Buying, Selling, & Collecting: The Early Breitling Aerospace
An ’80s icon with lasting charm.
Originally published by James Stacey on HODINKEE, October 13th 2021
Of Breitling’s entire catalog, including their amazing vintage chronographs, my favorite model from the brand is the Aerospace. Born in the ’80s, the Aerospace was part of Breitling’s Navitimer line and it represented both the era’s boldness and its defining need for technology.
Originally launched in 1985, the Aerospace was a truly post-modern take on the idea of a pilot’s watch, and one that wholeheartedly embraced the watch world’s new overlord – quartz. Over the last 35+ years, Breitling has evolved the Aerospace several times, growing its case size and increasing its capability, usefulness, and accuracy.
But, as good as the modern Aerospace examples are (very), my heart will always be with the earlier models, which offer a unique combination of fit, personality, and value in the pre-owned market. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be taking a look at the earliest generations of the Aerospace, which at the core are 40mm titanium pilot’s watches with an ani-digi layout that manages several extra features while never getting in the way of the time display.
As a watch for the modern era, they still feel relevant – if a little bit quaint (smartwatches and all) – and they have a wrist presence like nothing else. They’re functionally very useful, supported by a (mostly) straightforward single crown interface that uses both turning and pressing the crown to advance the modes and control the features.
That’s right, the entire watch and its several complications are controlled via a small crown at three o’clock. The top screen displays which mode is currently active (1/100th chronograph, alarm, countdown timer, second time zone, and calendar) and the lower screen shows data relating to that feature. Spinning the crown cycles through the modes while pressing the crown activates the chosen function (such as starting the chronograph).
While this layout can seem a bit intense when setting the watch (though you can jump in whole hour increments, so it doesn’t take 25 minutes of spinning the crown to change the same), once you’re used to the format, it’s quick and easy to use and the crown can be wholly operated with the watch on your wrist. I’ve worn a gen 2 “Aerospace II” E56062 for everything from hiking to distance running, worldwide travel, and more.
But, as much as I may claim that the E56062 is the ideal reference for an early Aerospace, the fact is that from 1985 until well after the turn of the millennium, Breitling had some 40mm iterations of the Aerospace available and, though the movements changed somewhat over the years, the individual differences from one reference to another are defined by small tweaks in color and bracelet option. Let’s take a high-level look at the early Breitling Aerospace.
A Modern Pilot’s Tool
The original reference was the 80360 which has “Navitimer” on the dial but was clearly named Aerospace in terms of advertising and marketing. It was launched as part of the brand’s Professional series with a titanium bracelet that used thin titanium rods to form the connection between each link. As was common for Breitlings of the day, you could have it in titanium or titanium with gold-plated accents – few things feel more ’80’s than gold-plated rider tabs, eh?
Supporting both the analog and digital functions, these earliest of Aerospaces use the Breitling 56, a quartz movement based on the ETA 988.332 with ~4 years of battery life and functions including a perpetual calendar, a chronograph, and a second time zone. Breitling also produced a UTC module that was integrated into a matched bracelet and allowed for a separate display of UTC time, which is quite handy for pilots.
The format established by the 80360 was kept in place until the mid-’90s, but Breitling changed their reference numbers in the early ’90s, so you will also find E56059 (titanium) and F56059 (two-tone) examples that look very similar. This is also when we start to see “Aerospace” on the dial and “56” is for the aforementioned B56 movement.
Following the subtle updates of the early ’90s references like the E56060 and E56061, Breitling launched the first considerable update in the E56062 in 1994. Still powered by the B56 movement, the E56062 is commonly called the “Aerospace II” (for second gen) and the easiest hallmarks to recognize are a larger lower screen aperture (for increased legibility) and five-minute Arabic markings on the bezel, where previous iterations of the Aerospace have hash marks but only show Arabic numerals on the rider tabs.
For me, the E56062 is the reference to have as it was the most refined take on the original brief and it says “Aerospace” on the dial. The E56062 was offered in several versions with “F” references being two-tone and “K” references being those made of precious metal. Yes, the 56062 was offered in both 18k white gold and yellow gold. Depending on the reference, buyers could choose from either the distinctive Aerospace bracelet or Breitling’s Professional steel bracelet (which was and is common to several models in their line-up).
