Commission green-lights Breitling “Emergency” watch for U.S. Market

In Thunderball, Bond (that’s James Bond) used a Breitling Top-Time watch tricked out for use as a Geiger counter. He needed it while on the hunt for some stolen nuclear warheads.

That, of course, was the best 1960s’ technology could do. But hey, we’re in the 21st Century, and we should expect more. And now, thanks to the FCC, we’ve got it.

Say hello to the Breitling Emergency.

The watch contains a personal locator beacon (PLB) that allows users to send emergency beacon messages when they need to be rescued. Crash-land your helicopter on polar ice? Sail into a reef with your yacht? Get lost in the deep jungle? No problem! Just reach for your Emergency, pull out the antennas, and activate a beacon that will contact the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. (Shameless product placement: Check out the Breitling website for a demo.)

COSPAS-SARSAT is an international satellite system, first formed by the U.S., French, Russian and Canadian governments, designed to receive and respond to emergency distress calls. The new version of the Emergency replaces an earlier version, which operated on 121.5 MHz, the frequency on which the COSPAS-SARSAT system initially operated. COSPAS-SARSAT has since switched to 406 MHz (though many search and rescue agencies still use 121.5 MHz during rescue activities). So the Emergency has been modified to transmit on both frequencies.

A watch is, of course, much smaller than a traditional handheld personal locator beacon, which caused a problem at the FCC. Despite advances in miniaturization, Breitling couldn’t perfectly meet the FCC’s rules for PLBs (for example, manual control, battery, and labeling requirements). But Breitling was able to satisfy the Commission that the Emergency can properly send alerts, performing perfectly during a series of tests with the satellites. And, needless to say, there are significant benefits to having the beacon available right on one’s wrist during times of emergency. So the FCC gave it the thumbs up.

U.S. customers will have to review and sign a Conditions of Use specific for the U.S. market, confirming that they understand that the watch is designed differently from other PLBs. For example, it has a rechargeable battery that must be tended to every so often. Additionally, Breitling committed that sales of the Emergency will be “limited to qualified and properly trained customers because it will be sold only by specially trained and certified sales associates.”

The decision demonstrates the FCC’s willingness to apply its rules flexibly to accommodate new technologies which offer significant life and safety benefits, technologies that otherwise would not be put to market.

(Blogmeister’s Disclosure: Laura Stefani represented Breitling in this matter. Of course, results in any one case are no guarantee of similar results in other cases.)