Breitling: A Brand History

In 1884, a watchmaker named Léon Breitling sat down in his workshop in the Swiss Jura to make chronographs and precision counters for scientific and industrial purposes. He was ambitious, but little did he know that his handiwork would kickstart a revolution in the world of aviation, and one of the most exclusive luxury brands in the world.

h initial endeavours occurred at a time when sports, automobiles and aviation pioneers were crying out for efficient and reliable instruments, and in 1915, they answered the calls with the very first chronograph wristwatch. It took little time for Breitling to become the pilot’s number one choice, causing the watchmaker’s focus move to the field of aviation.

In 1923, Breitling created the first independent chronograph pushpiece – an innovation that completely transformed the calculation of flight times. In 1934, Breitling improved the formula once again, adding a second return-to-zero pushpiece, giving the chronograph the kind of stop/start functionality that remains industry standard to this day.

In the thirties, a fine reputation for precision timing led to a longstanding relationship with the Royal Air Force, who would use Breitling instruments in their triumphant fighter jets during World War II. Three years before the conclusion of the war, the Swiss watch making house changed the face of aviation once more with the Chronomat, the first wristwatch to feature a circular slide rule – a simple-yet-ingenious addition to the bezel that allowed pilots to calculate fuel consumption, air speed, rate of descent, and the conversion of air miles to nautical miles. In 1952, this concept evolved into the Navitimer, a legendary piece that expanded Breitling’s client base to the US armed forces, and the pilots of many major international airlines.

Not content with truly conquering the skies, Breitling then built a watch that was literally out of this planet. By adding a 24-hour dial to their Navitimier in 1962, they created the Cosmonaute Navitimer – a watch that could help its owner distinguish between night and day in space. Astronaut Scott Carpenter wore it during the Aurora 7 mission to great effect. (A limited-edition reissue of this famous piece is pictured above.)

In 1969, Breitling brought about one of the biggest changes in the history of Swiss watchmaking, when they invented the selfwinding chronograph. Far from resting on the laurels of this breakthrough achievement, they continued to research and develop new ways of ensuring reliability and accuracy. This paid off in 1985, when they introduced the Breitling Aerospace a lightweight titanium piece with a groundbreaking electronic chronograph function.

To this day, Breitling remain a family-run business (one of the few Swiss watch houses to remain so) and they are the only major brand to equip all pieces with chronometer-certified movements – the ultimate mark of precision.

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