pulling the antennae free and extending them activates the beacon, and the signal starts going out.

By the way, there’s also a watch in here. It’s a Breitling thermocompensated SuperQuartz Caliber 76 that’s officially chronometer-certified by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC). It also has a 12/24-hour analog and LCD digital display, battery end-of-life indicator, 1/100th second chronograph, timer, second time zone and multilingual calendar. The titanium case with a cambered sapphire crystal is water-resistant to 5 bar (167 ft, 50 m) and sports a compass scale. Dials are available in Volcano black, Cobra yellow, and Intrepid orange.

The Emergency II sells for about US$17,000 or, if you want a titanium bracelet instead of a rubber strap, about US$18,600.

The video below outlines the Breitling Emergency II.

Source: Breitling via Watches by SJX

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

As a sea kayaker and pilot, I've lusted after this watch tor years. I knew the 121.5 mhz was being phased out do I waited to see if a 406 mhz might come to fruition. What' is it they say about being careful what you wish for? Still it's commendable that Breitling managed to develop a 406 EPIRB model. But let's face it, this watch is really a luxury/vanity item. If one had a serious need or requirement for an EPIRB, this watch would not even qualify as a legitimate option. So again, pure luxury item. This new version is strictly for wealthy adventurer types, certainly not me. $17.000 is just too much for a watch. Bummer!


or you buy a personal PLB for about $300 that has a 5 year battery shelf life and spend the left over $17,000 for a new boat that may eliminate the need for the PLB


As a pilot I paid $5000 for the original Emergency - one month before the emergency frequency changed to 406 and NOAA satellites - neither the retailer or Breitling bothered to inform me of the change when they sold me the watch.

Now several years later they release this proper and useful emergency transponder watch for $17000.

For all the previous customers, why would we buy this overpriced toy from a company that betrayed so many trusting customers?

Sherwin Kahn

@Sherwin Kamran Kahn, At that price point, I would expect Breitling to recall your watch to have it updated to the latest format. That's disgusting treatment on Breitling's behalf. A $17,000 (or even a $5,000)throw away watch just doesn't cut it. Companys that show contempt for their customers like this deserves to Fail!!

Terry Penrose

I bought a Breitling Emergency in 2003. When they changed the frequency to 406 MHz I asked Breitling if they were going to issue a retrofit for the previous models. They said no and insisted on explaining that the most important was the 121.5 frequency and that there would never be a 406 model since the watch was not intended as a beacon. They even wrote this in a pdf document that was on their website. I will never buy a Breitling again, they have a total disrespect for their clients. And the price of this new watch is a nonsense. With the original emergency they were targeting profesionals like pilots, etc. Now they are targeting emerging market "nouveaux riches" that will want to show off with their gadget. This is a highly short term vision/strategy. For me farewell breitling after 3 generations were using them in my family. Sad...

Charles D

Superb watch one of thee very best 11 bar none!!!

Mark Wouters
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