A lot of people have asked me why Breitling is not getting any love? Well, today I’m going to show a lot of love to Breitling because I want to talk about Breitling and its history.
Breitling was founded in 1884 by Léon Breitling as a steel watchmaker that crafted both timepieces and intelligent measuring tools. Breitling’s specialty from its very beginning was chronographs. When you think of Breitling, if you know Breitling and its history, the first thing that will pop into your head is chronographs.
During the time there was an increased demand for chronographs, (old measuring tools) across industrial, military, and scientific applications. Of course, let’s not forget athletic organizations as well, since they didn’t have computers back then, nor did they have iPhones. They needed to use something to measure time lapsed. A lot of those industries had a big need for that, and the biggest need was for accuracy and convenience of use.
In 1889 Mr. Breitling was granted a patent for a simplified chronograph, which was a pocket watch, and what separated it from most is the sleek, simple design as well as the low maintenance of the timepiece.
They established a huge reputation which prompted them to move to La Chaux-de-Fonds, the watchmaking capital of Switzerland, and of the world in 1892. In 1893, Breitling patented a chronograph that had an astounding eight-day power reserve.
There was also a model that had a pulsograph, which was ideal for measuring a patient’s pulse rate. So as you can imagine, there was a lot of demand for those in the medical field.
In the early 1900s, as the automobile industry was emerging, Léon Breitling patented a simple tachometer. It enabled the driver to calculate their speed, but it also enabled the police to do the same thing. Lo and behold let’s all together thank Mr. Léon Breitling for the first speeding tickets that were issued in Switzerland back then and all the way out to today. Of course, nobody’s sitting there now hiding in the bushes with a pocket watch nowadays, they have radars and stuff like that. But nevertheless, this is the guy that started the speeding ticket. So thank you very much Mr. Breitling for that. I’m sure we all feel the same.
Léon Breitling passed away in 1914 and Gaston Breitling, his son, took over the business and wanted to show what he can do. As a result of Gaston’s innovative spirit, he launched one of the world’s first wrist chronographs in 1915. It was the one that had a single pusher above the crown. Interestingly enough, a lot of these earlier Breitlings didn’t even carry the name Breitling on there. It wasn’t until the twenties till they started putting the Breitling name onto their watches.
Unfortunately in 1927, Gaston passed away unexpectedly. His son, Willy, who was only 13 or 14 years old at the time was way too young to take over the company. An external team took over and the company lived on. It survived the Wall Street Crash, and the Great Depression, which followed after.
In 1932, even though as was a very young man, Willy felt that he was ready to take on the company and continued the family’s success and the family business. Chronographs were still Breitling’s passion at the time, and Willy continued the tradition. Up until now, you had the one-button chronograph and then you had the two-button chronograph that was part of that crown.
In 1934, after adding buttons for starting and stopping the chronograph, the most obvious thing followed, and that was the reset button. They finally came out with a chronograph that had the start, the stop, and the reset button now, and that was only the beginning. This is also when Breitling got into aviation. In the early thirties, they started making cockpit tools, which had to be extremely accurate for flight, and this is why we know Breitling to be mostly an aviator’s watch to this day.
Breitling founded the “HUIT Aviation” department to meet the military and civil aviation sectors’ need for reliable onboard instruments. This newly specialized department developed, manufactured, and tested its products for use in demanding conditions – under, amongst, and above the clouds. To guarantee the quality of its products, Breitling had its own testing laboratory equipped with the latest technology. It included a micro-oscillograph for radioelectric inspection of the movements, test simulators for temperatures ranging from -40°C to +100°C, and “vibration tables” for stress-testing the instruments in various positions.
With World War II looming at the time, Breitling immediately received a huge contract from the Royal Air Force, basically gaining Willy’s brand access to some of the legendary bombers as well as the fighter planes.
Of course, in the 1940s, the famous Chronomat was born, which is characterized by a patented rotating slide used by technicians and scientists. In 1943 the premier line was born. Breitling created watches that were now meant to be fine timepieces rather than just an instrument. Even though it was still a good instrument, just the same because it was a chronograph.
