Once a manufacturer of aircraft cockpit instruments, Breitling has always had an affinity with the aviation industry and has moved with time and technology to provide pilots with useful equipment ever since. From the slide rule calculator bezel to the emergency distress signal transmitter, Breitling is a true pioneer of aviation. Read moreView All
A specialist in scientific measurement and timing devices, Léon Breitling opened his workshop in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland in 1884 to make exceptional watches. Even by watchmaking standards, his creations were intricate and complicated, and the success of his chronographs required Breitling to move to a larger factory on Montbrillant Street, La Chaux-de-Fonds, in 1892.
In 1914, Léon passed away, and his son Gaston inherited the business. He continued to develop the company’s bestseller, the chronograph, which was eagerly adopted by the military and police forces. The development of the brand’s watches continued through the First World War until Gaston’s death shortly after, leaving the business without a leader for five years before Gaston’s son Willy stepped in to assume command.
Willy pushed the company into the aviation industry, successfully winning a contract to provide watches to the British Air Ministry. The timing and conversion rulers available on the brand’s watches made them suitable for pilots who needed to make in flight calculations for speed, distance and fuel use. The slide rule bezel aided the conversions; it was first seen on the Chronomat, then later on the Navitimer and Montbrillant.
This affiliation with aviation became the brand’s crowning jewel, and before long, Breitling watches were being used not only by the Royal Air Force, but by many commercial pilots as well. The popularity of the brand also extended into space, when Lt. Commander Scott Carpenter wore a specially developed Navitimer on the Mercury Atlas 7 mission. He had commissioned the watchmaker to replace the standard 12-hour clock with a 24-hour one, a feature that made the watch far more practical in space. That watch became the Chronomatic Cosmonaut.
The Chronomat was introduced in 1941, and in 1969 it received the world’s first self-winding chronograph movement, developed with Heuer and Hamilton. It signalled a peak in development that, unfortunately, wasn’t to last. The success of the brand’s watches, particularly the mechanical chronographs, was brought to an end by the introduction of quartz movements in the late seventies, and in 1978, the company was put up for sale.
Breitling was then taken over by Ernest Schneider, himself a pilot, who developed new watches using quartz technology. The Academy, Jupiter, Pluton and Mars watches incorporated a traditional handset along with digital displays, allowing clear and functional use by the pilots who wore them. The design of the brand’s watches was undertaken with the consultation of aviation professionals, and their success evolved into the modern B-1, Aerospace, Chronospace, Airwolf and Emergency.
The watchmaker’s dedication to aviation captured the imagination of watch enthusiasts around the world. From rugged adventure watches like the Avenger, the Colt, the Galactic and the Cockpit, to sea-fairing ones such as the Superocean and Transocean, Breitling watches catered for every possibility. In a joint association with Bentley motorcars, the Breitling Bentley collection offers something for those who want a touch of extra heritage and luxury.
The introduction of SuperQuartz extended the accuracy of the brand’s quartz watches even further, providing ten times the accuracy of a standard Breitling quartz movement. This ongoing dedication to providing accurate and usable pilots’ watches has set the Breitling name in stone within the aviation community, and the brand’s style and innovation has done the same with the general public. The introduction of its first in-house chronograph movement in 2009 confirms that the brand will continue to be popular for a long time to come.