Breitling are very well known for their chronograph timepieces, and are one of the three big watch brands made up of Rolex, Breitling and Omega. Breitling have a very interesting history and are very well known for creating timepieces that incorporate useful functions for pilots and professionals alike – to be used as instruments rather than just mere watches. Founded in Saint-Imier, Bernese Jura by watchmaker Leon Breitling in 1884. They were famed for producing chronograph pocket watches. 1892 would see them relocate to La Chaux de Fonds, which was the hub of Swiss watchmaking at the time, to meet the demand of the rapid growth of Breitling. Though in the 1914 Leon pasted away leaving his son Gaston in charge.
One year later in 1915, during WWI, Gaston realised the rapid advancements in Aviation and the requirement for a precision instrument for this exact purpose and so introduced the first chronograph wristwatch designed especially for pilots. By 1923 Breitling had developed the first independent chronograph push piece, which featured start, stop and return-to-zero function that had previously been controlled by the crown. However in 1932, Gaston handed the family business over to his son – Willy Breitling – then in 1934 Breitling developed their second return-to-zero push piece. This invention made it possible to measure several successive short times, which incorporated the added function of the first push piece that gave the wrist chronograph its definitive form. 1936 would see Breitling become the official supplier to the Royal Air Force, which marked the start of their longstanding relationship with the international aviation.
In 1942 Breitling launched the Chronomat that would be the first time a chronograph included and slide rule and would be the eventual base of the famed Navitimer. In this same year they also widened their portfolio by adding the American Armed Forces. Now, 1952 would see Breitling create the Navitimer but there is suspicion as to whether this was the actual date of the release of the Navitimer. You see the stories of the first Navitimers are shrouded in mystery and even a bit of controversy. The problem is, no one quite knows for sure the full story and even if they do they have not yet spoken about it. Unfortunately the records held by Breitling SA in Grenchen, Switzerland are incomplete, so to tell the story of the most famous Breitling in itself is rather difficult even the foremost world experts on vintage Breitlings cannot agree on all details.
What is certain is that following the great success of the Chronomat, the world’s first slide rule chronograph released in the early 1942, proved to be invaluable as it enabled the pilot to make speed, distance and fuel-consumption calculations. The name ‘Navitimer’ is actually a combination of the words Navigation & Timer, since the watch was originally developed as a navigation watch for pilots, who could use the slide rule to calculate remaining distances, fuel consumption etc. So Breitling in association with AOPA (Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association) made a second slide rule chronograph and released it at some point between 1952 (which is claimed by Breitling) and 1954 (which is believed to be the correct period of release according to Breitling experts).
There is also another Breitling timepiece that is quite famous the Navitimer Cosomonaute that accompanied Scott Carpenter on the 1962 Aurora 7 spaceflight. The Navitimer seriously put Breitling on the world map and it is until today the most famous watch Breitling have ever produced. It’s highly unlikely that any other timepiece from their range will ever eclipse it. But while Breitling have a long and illustrious history of producing chronograph timepieces, lets not forget they also made some seriously cool vintage timepieces which didn’t feature chronographs at all, such as the Unitime World time and their Divers piece as well.