The History of the Breitling Navitimer

The Breitling Navitimer is a world classic amongst pilot watches. Pilots from all around the world still use the Breitling Navitimer. While many Air Forces continue to issue the timepiece as regular equipment. The emblematic timepiece with an integrated flight computer remains one of the most popular chronographs in aviation. While the design has become an iconic look, the Navitimer is first and foremost a tool of aviation.

Breitling Time: For the Plane and the Pilot

It was in 1884 that a 24-year-old by the name of Léon Breitling arrived in St. Iminer to create his first chronograph. After founding the namesake company, Breitling had developed a formidable reputation as a skilled watchmaker who crafted both timepieces and intelligent measuring tools. In its early days, the brand focused on chronographs which were in increasing demand for industrial, military and scientific applications.

Over the next few years, Breitling received serious demand for dashboard clocks in planes and military chronographs. By 1915, the company introduced one of the world’s first wrist chronographs with a separate push-piece above the watch crown. By the 20s, Breitling chronograph watches had earned its place as the aviator’s choice.

A Mini Computer for Pilots

During the 30s, Willy Breitling, the grandson of Léon who had inherited the company, envisioned the two-pusher chronograph–one to start and one to reset timing. Until 1934, chronograph wristwatches had only a singer push-piece, which Willy saw as a key deficiency. He also wanted to further the idea of the timepiece as a calculation tool and recruited the help of Marcel Robert. 

Together, they came up with a scale that featured the three most important units for the pilot: STAT for standard mileage, KM for kilometers and NAUT for nautical miles. By the 1940s, this allowed for pilots to calculate essential functions such as fuel consumptions, average speeds or climbing speeds.

The Birth of the Breitling Navitimer

In 1942, the Breitling Chronomat was introduced. The ingenious slide rule bezel of the Chronomat catered to pilots. The watch was highly practical and performed brilliantly throughout WWII.

A decade after its initial release, Breitling decided to improve on the innovative timepiece. Breitling introduced the Navitimer in 1952, which lent its name from the words “Navigation” and “Timer.” The slide rule bezel allowed for quick and easy calculations of complicated operations such as fuel consumption. As well as climb and descent rates and averages speeds without the need for any other tool.

The pearl bezel guaranteed easy grip and overall handling when in use, while the black watch face and chronograph display made for a beautiful design. It was a true pioneer that earned its name for its multiple functions that served as both a navigation tool and timepiece.

The first edition was powered by a manual chronograph movement with column wheel mechanism, known as the Venus 178, which was considered innovative at the time. These early versions of the navitimer are rare collectibles today.

It didn’t take for the model to enjoy worldwide success in the aviation world. In the same year, the Navitimer became the official watch of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). In 1960, the partnership between the two entities was cemented with the inclusion of the winged logo of the AOPA.

The Breitling Navitimer Effect

During the 50s, Breitling targeted groups of pilots with its advertising, successfully creating a huge demand for navigation chronographs. By the end of the decade, Breitling was an official supplier of dashboard instruments for all major aircraft companies.

During the 60s, Breitling replaced the Venus 178 movement with the Valjoux 7740 movement. In 1962, a special edition of the Navitimer, the Cosmonaute with the 24-hour display, accompanied astronaut Scott Carpenter to space. It was also admired by millions on the wrist of Captain Derval in the James Bond movie Thunderball (1965). In 1969, Breitling took another step towards modernity with the implementation of automatic chronograph movement in the form of the Breitling Calibre 11.

All in all, the model has largely remained true to its aviation roots to this day. The instantly recognizable look of the Navitimer has attracted watch enthusiasts for generations, staying true to the classic aviator style watch. The dial is a reversed panda color scheme. Very busy iconic dial. The raised “B” winged logo and red sweep of the seconds hand both add a sparkling touch of color.

Since its Breitling first introduced the model in 1952, the Navitimer has grown to achieve cult status. Generations of pilots have relied on the circular slide rules of the Navitimer for crucial calculations in the air. Whether in air and on land, the star of the Breitling collection continues to be an exceptional wrist companion to this day. The Breitling Navitimer is the most legendary of pilot watches and continues to reflect the spirit of aviation to this day.

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