Breitling’s history with the aeronautical industry is based on a relationship built over many years that has led to the creation of watches specifically developed for pilots, by pilots. The trademark of Breitling’s DNA is most definitely the slide rule: developed following discussions with pilots from the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), Breitling released a chronograph watch that had a slide rule bezel fitted, allowing pilots to make calculations on air speed, distance travelled and fuel usage on the fly.
This model was called the Chronomat and was released in the early 1940s. Its success led to further discussions with AOPA, and followed with the release of the Breitling Navitimer in 1952, which had the AOPA logo printed on the dial. The AOPA club brochure claimed that the watch was ‘completely designed and engineered to AOPA specifications’, and it must have been, because it became very successful.
Breitling’s contract with the Royal Air Force to supply cockpit clocks meant that the foundation for distribution of the Navitimer was already laid. Breitling’s reputation expanded further following contracts with Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed to supply cockpit clocks for their aircraft.
The air wasnt enough for Breitling, and in 1961, following a recommendation from NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter, the Navitimer was adapted to display a twenty-four hour clock on its dial instead of the usual twelve hour. The name ‘Cosmonaute’ was registered by Breilting, and in 1962, Carpenter wore his Cosmonaute into space aboard Mercury Atlas 7.
1968 saw the release of the big case Navitimers, the ‘Chronomatic,’ instantly recognisable with their rugged black bezel, octagonal case and square sub-dial hands. 1969 added the first automatic chronograph movement to the Navitimer (it is widely considered that the ‘El Primero’ was the first automatic chronograph movement; it was in fact the first integrated chronograph movement, but the Calibre 11, built as a joint effort between Breitling, Hamilton-Buren, Heuer-Leonidas and Dubois Depraz, came first, and was actually a modular automatic chronograph), narrowly beating the El-Primero as the first automatic chronograph on the market. The big case Navitimer was re-released as a special edition in 2006 in both twelve hour and twenty-four hour Cosmonaute versions.
The next significant change to the Navimter was the installation of Breitling’s in-house B01 movement in 2010. Available in limited numbers—2,000 steel, 200 18 carat rose gold—they paved the way for the release of the standard B01-equipped Navitimers, as well as the introduction of the B01 into other models.
There have also been a handful of special edition Navitimers, offered specifically to individual air-forces and squadrons around the world, which appear very occasionally on the pre-owned market from time to time. These watches are special because they have mostly seen active service, such as the watches offered to RAF Red Arrows pilots to commemorate their time with the squadron.
The Navitimer is arguably the most famous Breitling ever made, and has managed the test of time well. Its classic shape and immediately recognisable looks make this tool watch the genuine article.
- The dial on the limited edition Navitimer Caliber 01 is made from solid silver with the dial pattern etched in, filled with enamel and polished until flush
- The Navitimer was the first watch to be worn in space by an American astronaut, Scott Carpenter, during the 1962 Aurora 7 mission
- The circular slide rule can calculate multiplication, division, rate and distance of climb or descent, fuel consumption, speed, unit conversions, pulse rate and distance of thunder storms
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]