Aviation History of Breitling11:55 am
It takes ingenuity, revolutionary technology and a passion for risk, to conquer the skies and space. These qualities are at the heart and soul of Breitling. The aviation history of Breitling began in 1884, when Leon Breitling founded his workshop in the Jura mountains of Switzerland. He devoted himself to an exclusive and demanding field: scientific chronographs and timers. Intended for use in sports, science and industry, the brand became known for its high quality products and constant quest for innovation. In 1896 Leon Breitling introduced for the first time, two chronographs with a unique reset button, this was the first step in the development of the wrist chronograph. These chronographs became extremely popular with aviators, to measure and master their flight times. The company produced and sold over 100,000 timers and chronographs mostly for aviation.
A decade later when Gaston Breitling inherited the firm from his father Leon, the next phase of Breitling’s aviation history began. Gaston’s deep interest in wristwatches lead to the invention of the world’s first wrist chronograph with an added innovation – a separate button beside the crown to independently operate the stopwatch functions. This became the ideal watch for aviators to calculate distance and landing times. With the absence of electronic instruments in the plane dashboard, the only instrument a pilot could rely on was his Breitling watch. Pilots could measure several consecutive timing operations in a row without having to reset the hands.
In 1932 Gaston’s son Willy Breitling takes over the affairs of the company and continues the tradition of innovation, by adding a second button below the crown to independently reset the chronograph. Thus Breitling defined back then, today’s configuration of the chronograph. Under the leadership of Willy Breitling the company began to supply chronograph instruments for airplane dashboards. Britain’s Royal Airforce (RAF) became one of their first and most enthusiastic customers. They equipped all their fighter planes with Breitling cockpit clocks. Breitling became the official supplier to the British Airforce war birds.
Fearlessness in leadership and a passion for aviation technology are the DNA of Breitling. Probably the finest example of this is the brand’s third generation leader Willy Breitling – a man who took great risks with his beliefs and his company. Probably the most interesting character the Swiss Watch Industry has ever known. In 1940, the World War II had descended over Europe; Willy Breitling’s relationship with the British Royal Airforce put his company in jeopardy. The Nazi Military was at the Swiss border and the threat to him and his company was real as he was aiding an enemy of the Nazis. This was probably the most risky time in the aviation history of Breitling. Supplies of cockpit clocks to the British Royal Airforce could not be stopped as at the time of war, as they were critical supplies. Willy Breitling would wait at a secret mountain meadow location for an RAF plane to land and hand a box full of aviation clocks. Next he would cover his tracks by going to the nearest town bar and getting involved in a drunken brawl. He would be arrested and this would be the perfect alibi to cover up his secret meetings. This was done a number of times during the war but Willy Breitling never got caught. He was the ultimate risk taker.
Breitling Navitimer – The cult object with Aviators
With the addition of a circular slide rule to the bezel of the wrist chronograph models, Breitling has created the famous Navitimer which became a cult object with the aviation community. Breitling became the official supplier of cockpit clocks to all major airlines. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association offered Navitimer watches with their AOPA logo on the dial. In 1961 Scott Carpenter requested for a custom made 24-hour Navitimer as it was difficult to see if it were day or night in outer space. He wore this watch on the Aurora 7 Space capsule, the Mercury Atlas 7 mission, making the Navitimer the first wrist chronograph to be worn in outer space. This model was later marketed as the Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute. Here we feature the iconic Navitimer from Breitling that is the oldest mechanical pilots watch still in production.
Breitling Navitimer 01 – Ref AB012012/BB01/436X/A20D.1
The favorite watch of pilots and aviation enthusiasts the Breitling Navitimer 01 is distinguished by its 43mm steel case and its black dial with a red seconds hand, silver chronograph sub-dials and applied hour markers. The circular slide rule markings on the bidirectional ratcheted rotating bezel are an iconic part of the watch. Powered by a precise and robust Breitling 01 movement, the watch has a 70 hour power reserve and chronograph features to measure 1/4th of the second. A high quality black leather strap secures the watch on the wrist in all challenging flight environments.
Breitling Chronomat – The Rebirth of the Mechanical Chronograph
Aviation is about recognizing the environment, adapting and changing course to meet goals; the right decision can meet life or death. In 1979 Wiley Breitling was at a crossroads. The rise of digital quartz movements was threatening the entire Swiss Watch Industry. A new successor was to be appointed and the next course of action had to be decided for the Breitling company. The future was uncertain. Ernest Schneider who was a pilot, watch manufacturer, microelectronics specialist took over the reigns of the company from the founder’s grandson Willy Breitling. He continued the tradition of fearless leadership and passion for risk, by making a mechanical chronograph for the elite Italian flight squad – the Frecce Tricolori. This was known as the Chronomat. With its sturdy case and famous bezel with rider tabs, it marked the return of the mechanical chronograph and quickly became the best selling watch that Breitling made. This position is held till the current day.
Breitling Chronomat 44 GMT – Ref AB042011/BB56/375A
In 1984 the rebirth of Breitling happened with the introduction of the Chronomat. In a world dominated by Quartz watches, the Chronomat was an extremely accurate and precise mechanical chronograph and was adopted by pilots and aviation enthusiasts world wide. It became the most popular Breitling watch to be sold in the world market. Featured here, the Chronomat 44 GMT is the ideal world travel watch with a GMT hand that can be conveniently set to the new time zone. Featuring a 44mm steel case and a black dial with silver chronograph sub-dials, the watch has a bold and highly legible design. Equipped with a 70 hour power reserve thanks to the Breitling Caliber B04 movement, this model features a rotating bezel for a 24-hour third timezone reading. Please also read about the Breitling Chronomat 44 on this link.
Video on the aviation history of Breitling:
By Pranav Karol
Features Writer, The Watch Guide
A watch enthusiast who is very passionate about performance watches. A keen observer of the horological world and its latest developments.