Breitling is a Swiss watch brand specialised in the manufacturing of highly reliable professional and aviation watch models. All Breitling watches are manufactured in Switzerland and are made from Swiss components. Its chronographs meet the highest criteria of sturdiness and functionality, and are all equipped with movements chronometer-certified by the COSC (Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute) – the highest benchmark in terms of precision and reliability.
A specialist of technical watches, Breitling has played a crucial role in the development of the wrist chronograph and is a leader in this complication. The firm has shared all the finest moments in the conquest of the skies thanks to its sturdy, reliable and high performance instruments. The world’s only major watch brand to equip all its models with chronometer-certified movements, the ultimate token of precision, Breitling is also one of the rare companies to produce its own mechanical chronograph movement, entirely developed and manufactured in its own workshops.
Origin of Breitling Watch Company can be traced back to 1884 when Léon Breitling, opened a workshop in Saint-Imier in 1884, in the Bernese Jura, to produce chronographs and timers for industrial and scientific purposes.
Léon Breitling was a skilled watchmaker and within a short time, the innovative features that he developed for his pocket watches earned the company a formidable reputation. Léon Breitling focused on chronographs, which were increasingly in demand at the time for industrial, military, and scientific applications as well as for athletic organizations. In 1889, Léon was granted a patent for a simplified model, which distinguished itself from its competitors through its sleek design, uncomplicated manufacturing process, and straightforward maintenance.
In 1892, in view of his products’ increasing success, Léon Breitling moved his company to La Chaux-de-Fonds, the watchmaking capital of Switzerland and the world. The “L. Breitling, Montbrillant Watch Manufactory” was set up in a large building on the heights of the town, where the workshops were to remain for over eighty years.
In 1893, the company patented a movement with an astonishing power reserve of eight days. In 1896, Breitling reached a major milestone: a chronograph that was accurate to two-fifths of a second. A model with a pulsograph, which featured a logarithmic scale ideal for measuring a patient’s pulse rate, was highly esteemed by physicians. Within a decade, the company had sold more than 100,000 chronographs and stopwatches.
In 1905, as automobiles were emerging as the preferred mode of transportation, Léon Breitling patented a simple timer/tachymeter that could measure any speed between 15 and 150 km/h. The Vitesse timer allowed drivers to calculate their speeds – but also enabled police to do the same, and soon afterwards the first speeding tickets were issued in Switzerland.
In 1914 Gaston Breitling took over the command of Breitling Watch Company on the demise of his father. In 1915 Gaston Breitling had created the first wrist watch chronograph and subsequently provided pilots with the first wrist instruments.
|First Wrist Watch Chronograph by Gaston Breitling|
In 1923, Breitling introduced first independent chronograph push piece by perfecting its system of chronograph controls by separating the “start/stop” functions, controlled by the pushpiece at 2 o’clock, from the “reset to zero” function activated by the crown.
This patented innovation marked a significant advance for the users: it was now possible to add several successive times without having to reset the hands to zero. This feature could be used for a sports competition, flight times or a scientific process.
In 1931, relying on its reputation for accuracy and reliability, Breitling added to its line a “specialty” item that was to make it world-famous: onboard chronographs for aircraft cockpits. These instruments were essential for safely reading the time and flight times, and had all the qualities one would expect of this type of equipment: solid construction, accurate movement, black dial with large luminescent white numbers, light yet sturdy aluminum case, etc.
Interestingly, many of the dials on Gaston Breitling’s products were unsigned and displayed either the customer’s name or protected logos such as Montbrillant, Sprint, and Vitesse. It was not until later in the 1920s that the name of the manufacturer finally appeared on the watches.
Gaston Breitling passed away unexpectedly in July 1927. His son Willy, then only 14 years old, was not yet old enough to fill his father’s rather impressive shoes, so for the next five years the company was managed by an external team. The company survived the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.
In 1932 Willy Breitling took over the firm. When he took the helm, chronographs were still at the heart of the business. Breitling’s collection included more than 40 different models for the wrist or the cockpit.
Until 1934, chronograph wristwatches only had a single pusher, so after a start and a stop, a reset inevitably followed. Willy Breitling saw this as a key deficiency, and in 1934, he filed a patent for the world’s first wrist chronograph with two pushers.
The second separate push-piece used exclusively for resetting the chronograph to zero. This patented invention was the final touch in giving the wrist chronograph its modern face. It was not long before all the competitors began using it as well. This invention made possible to measure several successive short times with an add function using the first push piece. In 1936 Breitling became the official supplier of Royal Air Force.
