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, leaving the business in the hands of his son, Gaston. He took note of the rapid evolution and expansion of aviation in WWI and the need for precision tools for pilots. He shifted the brand’s focus to creating pilot’s watches, and his work quickly paid off. In 1915, Breitling introduced its first chronograph wristwatch.
The watch was an immediate success. So, Gaston continued to hone the brand’s efforts on developing its pilot’s watches. In 1923, he released another development: the first independent chronograph push piece. This advancement separated the stop and start functions and 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. And, for the next several decades, 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. The brand 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 with the debut of its now signature chronograph: the Chronomat. The introduction of the Chronomat marked the resurgence of the mechanical chronograph following the Quartz Crisis of the 1970’s. 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 the calculations needed for a flight plan. The Emergency was introduced 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 search aircraft flying up to 20,000 feet. Since its introduction, the Emergency has truly saved lives.
In more recent years, Breitling has persisted in keeping up with the latest advancements in watchmaking. For example, in 2015, they debuted their first smartwatch: the B55 Connected. To this day, the brand continues to uphold Leon Breitling’s mission to develop the best precision watches on the market.