And then of course in 1944, they did the Duograph, which was the split-second chronograph, and postwar, they created the Datora line, which had its calendar and the moon phase display. They didn’t stop in the fifties. The fifties was a super innovative time period for Breitling. Why was it innovative? Because that’s when the famous Navitimer came out. You guys are familiar with the Navitimer. This is a watch or an instrument that would provide timing and navigation, hence, Navitimer. Numerous pilots and aviation companies, airlines, and even airline manufacturers have opted for this timepiece ever since, until this day really.
Another milestone in the 50s was the Superocean. Willy literally made a splash with the Superocean. It was done for Willy Breitling’s 25th anniversary as the head of Breitling, and he made a diver’s watch with a case that was water resistance up to 200 meters.
And then of course the Transocean was born building on the momentum of the Superocean. Note that all these lines exist to this day. It was shockproof was anti-magnetic, it was just a rugged, rugged watch. They called it super sealed, and the public took a huge liking to that watch because now you have this rugged waterproof watch with the same precision of the flight instruments that Breitling made all these years before.
Astronaut Scott Carpenter redesigned a version of the Navitimer to include a 24-hour scale. Why? Because in space it was impossible to distinguish night from day, so very useful functionality there. He actually used the watch in 1962 aboard the Aurora 7. Not only did he design the watch, that watch actually made it into space.
Now onto my favorite bond, James Bond. In 1965, Thunderball, played by Sean Connery. Q gave James Bond a very special top time watch, which was equipped with a Geiger scale. He was trying to locate stolen nuclear missiles on the water, so he was measuring radiation. Of course, that watch never really existed. Although, I would love to get my hand on that movie prop. I’m sure it’s in a museum somewhere right now.
In 1979, shortly before his death, Gaston Breitling sold the remaining assets along with the names to a gentleman by the name of Ernest Schneider, who was actually a very fitting buyer for the company because Ernest Schneider was a watchmaker and a pilot. So in the perfect world, if Breitling had to sell to someone, this would be the guy.
The company, as we know it today was registered in 1982 as Breitling Montres SA. Under the new ownership, they celebrated their hundredth anniversary with the introduction of the Cockpit model. The ’80s were also very innovative for Breitling. They continued on a path of innovation. They created the Aerospace watch, this is a watch that had a digital display and an analog display. They still make them to this day.
In 1985, they made a new manual wind Navitimer, and in 1988 they came out with the Emergency watch, which was the first watch of its kind with an integrated emergency transmitter. It really came into its own in the 90s with the introduction of the patented deploying antenna system. In later models, the transmitter locked into the international distress frequencies. If you crash your plane somewhere in a jungle, you can actually utilize that watch to save your life.
Of course, there was more following just in time to mark their 125th anniversary, Breitling came out with their famous in-house movement, the Caliber 01, which was launched in 2010. It was the descendant of the Aerospace, and it didn’t just include time in one 100th of a second chronograph, but also had a digital display with an alarm, a calendar, a GMT, and a second-time zone along with the slide rule function so closely associated with the Breitling watches for professionals.
So here’s a quick run-through on Breitling for you guys in the history of Breitling. You guys know me. I love all things history, especially when it comes to these little mechanical wonders that we call wristwatches.
The issue with Breitling as I see it today, and why value-wise, they don’t hold as well is because they make a lot of watches. There are so many different variations of the Superocean and other lines that I’ve mentioned, including the Navitime and the Aerospace, and all those things that one can easily get lost when you go onto Breitling’s website. And on top of that, each one of these models can be customized with a different bracelet, a different buckle, a different strap
One might say that’s a lack of innovation or someone else may say they’re just sticking to their roots and they’re doing what they do best, and that is to make kick-ass watches, not just for pilots, but people that love watches. Watches for people that love aviation, love precision, and love chronographs. I think when it comes to chronographs, if you’re a chronograph lover, I can’t think of a better brand to go with than a Breitling because Breitling screams history when it comes to making chronographs and accurate instruments as I should call them.
These things to me, are mechanical wonders. When it comes to a company like Breitling with such rich history that held out for quite some time before selling to some of the bigger groups, definitely music to my ears. These instruments as Breitling often refer to their watches are just as near and dear to my heart as any other brand out there that I may speak about more often.