In 1936, he introduced a specially designed aviator chronograph with a black dial and striking luminescent numerals and hands as well as a practical rotating bezel with a useful, versatile pointer arrow that also glowed in the dark.
|Breitling Chronomat (1942)|
In 1942, Breitling expanded its line of “watch instruments” by creating the Chronomat, the first timepiece with a circular slide rule. Based on a patent filed in 1940, this system was capable of quickly and easily solving a wide range of mathematical operations: tachometer, telemeter and pulsometer functions; multiplication, division and rule of three problems; production calculations, etc. It rapidly found multiple uses in sports, industry and the technical professions. In parallel Breitling also expanded its client network by including American armed forces and other military organizations across the world.
Among Willy Breitling’s celebrated pioneering achievements was the establishment of the Huit Aviation Department in 1938. Fully aware of the strict requirements for military and civil aviation, its name – the French word for “eight” – was a perfect choice. It reflected the eight-day power reserve offered by many dashboard clocks and other dedicated chronometric instruments, including wrist chronographs, which the department was developing for professional aviators. In addition to their impressive power reserves and easy readability, these onboard chronographs were distinguished by their lightweight cases. The Huit products immediately attracted the attention of military aviators and, as World War II loomed, the Huit Aviation Department received a large order for chronographs from the Royal Air Force, gaining Willy Breitling’s brand access to the cockpits of the legendary bombers and fighter planes.
The eventful 1940s were also marked by such groundbreaking creations as the Premier line, which was introduced around 1943. The decision to use the French word for “first” for this collection was no accident – it referenced the civil, non-military use of chronographs, relying less on innovation and more on first-class quality, elegance, and attention to detail. With diameters of up to 38 mm and elegant designs, the Premier line, available in stainless steel or solid gold, marked yet another significant milestone for Breitling.
Two of the more intricate highlights of the era were the Duograph, which was introduced in 1944 and featured a split-second complication, and the Datora line, which was introduced immediately after the war and is characterized by its calendar and moon phase display.
In 1952, Breitling created a “wrist instrument” designed especially for pilots and aviation professionals. The Navitimer chronograph had two logarithmic scales for solving all air navigation calculations in a trice: average speed, distance traveled, fuel consumption, rate of climb or descent, conversion of miles to kilometers or nautical miles, etc.
It did not take long for the Navitimer to become Breitling’s most iconic model – and an object of veneration for all aviation enthusiasts.
|Breitling Chronomat (1942)|
During the 1950s and 1960s, Breitling supported the rise of commercial aviation by putting its onboard chronographs in the propeller aircraft, and later the jets, of many manufacturers and airlines. In particular, the brand gained entry to the cockpits of Boeing 707s, DC-8s and the Caravelle. That is how it became the “Official Supplier to world aviation.
Another milestone in the 1950s was the extraordinary SuperOcean diver’s watch with a water-resistant case up to 200 meters. Building on the SuperOcean’s momentum, Breitling launched the simple but robust TransOcean in 1958. The popularity of this shockproof, anti-magnetic, and “super-sealed” automatic chronometer was buoyed by the brand’s reputation for aviation precision.
In 1962, a version of the Navitimer designed by astronaut Scott Carpenter joined the original classic.
An important feature was its 24-hour dial, because in space, it was impossible to distinguish between day and night. Carpenter used the watch on May 24, 1962, during his mission aboard the Aurora 7 spacecraft.
|First Automatic Winding Chronograph by Breitling (1969)|
Breitling took up one of the great watchmaking challenges of the 20th century when in 1969 it introduced the first automatic winding chronograph movement, the “Chrono Matic” Caliber 11 developed in cooperation with Dubois Dépraz, Heuer-Leonidas and Hamilton-Büren. To mark this important turning point, the brand created an entire collection of “Chrono-Matic” chronographs with an innovative design, recognizable by their crown on the left side of the case.
1969 also marked the beginning of the era that, somewhat improbably for the Swiss watch industry, was marked by electronically controlled wristwatches. Breitling, like most other major brands, responded to the trend with its own quartz models, including a quartz Chronomat, and starting in 1973, they even introduced quartz versions of the iconic Navitimer.
In spite of the turbulence of the late 1970s, Willy Breitling remained a grand seigneur of the old school. He was struggling with his health, and his sons, Gregory and Alain, were still young and – like many others – uncertain about the future of the industry. The consummate entrepreneur decided it was time for an orderly retreat. In April 1979, shortly before his death, he sold the remaining assets along with the familiar brand names and the well-established watch models, including his beloved Navitimer, to the visionary entrepreneur Ernest Schneider, who, fittingly, was also a watchmaker and a pilot, and whose family would remain the guardians of the Breitling legacy until 2017.
