Breitling’s Navitimer is often given credit for being the world’s first calculator watch, and although it is a very successful model with plenty of accreditation, the history goes a little bit further back than that.
During the Second World War, Breitling engineers and watchmakers designed a watch that would revolutionise horology.
Before the age of calculators and computers, scientists, mathematicians, accountants and engineers were all reliant on slide rules and log tables to do their calculations, and Breitling wanted to create an all-in-one tool to make these day-to-day sums easier to achieve.
In 1941, Breitling patented an internal rotating slide rule that could be adjusted via the bezel, and released it for sale a year later in the new Chronomat. As Breitling’s flagship model, it has evolved to stay relevant to the needs of contemporary users; the original even considered the post-war frugality of many countries by marking the three, six and nine minute markers on the chronograph minute sub dial, the increment at which long distance calls were charged.
The Chronomat and the Navitimer —Breitling’s aviation offering —sat side by side as calculator watches until the 1980s when the flagship took a surprising turn. Computer technology was beginning to phase out the manual efforts of analogue calculators, and the Chronomat needed to become relevant again. The update came courtesy of Ernest Schneider, the man who resurrected Breitling after it was shut down in the seventies.
The new look Breitling Chronomat was the first to feature Schneiders bezel rider tab design. Designed at the behest of the ‘Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori’(Tricolour Arrows Aerobatic Team), the professional everyman watch became the modern pilots watch, with the Navitimer flying the flag for the companys heritage. The focus was on clear design and easy usability; the riders were added to give grip while wearing pilots gloves and a larger crown was added for the same reason. If anyone were to be uncertain about the Chronmats new designation, Breitling even added an engraved image of a plane to the case back to clear things up.
The modern pilot angle was taken ever higher in 1996 with design influence from one of the most impressive planes ever built – the SR-71 Blackbird. The black dial and matt case made the Blackbird much more tool-like and purposeful compared to the standard polished version, much like its namesake.
A decade later, and with modern watches growing in size, the Chronomat Evolution was launched. Bigger, thicker and heavier, the Evolution proved that Breitling wanted to stay on top of the game, and as mechanical watches rose in popularity, so did the need to have an in-house movement.
Late 2009, Breitling announced the arrival of the B01 in-house movement, first appearing in the Chronomat B01. With the new movement, the case, dial and bezel design were also refreshed, keeping the Chronomat one of the best watches Breitling makes.
- The Chronomat AB0110 is the first Breitling to be powered by the in-house B01 movement, which features a clever protective mechanism that allows the date to be changed at any time during the day without damage.
- The Chronomat was the first Breitling watch to be released with the patented slide rule that Breitling are now famous for.
- The four ‘tabs’ on the bezel were first introduced in 1982 as a struggling Breitling fought to stay afloat following the quartz revolution of the 1970’s.
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]