For many watch lovers, Breitling is the epitome of a high quality pilot’s watch, therefore it made perfect sense for us to take a look at its hugely impressive collection of timepieces made specially for the world of aviation.
What started out as a manufacturer of aircraft and cockpit instruments, Bretiling has had an association with the aviation industry which stretches back for more than a century. Over the years the brand has been an industry leader in developing wrist chronographs and is the only brand to equip all of its watches with chronometer certified movements.
Known for creating high performance and ultimate precision timepieces, Breitling also produces its own mechanical chronograph movement which is developed entirely in house.
Leon Breitling began making watches in 1884 from his workshop in the Swiss Jura Mountains, devoting himself to developing chronographs and timers to be used in the world of sports, science and industry. In 1915 Breitling created the first truly independent chronograph push piece.
By 1923, the chronograph had now been updated by Leon’s son, Gaston, and included a separate stop/start and reset functions which meant that it was now possible to add successive times without having to reset the counter to zero – a function that would prove to be most useful for timing sporting events and calculating flight times.
In 1934 Willy Breitling, Leon’s other son patented the design of the second independent creating what would become known today as the world’s first modern chronograph. It was this design that would go on to be replicated by other brands and watch makers.
Today, the Breitling brand is one of the last remaining independent Swiss watch makers.
Breitling and the World of Aviation
Building on its reputation for producing sturdy and highly precise timepieces, many of the early aviation pioneers increasingly chose Breitling’s pocket chronographs and then later its wrist watches to accompany them on some of their earliest flights.
In the early 1930’s, Breitling then produced a range of watches that would earn it fame throughout the world by creating onboard chronographs that were to be used in aircraft cockpits. These instruments proved to be indispensable to safe and secure piloting and because of this were used by a number of armed forces around the world, including the RAF which used them during WWII in its famous propeller driven combat aircraft.
After launching its famous Navitimer chronograph wrist watch in 1952, Breitling continued to play an important role in the world of aviation throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, with its onboard chronographs becoming standard equipment on many commercial propeller driven planes and then later on the jet aircraft of many commercial airlines, where it became known as the official supplier to the aviation world.
In 1952, Breitling launched what is perhaps the most revered of all of its watches – the Navitimer. What soon became the official wristwatch of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (the logo of which sits at the position of 12 o’clock) the legendary wrist chronograph features a circular slide rule bezel capable of making a host of pilot appropriate calculations, including airspeed, metric to standard conversions, distance calculations, fuel consumption and much more.
Incredibly, the Navitimer has been in continuous production for more than 60 years and has become something of a cult figure amongst pilot’s, aviation enthusiasts and watch lovers the world over.
The trademark of the Breitling Navitimer is its complicated black face, which includes 3 sub dials and a variety of different scales and figures, which as mentioned above can be used to calculate all manner of things in order to make a pilot’s job that little bit easier.
The Breitling Navitimer is one of the original ‘tool watches’ and is just as popular and revered today as it was when it was first launched. In fact, its popularity has meant that there are dozens of models to choose from, below are two of the most recent.
Breitling Navitimer Blue Sky
The Brietling Navitimer Blue Sky was launched to mark the 60th anniversary of the collection. Limited to 500 pieces the watch includes a Breitling Calibre 01 movement and is presented in a steel case measuring 43mm in diameter. With a 70 hour power reserve and sapphire crystal the watch is fastened using a blue leather alligator strap. From £6,600.
Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute 1962 Anniversary Edition
On May 24th 1962, American Scott Carpenter successfully orbited the Earth 3 times aboard the Aurora7 space capsule. On his wrist was a Breitling Navitimer, which then became the chronograph wrist watch to travel into space.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this pioneering feat, Breitling issued a new Cosmonaute model. Limited to 1,962 pieces the watch is distinguished by its 24hr display which helps to easily differentiate between day and night.
Measuring 42mm in diameter, the watch has a power reserve of 42hours and includes the Navitimer’s trademark black dial with 3 white sub dials and aviation numerals. From £6,400
Breitling Chronomat 1984
In 1984, after the brand was purchased by Ernest Schneider, Brietling launched the Chronomat, which was heralded as the rebirth of the mechanical chronograph. It is said that Scheidner wanted to launch a new mechanical watch to mark the brand’s 100th anniversary – the result was the Chronomat, which would go on to become Breitling’s biggest seller.
At the time of its launch, the case of the Chronomat included a number of features that were not typically found on chronograph watches. Most notable perhaps was that the watch had a flat profile. This was unusual as many large chronographs normally include lugs that would bend downward towards the wearers wrist. Instead, Breitling chose to position the ‘bend’ at the lug end of the bracelet.
Another unusual feature was that the watch included four projecting rider tabs around its rotating bezel which meant that the watch could be gripped easily when wearing gloves.
As well as being water resistant to 100m, the Chronomat underwent rigorous testing, which included being exposed to forces of more than 20G, which is far more than any pilot could ever actually endure.
The Original version of the Chronomat was powered by a 17 jewel Valjoux 7750 movement, which of course is well known for its accuracy and reliability.
Breitling Chronomat Evolution
This Breitling Chronomat Evolution (A13356) was released in 2006 and comes in a 43mm steel case with a silver baton dial. The watch is presented on a brown crocodile leather strap and is water resistant to 300m.
The Evolution version of the Chronomat is arguably the most accomplished and is truly a superb looking watch.
Breitling Chronomat GMT
In 2008, Breitling dropped ‘Evolution’ from the Chronomat name and in 2012 launched this, the Chronomat GMT, which is one of the most recent versions of the watch.
As well as its Chronograph feature, the Chronomat GMT includes a tachymeter scale, second time zone, 24hr display and date display. The watch also boasts the new Breitling Calibre 04, developed in house and based on the calibre 01, features a column wheel chronograph, is COSC certified, provides a power reserve of 70 hours, with 28,800vph and includes 47 jewels. From approximately £7,000.