Founded in 1884 by Léon Breitling, the company that still bears his family’s name began as a small manufacturer of chronographs and precision counters for science labs and industry. As Brietling’s business grew (in 1892, he moved his young company to the Swiss watch making center of La Chaux-de-Fronds), so too did advances in aviation. It wasn’t long before Breitling timepieces and the aircraft industry were inextricably linked.

After Breitling’s death in 1914, his son Gaston took over the family business. One of Gaston’s first acts was to move the firm into wrist instruments. By 1915, Breitling had created the first chronograph wristwatch and it was soon providing pilots with wristwatches.

In 1923, Breitling developed the first chronograph with an independent pushpiece, making start and return-to-zero functions simpler and more intuitive. The flyback function was born. Gaston’s son Willy continued the refinement of the chronograph when he assumed control of Breitling in 1932.

Two years later, Willy Breitling oversaw the development of a wristwatch with a second return-to-zero pushpiece. This made it possible to measure several successive short times, improving the wristwatch’s functionality for pilots.

Advances like these and Breitling’s consistent focus on the needs of aviators led Royal Air Force to make Breitling its official supplier in 1936. Innovations continued throughout World War II — in 1942, the company debuted its Chronomat, the first chronograph wristwatch to be fitted with a circular slide rule on the bezel.

Other vintage Breitling models from the 1940s include the Premier, Cadette, Datora, and Unitime, whose dial was surrounded with city, country, and regional names from around the world ("S.Frisco," "Moscou," "Singapour," etc.) so that world travelers could easily compute international times.

One of the most collectible vintage Breitling watches was introduced in 1952. This was the mechanical, heavy-duty Navitimer, a serious wrist chronograph with enough bells and whi...

The Navitimer soared even higher in 1962 when Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter wore a version of the Navitimer that he had helped design on a three-orbit flight around the Earth. Carpenter’s tweak was to replace the wristwatch’s 12-hour dial with a 24-hour dial. The resulting Navitimer was called the Cosmonaute, which must have seemed ironical to NASA.

By the end of the decade, Breitling worked with watch makers Buren and Heuer-Leonidas to devise the first self-winding chronograph. It represented a major technical step forward that would benefit not just Breitling but the Swiss watch industry as a whole.

Key terms for Antique and Vintage Breitling Wristwatches:

Flyback: The ability to push a single button on a watch to stop, reset, or restart its chronograph function.

Chronograph: A watch that also records time intervals, like a stopwatch.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Magnificent All Original Vintage 1966 Twin Jet Military Breitling Navitimer 806Super Rare Solid 18k Gold Vintage 1963 Aopa Military Breitling Navitimer 806Breitling Toptime 2002 Vintage ChronographMid 60's Breitling Chronograph €Vintage Solid 18k Gold 1945 Breitling 769 Chronomat Chronograph Patent 217012Breitling Superocean Heritage 46 Mens Watch, Stainless Steel + Divers BraceletsBreitling Vintage Gold Triple ( Full ) Date With Moonphase1959 Breitling Navitimer 806 Aopa 1st Generation Chronograph Watch One OwnerBreitling Navitimer A.o.p.a. Ref. 806 Venus 178 CollectorsVintage Rare 40's Breitling Chronograph Widding Large Side Men WatchNo Reserve Vintage Breitling 815 Long Playing Chronograph "gorgeous Panda Dial"Mens Breitling Navitimer !!!Rare Vintage Sicura Breitling Submarine Diver 200m S.steel Wrist Watch Superb Breitling J-class Chrono 1 3601 WristwatchRare Sicura Jumping Hours By Breitling . Unusual Shape .collectors No Reserve Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronograph Reno Air Races Ltd Ed - Exc+ In CaseVintage Big 38mm.golden Breitling Circa 1945,refinished Dial,three Colour ScalesVintage Big 37,5 Mm. Breitling Chronograph Circa 1945, Refinished DialVintage Breitling Chronograph Circa 1940 Fancy Wire Lugs.Breitling Cosmonaute Navitimer Chrono Manual Winding Ref. A12022 Men’s WatchBreitling Chronomat Chronograph Automatic 18k & Steel B13047 ! 100% Authenthic !Breitling Hercules Automatic Blue Dial Steel Chronograph Watch Ref: A39363Breitling Avenger Skyland Black Steel, Ref.m13380 Ltd Edition ChronometerGents Breitling Super Avenger WristwatchBreitling Superocean Heritage A17321 46mm Mens Ladies Watch Stainless No ReserveBreitling Chronograph, Circa 1939, Handwinding Venus 170 Columnwheel ChronoBreitling B1 Professional Mens Watch A68362 AerospaceBreitling Bentley Stainless Steel Chronograph Mens WatchBreitling Navitimer Montbrilliant Two Tone Legende 126Breitling Gold Plated Chronograph Vintage Men's Watch!Breitling Navitimer A23322 Black Dial Men's Watch - No Reserve!!!!Breitling Chronomat Evolution Men's Watch A13356 With Papers/stainless/automaticBreitling Cosmonaute Ii Men's Pilot Watch Navitimer 18k Gold Ss Papers Nr $1 Vintage Breitling Premier 734 Chronograph Hand Wind No Reserve Serial #597810Mens Breitling Chronomat Evolution 18k Rose Gold *** Diamond *** !!!Breitling Navitimer Jupiter Pilot Chronographe Alarm Quartz Authentic A59028Vintage Sicura - Breitling Black Dial Rotating Bezel 400 Mt Diver WristwatchBreitling Colt 44 A74387 Superquartz 8 Year Battery Life, Water Resistant 500mBreitling Bentley Gmt Chronograph Automatic Stainless Large 51mm Watch A47362 Breitling Superocean Steelfish A17390 Wrist Watch For MenBreitling Sextant 35mm Chronograph 18k Stainless Steel Cyan Dial B55047 AutoBreitling Astromat A20405 Automatic WatchBreitling Bentley Mark Vi P26362 Platinum BezelMen's Breitling Super Avenger Ii A1337111/bc28 Beautiful Lightly Worn Breitling Chronomat 44 Watch, Latest Model, Awesome !!!Breitling Navitimer World Gmt AutomaticBreitling Chronograph Automatic Chronomat Blue Dial, Ref B13050.1 Mens WatchBreitling Cockpit Ss/18k Yellow Gold Mens - Rrp £5,720 - W1478Breitling Aerospace (96-00) Ref#65362 WristwatchBreitling Superocean A17360 Cosc Automatic Divers WatchVintage Breitling Chronograph Vintage Swiss Watch Breitling Hand Winding Just ServicedBreitling Superocean 44Good Vintage Breitling Stainless Steel Automatic Dress Wrist WatchFossil Breitling Burberry Kenneth Cole 5 Broken Watch Lot **look**Vintage Sicura - Breitling Satellite Unusual Dial Automatic Wristwatch / RestoreBreitling Chronometre Automatic - A42362 - Stainless Steel - Men's Wrist WatchBreitling Super Ocean Colt Automatic Watch Guaranteed Genuine AuthenicMens Breitling Chronomat Crosswind !!!Breitling Chrono-matic A41350 Wrist Watch For Men