Breitling watches

Breitling watches: history, innovations and 2021 timepieces

Breitling, or Breitling 1884, as the brand logo suggests, was founded in 1884 by Leon Breitling in Saint-Imier, Switzerland, and is a brand specialized in manufacturing chronographs and precision instruments like stopwatches since its foundation. Historically connected to the military supply, the Swiss brand is synonymous with iconic chronographs that marked watchmaking and chronometry. We're talking about icons in their respective class of products like Chronomat, Navitimer, Superocean, and Emergency.

The Breitling chronograph

Breitling's core business was the chronograph; back then, this kind of timepiece was trendy across the industry, the military, and for scientific purposes, as well as for sports timing. The brand gained several awards, thus growing its reputation as a manufacturer of accurate watches and production volumes. The outcome was the brand opened a new factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1892, employing 60 people.

breitling-wrist-chronograph-with-the-first-independent-pushpieceToday, a long power reserve is a standard specification, not in 1893 when Breitling built and patented a mechanical movement capable of running for eight days. Once again, Breitling shocked the industry by introducing a chronograph accurate to two-fifths of a second in 1896. In a ten-year time, Breitling manufactured more than 100,000 chronographs and stopwatches.

The brand's capabilities extended to the automotive industry: Léon Breitling patented the Vitesse speedometer in 1905.

1914: Gaston Breitling takes over the company

The tradition of making superbly accurate timepieces continued in 1915. Under Gaston's leadership, Breitling presented the first chronograph with a Chrono push-button separated from the winding crown, followed in 1923 by a pocket chronograph with a push button at two o'clock for a start and stop and a second coaxial-to-the-crown push-button for resetting the chronograph hand.

1932: Willy Breitling is the new Breitling's President

breitling-advertisement-for-the-double-pushpiece-chronographThe brand kept pioneering the chronograph and in 1934 patented the first-ever wrist chronograph with two pushers, thus overcoming what Willy considered a wrist chronograph's primary constraint; a wearer couldn't restart the chronograph after stopping it.

1940: the Breitling Chronomat

breitling-chronomat-1940The original Breitling Chronomat was different from the watch we're buying today. It adopted a rotating slide rule, which proved how close was the relationship between Breitling and the world of aviation. The slide rule will abandon a Chronomat's dial over time to become the brand's hallmark of another iconic chronograph: the Breitling Navitimer.

1952: the Breitling Navitimer

first-breitling-navitimer-1952The name Navitimer encloses the terms navigation and timer. Featuring a flight-designed slide rule, it's Breilting's most popular and all-around chronograph and the only one to have virtually preserved its original design across the brand's offering. The Navitimer has been produced in countless variants, first with a hand-wound movement, then with a self-winding one. Numerous are the Limited Edition models, too, the last in a row celebrating the golden age of transoceanic commercial flights.

Another milestone of the brand, fully renewed in 2020, is the Breitling SuperOcean, the first diving watch waterproof up to 20 bar (or up to 200 meters deep).

1958: the Breitling TransOcean

The SuperOcean was then followed by the Breitling TransOcean, a shockproof and anti-magnetic self-winding chronometer featuring a "super sealed" case.

1962: the Breitling Navitimer travels to space

1964-the-navitimer-the-navitimer-cosmonaute-and-commander-scott-carpenterAstronaut Scott Carpenter helped develop a specific variant of the Navitimer; it housed a never-seen-before 24-hour scale since, once in space, it is hard to identify day or night hours. Carpenter used this special Navitimer, known as the Breitling Cosmonaute, on May 24, 1962, during its mission aboard the Aurora 7 spacecraft. A few years ago, Breitling launched a commemorative and limited edition version, which is quite sought-after today.

Breitling watches in the show biz.

Between the sixties and eighties, Breitling watches were trendy, either on a space ship wrapped around Scott Carpenter's wrist or screenplay in Ian Fleming's 007 series, with Sean Connery sporting a Breitling Top Time equipped with a Geiger counter, in the movie Thunderball.

Raquel Welch wore a Breitling CoPilot in the film Fathom, too. Miles Davis used a Breitling Navitimer, like Formula 1 drivers Jim Clark and Graham Hill. Finally, the great downhill skier Jean-Claude Killy was among Breitling's top ambassadors, on and off the ski racing course.

1979 - 2017: the modern era of Breitling Watches

In 1979 the Breitling family stepped off the company. Willy Breitling was the last family member to lead the company before handing over to Ernest Schneider, a watchmaker and a pilot, and a great admirer of the brand. Under his leadership, the company moved to a new headquarters in Grenchen.

1983-Breitling-Frecce-Tricolori-ChronomatIn 1984, Breitling introduced the contemporary Breitling Chronomat, whose market success was remarkable. A Breitling Chronomat on a Rouleaux bracelet, reissuing the timepiece supplied to the PAN aerobat team, and known as Breitling Frecce Tricolori, guaranteed the Swiss brand first-page news again. The new owner developed a whole new product portfolio, combining historical and heritage watches like the Navitimer with reissues like the Breitling Chrono-Matic.

1988: the Breitling Emergency

With the Emergency's launch, Breilting makes a technical watch designed for military use available to consumers. By adopting a radio transmitter synced to standard military frequency, the Emergency can save anyone whose life is in danger. The second-generation model, the Breitling Emergency 2, is an advanced wrist device equipped with a beacon.

2009: the Breitling B01 in-house chronograph

In 2009 Breitling replaced its once adopted Valjoux-based (Breitling Chronomat) or Lemania manual winding movement (Breitling Navitimer) with a new in-house automatic movement, featuring a column-wheel mechanism, a long power reserve, and 4Hz frequency. The B01 has paved the way for further complications like a split-second Chrono you'll find on the Navitimer.

The Breitling Bentley collection

It is a collection that has long marked the partnership between the Swiss brand and the British luxury car manufacturer. Over the years, this collection has represented one of the first and most enduring partnerships; Breitling has manufactured various chronographs bearing the Bentley insignia, some of them housing a tourbillon. The collection is not part of its core offering, as it used to be in the 2000s, any longer.

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