The History of Breitling
With a history spanning over 135 years, Breitling has built a reputation for its precise chronometers and pilot watches. Their rugged and technically focused designs have withstood the test of time. As a result, they’ve created some of the most highly coveted watches in the industry. Breitling has modest roots in the mountains of Switzerland but is now a force in the luxury watch world. We take a look at Breitling’s history & iconic models.
Leon Breitling established his namesake brand in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland in 1884. The business started as a modest workshop. They specialized in chronographs and other precision watches for sports, science, and industrial purposes. After just a few short years, Breitling started to take off and outgrew its small studio. In 1892, they relocated to La Chaux de Fonds, which was the center of watchmaking at the time.
The brand’s revered founder passed away a little over a decade later. This left the business in the hands of his son, Gaston. He took note of the evolution and expansion of aviation in WWI and the need for precision tools for pilots. Soon, Gaston shifted the brand’s focus to creating pilot watches, and his work quickly paid off. In 1915, Breitling introduced its first chronograph wristwatch. The first Breitling watch was an immediate success, and Gaston continued to hone the brand’s efforts on developing pilot watches. In 1923, he released another development: the first independent chronograph push piece. This advancement separated the stop and start functions. Ultimately, it proved to be particularly useful in calculating flight times as well as timing sports competitions.
Breitling’s Early Partnerships
By 1932, Gaston was ready to retire but wanted to ensure the brand remained in the family. Soon, his son, Willy, took his place at the head of the company. He helped Breitling secure partnerships with both the British Royal Airforce and the United States Army. In addition, he continued to further the work of his father and grandfather by focusing on innovating the chronograph function.
In 1969, Breitling made its next groundbreaking horological advancement. They participated in a top-secret endeavor called Project 99 along with their three of their cohorts, Heuer, Burne, and Dubois-Depraz. Together, they developed the world’s first self-winding chronograph movement. This was a monumental feat not only for the brands but also for the watchmaking industry as a whole.
Just about fifteen years later in 1984, Breitling solidified its place in watchmaking history. That year, they debuted their signature chronograph: the Chronomat. The introduction of the Chronomat marked the resurgence of the mechanical chronograph following the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s. The model features an iconic bezel design and rider tabs. To this day, the Chronomat is one of the brand’s most highly sought after watches.
Breitling’s Iconic Models
Although the Chronomat has become synonymous with the Breitling name, the brand also offers some other notable models. Two of the most popular are the Navitimer and the Emergency. The Navitimer, also known as the “super” chronograph, debuted several decades before the Chronomat in 1952. It features an innovative “navigation computer” that gives the watch the ability to handle calculations needed for a flight plan. Breitling introduced the Emergency just about a decade after the Chronomat in 1995. It features a built-in micro-transmitter that’s capable of broadcasting on the 121.5 MHz distress frequency. The signal can be picked up within a range of ninety nautical miles by aircraft flying up to 20,000 feet. Since its introduction, the Emergency has truly saved lives.
Breitling for Bentley
Another meaningful collection in the brand’s catalog is Breitling for Bentley. It all started in 2002, when Breitling was on hand to design the onboard clock for Bentley’s Continental GT. The following year, the Swiss watchmaker unveiled a special edition Bentley Le Mans watch to commemorate the car manufacture’s win at the 2003 Le Mans auto race. The two companies later teamed up to create Breitling for Bentley.
As one might expect, Breitling draws inspiration from Bentley’s prestigious automobiles when designing watches for the collection. The Bentley influence is especially evident in the Breitling Bentley 6.75 A44362 chronograph model. This watch gets its name from Bentley’s famed 6.75-liter engine found in their Mulsanne limousines. In addition, the caseback of the watch is a small-scale rendition of Bentley wheel rims. As with most of the Bentley watches, the 6.75 chronograph is equipped with a bezel featuring the Bentley honeycomb radiator grille motif. On the technical dial of the 6.75 A44362 are two large windows to indicate the date, in addition to the three subsidiary dials.
Another example is the Bentley GMT A47362. Sized at an impressive 49mm, this model is a beast of a watch. Aside from the timepiece’s unforgettable looks, the Breitling Bentley GMT is particularly practical too. In addition to the GMT function, the GMT A47362 also boasts a date and chronograph function.
The Bentley Barnato is an interesting subset of the Bentley watches. Its history spans long before the partnership between the two brands. In the 1920s, there was a group of British motorists who dubbed themselves the “Bentley Boys” for their obsession with Bentley automobiles. A key member of the group was racecar champion Woolf Barnato, who would later go on to become the owner of the Bentley company. In honor of the man, the brand introduced the Breitling Bentley Barnato model. It features a dynamic dial with the three dashboard-inspired registers, housed within a 49mm case. In addition, the caseback allows a view of the COSC-certified automatic movement through a seven-spoke wheel design.
The Breitling for Bentley Flying B series is markedly different from the brand’s other watches. The Flying B A28362 is an elegant tribute to Bentley’s famous vintage ‘Winged B’ symbol. The models showcase a unique rectangular case rather than a round one. The bezel of the A28362 is smooth, and instead, Breitling shifts the honeycomb radiator grille pattern to the dial. It’s also worth noting the dial features an off-centered pair of overlapping circular areas for the main hour and minutes indicators and a small seconds sub-dial. Lastly, there’s a prominent date window at 12 o’clock. Then, on each caseback, you’ll find the iconic logo. These two luxury companies may be in divergent fields. Yet, they both share the pursuit of high performance, mechanical mastery, and exquisite aesthetics.
The Breitling Brand Today
In more recent years, Breitling has persisted in keeping up with the latest advancements in watchmaking. For example, they launched their most precise self-winding chronograph movement, the Caliber 01, in 2009. In 2016, they debuted their first smartwatch: the B55 Connected. Two years later, they built upon their smartwatch line with the Exospace B55 Yachting. To this day, the brand continues to uphold Leon Breitling’s mission to develop the best precision watches on the market.