After the registration of Breitling Montres SA on November 30, 1982, the company headquarters was relocated to Grenchen. Under its new ownership, Breitling celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1984 with a completely redesigned Chronomat, which was characterized by its bezel riders and its automatic chronograph caliber. The design was based on a watch that the brand had developed the previous year for the renowned Italian flying squadron Frecce Tricolori.
To guarantee the quality of its “instruments for professionals,” Breitling decided to subject its entire production (mechanical and quartz movements) to the merciless tests of the COSC (Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute), the highest standard of reference for accuracy and reliability. In doing so, the company became the only major watch brand in the world to offer chronometer-certified movements for all models in its collection. To help meet this challenge the company created Breitling Chronométrie in La Chaux de-Fonds.
In 1985, the multifunction Aerospace was introduced. This innovative quartz watch with a titanium case had a double display – analog and digital – and its dial featured two liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. It was notable for its particularly simple and logical control system and an impressive array of functions, all of which were activated by simply turning, pressing, or pulling the crown.
1985 also marked a new beginning for the Navitimer, which was introduced as a manual-winding version. The Reference 81600 celebrated the original Navitimer, both in terms of looks and function, while an automatic version was released in 1987.
Another star was the Emergency, which, as its name suggests, was the first wristwatch to be equipped with an integrated emergency transmitter. It was launched in 1988 with a single antenna, but truly came into its own in 1995 with the introduction of an ingenious patented antenna deployment system. The later model’s micro-transmitter, which was locked onto the international air distress frequency, was equipped with two antennas and had a 48-hour independent power reserve.
In 1998, Breitling launched B1, the most versatile multifunction chronograph ever to merge from its workshops. In 2000 Breitling inaugurated its new head quarters and state of the art work shop in Grenchen, Switzerland with ultra modern facilities.
In 2001, Breitling introduced thermally compensated SuperQuartzTM movements in all its electronic models. These are ten times more accurate than ordinary quartz movements. In 2002, Breitling made the dashboard clock for the Continental GT, the most powerful Bentley model ever made. A year later, the brand supported the British maker’s triumphant return to the Le Mans 24 Hours by sponsoring Team Bentley. This partnership was to lead to a new collection of chronographs and watches called Breitling for Bentley, powered exclusively by chronometer certified mechanical movements and distinguished by various special technical features. In 2002, Breitling Chronometrie , a unit specializes in the making of mechanical chronograph movements was established in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
In 2005 John Travolta, Hollywood actor and a seasonal pilot began to appear in new BREITLING advertising campaigns. In 2007 Breitling became the official timekeeper of the Red Bull Air Race.
In 2009, a comprehensive new reference work on Breitling by Hervé Genoud was published. Based on new historical research and enlivened by more than 450 images, including numerous original documents, “Breitling The Book” by Hervé Genoud is a must-have reference work for brand lovers, as well as for devotees of watchmaking, chronographs and aviation.
This book describes 125 years of passion for chronographs, reminding readers of the crucial role Breitling has played in the technical development of this type of watches – from the first pocket watches created by Léon Breitling from 1884 right the way through to today’s “instruments for professionals”, and along the way the invention of the first independent pushpiece in 1915, the separation of the “stop/start” and “reset” functions in 1923, the invention of the second independent pushpiece in 1934 and the first selfwinding chronograph in 1969.
And just in time to celebrate another milestone anniversary – the 125th – Breitling introduced the in-house automatic chronograph Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01, an innovation that granted the brand membership in the elite circle of top watch manufacturers.
The Chronospace was launched in 2010. A dazzling descendant of the Aerospace, its functions not only included the time and a one-hundredth of a second chronograph, but also a digital display with an alarm, a calendar, a countdown timer, GMT time, and a second time zone along with the slide rule function so closely associated with Breitling’s watches for professionals.
2015’s Exospace B55 combined the appeal of an outstanding wristwatch with smartphone connectivity. Particularly eye-catching with its black titanium case and rubber strap, it was – in true Breitling tradition – designed for aviation professionals.
In May 2017, Breitling became a part of CVC Capital Partners, and in July of that year, Georges Kern assumed the role of CEO.
Official website: http://www.breitling.com
Text and image courtesy: PPR/Breitling