The example I owned – and wholeheartedly regret selling – was the full grey model on a matching Aerospace bracelet. These watches wear so well, weigh nothing, look great, and the bracelet even has a spring-tension extension in the low-profile clasp, so the bracelet is always expanding and contracting depending on the position of your wrist.
It’s one of the most comfortable and subtle watches I’ve ever worn and it never failed to work like a tool but wear like a thoughtfully designed luxury watch. To this day, I haven’t figured out how they made something so lightweight that still managed to feel this solid.
Then, in 1995/96, Breitling updated the E56062 with a repetition chiming movement, the B65. Based on the same ETA 998.332 quartz movement, the B65 offered a chiming feature, and this era of the E56062 (and its F and K siblings) shows “Repetition Minutes” on the dial rather than “Aerospace.”
Over the course of the next few years, Breitling released an updated dial design with an italicized font for the numeric markers (along with a sort of 3D shadow effect) and new dial colors, including dark grey, light grey, grey-green, blue, and even yellow.
The next major update came in 1999, when the Repetition Minutes Aerospace was offered as a COSC-certified chronometer. References were updated to E/F/K65362 and this would be the swan song for the B65-powered Aerospace line.
Next up, and forming the end of the 40mm Aerospace legacy, in 2000 Breitling announced a new but very similar iteration (are you seeing a pattern here?) of their oddball pilot’s watch in the E75362. Yes, still 40mm, but this new reference, which also came in F and K varieties, now ran on a new COSC-certified Superquartz movement, the B75.
Based on the ETA Thermoline 988.352, the B75 was a thermo-compensated high accuracy quartz movement that was capable of keeping time to +/- 10 seconds a year. These watches started to hit the market around 2001 and though they represent one of the more costly options in the lineage that is laid out above (not counting gold models), they offer the most advanced execution of an Aerospace to date, and if you care deeply for accuracy this is the reference to look for.
Offered in black, blue, grey-green, and grey, the 75362 reference range says “Chronometer Aerospace” on the dial, which also sports the bold italicized numerals of the 65362, and later 56062.
A Sky High Value?
Now we get to what I figure is essentially the best part, the price. If you’re reading this and feel the urge to add an Aerospace into your life, you’ll be happy to know that while pricing is up (like it is for essentially everything) the value proposition is still quite strong.
Pricing for the whole range will vary from around $800 for a well-used early example (usually in two-tone) to more like $1,300-$2,000 for a Repetition Minutes model, ~$2,200 for a B75-powered chronometer, and way way more for any model in precious metal (think: $12k+ for a B75 Aerospace with a matching gold Professional bracelet). The price has been climbing as of late, but the entry point is still within a couple hundred bucks of where I bought mine some five years ago (and roughly right where I sold mine a few years later).
But here’s the best part, the Aerospace format is so specific that the small adjustments from one reference to another – even when it comes to the movement – never amount to something that feels like a huge change (that is, assuming you’re not the type to have a spreadsheet tracking the accuracy of all of your watches).
You can mostly pick a version that matches your style (dial color, two-tone, bracelet or strap) and the rest is differentiated by relatively small factors. Yes, there are solid gold options and myriad special editions with special insignias on the dial – many with military connections – but those are outliers and fall outside the scope of this article (but are worth a Google search). From the 80360 of 1985 to an early 2000’s E75362, they are all winners and, due to both their uncommon layout and unique styling, the line has not been one that appeals to a broad range of collectors.
It’s a lightweight, highly functional, tech-forward niche that has remained part of the Breitling line-up despite endless pressure from G-Shock, Citizen, and the later creation (and massive success) of the smartwatch market.
As a modern watch, the early Aerospace doesn’t feel very advanced today but it does still feel intentional, well-designed, nicely made, and unlike anything else on the market. I will absolutely own another in the future, and if you only have room for one quartz watch in your collection the early Aerospace strikes an appealing balance in terms of size, function, form, and a specific of-the-era charm.