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The B-1's dial uses two electro-luminescent digital displays, one in the upper half of the dial, one in the lower half. This design can be considered as a Breitling signature, and is a shared characteristics with other emblematic models, like the Aerospace or the Emergency.
Depressing the crown activates the LCDs' backlights; it is then possible to read them in the dark. They are “NVG-compatible” which means that activating the backlight will not result in blooming your night goggles' display.
The LCDs use what is called a negative display, where the digits are clear over a dark background. The displays are actually AC powered, from a DC to AC inverter contained inside the watch. This is why one can hear a “whining” sound in some B-1s when activating the backlight.
Functions are activated through swift twists of the crown. They go in this order:
The chronograph is accurate to 1/100th of a second, and can count up to 99 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, with split times.
Note that while using LCDs for things other than displaying the current time, you still can tell the time from the analog hands. Only the chronograph function overrides the use of the second's hand.
The battery is meant to last about 2 years, after which the LCDs will display and end-of-life message. Backlighting and alarms are known to drain the battery.
The B-1 has a mode to blacken the LCDs. But while in this mode, the second's hand will still be running, which consumes some energy too. However, if you set the function to “Chrono” and don't start the chronograph, the second's hand will be steady—and this seems the most energy-efficient position. (My battery could last for more than 7 years by doing this most of the time.)
The B-1 has some kind of a hibernation feature, which is not documented in the user manual. This was designed so that the user settings (hour, alarm, etc.) can be kept alive while the battery is being replaced by the watchmaker, using the power stored in the condensators.
Quoting Andy from the TimeZone Breitling forum:
On my B-1, if I rotate the crown until the display is off and then pull the crown out, the top display says “R” and the bottom display shows the time, (an hour behind the time the hands show) and allows me to set this time using the usual controls.
[…] While the above is happening, I can press the top button and the word “BAT” flashes up in the top window. If I hold the top button, the word “BAT” stays on the screen for a while and then both screens go completely blank and the watch seems to be in some kind of “Sleep Mode”. The screens are blank and the hands are still.
To “wake” the watch up again, I have to push the crown back in again, at which point, the watch returns to its normal operating mode and seems to reset itself to the correct time.
Keep in mind that this may harm your watch's movement if it sits for a long time without running, as the gears will not be lubricated.
When the battery is discharged and needs to be replaced, the LCDs start flashing. Also, when rotating the crown to the “blank LCDs” position, the upper LCD displays an odd “UEL” message. While the watch remains fully functional for at least several weeks, you may notice that the backlighting stops working, considering that it is the single most energy-consuming feature.
Once in end-of-life mode, you can still use your watch for several weeks (with its slightly diminished functions). However, it is not advised to let the battery run out entirely. The usual means of replacing the battery is bringing the watch to a Breitling retailer.
Animated picture of the B-1 showing “UEL”
From his conversation with Breitling USA, Andy reports that the UEL notification is actually a programming misprint: it should normally read “EOL”, but that became “UEL” because of an error in the digital code in the movement. Thanks Andy!