Breitling watches are among the most sought-after in the world among watch lovers and collectors, thanks mainly to their technologically advanced pilot watches. Ever since the company was founded, Breitling has defended its position as a watch supplier to the world’s aviation community and is today, among other things, the official supplier to the AOPA (Aircraft Owner and Pilots’ Association).
The fact that many different models of Breitling watches are sought after by collectors is not surprising when you look back in history. Few other watch brands can boast the same creative spirit and breadth of expertise as this classic brand.
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The history of Breitling
The story of Breitling began in 1884 when Léon Breitling opened his first watchmaking factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. There he produced pocket watches and chronographs intended for use in aviation and for scientific tests requiring timekeeping.
As aircraft developed, new demands were made on timekeeping and in 1914 Breitling specialised in making wristwatches. By this time, Léon had handed over responsibility to his son Gaston. These early watches had a stopwatch function, luminescent dial and hands and were primarily developed with the approaching war in mind.
In 1923, Breitling developed the first chronograph with an independent start button, a foretaste of the look of chronograph watches today. In 1936, Léon’s grandson Willy Breitling launched a chronometer for the instrument panel of aircraft drivers’ cabs. It became a supplier to the Royal Air Force at the same time, and since then Breitling has continued to supply customers such as Boeing, Douglas and Lockhead with these watches.
The next major historical stop was the launch of the Chronomat watch, which was launched in 1942 and became the watch of choice for American fighter pilots – a mechanical chronograph that still belongs to Breitling’s flagship lines.
Perhaps the most iconic of all the models is still the Breitling Navitimer, launched in 1952. This chronograph was specially designed for pilots and could be used to prepare flights, check flight paths and calculate speeds and fuel consumption. This powerful mechanical watch is one of the world’s most copied wristwatches after Rolex and very interesting for collectors around the world.
Another very popular wristwatch is the Breitling TransOcean Unitime, which was launched in 1958 and quickly became a favourite with international travellers. The Unitime shows the time in all countries of the world simultaneously. The system uses two moving dials, one showing the 24 hours and another bearing the names of 24 countries in the world representing the 24 time zones.
In 1962, the Cosmonaute Chronograph, a quartz version of the Navitimer watch, was launched and became a top seller after astronaut Scott Carpenter wore this wristwatch when he was launched in the Aurora 7 space capsule. Breitling, along with Heuer and others, was involved in an effort to develop chronographs with automatic movements and in 1969 launched its first self-winding chronograph.
However, Breitling is not only known for its pilot watches. Five years after the launch of the Navitimer came a collection of professional diving watches called the Breitling Superocean. This line was a pioneer in many ways, not least because of its design. Indeed, this model is considered to be the first to feature the now coveted Panda dial. Although the Superocean was initially produced with professional users in mind, it quickly became popular with recreational divers and other watch enthusiasts. The model also belongs to Breitling’s flagship lines today.
Another collection of diving watches from Breitling is the Avenger series, some of which are water-resistant to a depth of 300 metres and others to an amazing 3000 metres.gg.
At the Basel Fair in 1988, Breitling revolutionised the watch world when it unveiled the Emergency model, one of the few watches with a radio transmitter. However, the model was only launched in full scale in 1995. The lower part of the case contains a miniature transmitter with an antenna and was designed for emergency situations, particularly for the air force and the military.
In the 2000s, Breitling has continued to develop its watches, including giving all its models movements that have undergone a so-called chronometer certification. In 2003, it also launched Breitling for Bentley, the first watch in collaboration with the luxury car manufacturer Bentley, a collaboration that continues to this day.