Breitling: rugged precision
Breitling watches are rugged instruments for professionals. Fact. Also true is the fact that every new Breitling that leaves the factory is a chronometer. So yes, a Breitling is tough, but it is also very accurate. Breitling is one of the very few watch brands that put all its timepieces (both mechanical and quartz) to the merciless tests of the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (C.O.S.C.). The result is a collection that consists solely of very precise chronometers. Striving for precision is a deeply embedded principle of Breitling. The foundations of Breitling date back to the late 19th century. In 1884 Swiss technician Léon Breitling started a factory specialising in the production of stopwatches and chronometers. Léon was not interested in manufacturing pocket watches for the common man in the street, but for scientists.
It’s hard to pick a number one Navitimer since there are so many intriguing variants, so we’ll go with these three classics: the 50s/60s Navitimer 806 with the AOPA wings on the dial (AOPA stands for Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), the 1993 Navitimer Rattrapante, the 1960s Cosmonaute, a Navitimer with a 24h dial that NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter wore.
Ruelle Montbrillant in La Chaux-de-Fonds housed the Breitling atelier from 1892 to 1979. The name Montbrillant is linked to the history of the brand and is inspired by some of the brand’s early creations from the 1940s and 1950s. Of course, the dial of the Montbrillant features the famous aviation slide rule also found in the Navitimer.
The Breitling Emergency is the only real lifesaving watch. In 2003 two British pilots were rescued after a helicopter crash of in the Antarctic after activating their Breitling Emergency. There are two generation Emergency versions of the watch and they’re both equipped with a built-in location radio beacon. The first 43mm variant was introduced in 1995 and the 51mm, dual-frequency version of the Emergency, replaced the smaller version in 2013. Nothing says ‘professional adventurer’ more than an Emergency.
The Chronomat is Breitling’s contemporary chronograph classic. Chronomats from the 80s are very retro and the Chronomat 44 Blacksteel Special Edition is a modern interpretation with a black DLC steel case with the chronometer Caliber 01 inside.
Instruments for Professionals
Ernest Schneider was not only an entrepreneur and an electrical engineer but he was also a passionate pilot. This background ensured that the already strong bond between Breitling and the aerospace industry only got closer. The new owner also saw the commercial value of these intertwined worlds and introduced them to the market. The slogan ‘Instruments for Professionals’ was introduced as a brand motto. The psychological quality of the slogan is that every Breitling is advertised as a purely functional instrument and that, by the grace of Breitling, also the man in the street can purchase such a top product. If that doesn’t make you feel special, nothing will. Ernest Schneider, who died in 2015, passed the baton to his son Theodore in the 1990s. In 2017 Breitling was bought by CVC Capital Partners of Britain. The company acquired a majority stake in and Theodore Schneider retains a 20% stake in the company by means of a reinvestment. New ‘captain’/CEO of Breitling is now Georges Kern, the man who lead IWC with great success. Kern is also a stakeholder and has already shown his vision for the future with the launch of the Navitimer 8, a new take on the classic Navitimer that is so important to Breitling.
Mechanical and quartz Breitlings
Everything revolves around functionality at Breitling. That also means the manufacturer doesn’t discriminate when it comes to watch movements. Breitling produces both quartz and mechanical movements in-house and there’s also a smartwatch in the catalogue. The Breitling Exospace B55 Connected is a pure Swiss watch with an in-house thermo-compensated, chronometer precise SuperQuartz movement. The automatic chronograph movement Caliber 01 is Breitling's first in-house mechanical movement. It can be found in various models such as the Navitimer, the Chronomat, the Superocean Héritage II, and the new Navitimer 8. After Caliber 01, variations such as Caliber 04 with two time zones followed and also the more complicated Caliber 05 with a world-time function.
Breitling today uses a completely new and revolutionary industrial process to produce its timepieces. Watches are made in a laboratory rather than a watch factory. Each individual timepiece is followed by a hypermodern computer program that automatically sends the timepiece to the correct workstation. The system was originally intended for the pharmaceutical industry, but it also proved to work well in the world of Haute Horlogerie. This very flexible production process leads to the highest degrees of precision and quality.
The first Navitimer adventures
The professional approach remains an essential part of Breitling. In the 1930s, Breitling produced onboard chronographs that were mounted in aircraft cockpits. The manufacturer made them for Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed but also for the British Air Force with which an agreement was made in 1936. It was during this period that Breitling evolved into the brand for pilot’s watches. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Breitling presented a wrist stopwatch - an ideal instrument for navigating in the air - and in 1956 the famous Navitimer made its debut. The name Navitimer is a mixture of ‘navigating’ and ‘timing’ and the watch was in production for more than sixty years. In 1962 a Breitling Navitimer sat on the wrist of NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter on his space journey in the Aurora 7 capsule, and so the Navitimer became the first chronograph in space.
Breitling is located on the edge of watch capital La Chaux-de-Fonds, which has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city in the Swiss Jura is the original site of Louis Breitling while the headquarters can be found in Grenchen. To this day, Breitling is an independent manufacturer. Founder Léon Breitling undoubtedly would approve. Léon Breitling was succeeded by his son Gaston after his death in 1914. As befits a good family business, Gaston handed over the command to his son Willy in 1932. Willy Breitling died in 1979. The unstoppable invasion of cheap Asian battery watches was one of the reasons Breitling soon had to close its doors. But despite the crisis all Swiss watch manufacturers were struggling with, Ernest Schneider saw the potential of Breitling. The unique history and groundbreaking products made this Swiss businessman decide to buy the trademark rights just after the demise of Willy Breitling. Thanks to Schneider, Breitling got the opportunity to soar once more.
The future revives the past
The course that ‘Captain’ Kern wants to create for the future revives Breitling’s past. Kern focuses strongly on the heritage of the brand, meaning that he has created more attention towards vintage Breitlings on the market. More and more watch enthusiasts and collectors are now looking at vintage Navitimers and pre-owned Chronomats. The Chronomat is a chronograph that became popular in the 1980s when the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian air force’s demonstration and aeronautics team, chose Breitling as their official watch supplier. Chronographs like the various Navitimer and Chronomat models have a solid place in watch history and therefore will always be in demand. Choose a Navitimer if you like vintage, and choose a Chronomat if you like retro.