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    

Vintage 1958 18k Steel Military Breitling Aopa Navitimer 806 Beaded BezelVintage Chronograph Breitling Premier Ref# 765 Venus 178 Stailess Steel #b765Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute D22322 Ss/18k Automatic Chronograph Men's WatchBreitling Datora 2031 Chronograph Racing Timer 7734 Mechanical Vintage 1970'sVintage Rolled Gold Gents Breitling Navitimer Chronograph 806, Box & Papers 1969Breitling Chrono Avenger Chronometer Titanium E13360Vintage Collector's Breitling Premier 787 Rare 1940's Chronograph Breitling Avenger Ii Watch A13381 Steel 43 Mm Case Blue Dial Rubber ChronoRare Vintage Sicura (breitling) All Times Gt Divers Calendar S.steel Wrist WatchBreitling A17364 Superocean Abyss 42mm Automatic Men's Watch - Nr !!Outstanding Vintage Solid 18k Rose Gold 1946 Breitling 769 Chronomat Pat 217012 Breitling Navitimer,ref. 806,chronograph Case,ss,nos,60's !!!!Breitling Chrono-matic 2111 Wristwatch44mm Breitling Avenger Seawolf E17370 Automatic Titanium Wrist Watch For MenBreitling Sports Watch Breitling Colt Aeromarine 300m 1000ft St. Steel A57036 Date Mens Diver WatchBreitling Ladies Cockpit .44ctw Diamond Mother Of Pearl Dial Steel Wrist WatchBreitling Bentley 6.75 White Dial Stainless Steel With Box And Extra LinkVintage Breitling Incabloc, Super Port, WristwatchBreitling Chronomat 18k/ss B13050.1 - Silver DialBreitling Super Avenger - Leather Band - Diamond Bezel - A13370 Breitling Navitimer 1461 Limited (1000 Pieces) - A38022Breitling Datora Montbrillant Chronographe Stainless Steel Mens' WatchBreitling Cockpit Men's 42mm, Auto, Blue Dial,with Factory Diamonds, Docs, BoxesBreitling Blackbird Chronograf Automata A 13350 - 1013 BBreitling Medicalchronometer Years 40s...solid 18 K Goldl ..just Revised..Rare Vintage Sicura (breitling) All Times Gt Divers Calendar S.steel Wrist WatchBreitling Colt Chronograph Men Sport Diving Watch Chrono A53035 Steel A24322 Breitling Navitimer Gmt Chronometer Chronograph Watch Box PapersLot 8 Men's Wrist Watches - Accutron, Bulova, Breitling Chronograph, More..Breitling Chronograph Colt Quartz Men's Swiss Made Watch A53035Breitling Crosswind A13355 Blue Automatic 44mm, With Genuine Diamonds, DocumentsBreitling Shark Mens Stainless Steel 300 Meter Automatic Dive Watch A17605Breitling 1884 B30011 18kt Yellow Gold Automatic Leather Strap Men Watch NrBreitling A30012 Chronograph Cockpit 1884 Mid-size Ladies Mens Automatic Watch $Breitling Super Oceane Watch - Ocean Racer Strap - Diamond Bezel -a17320Mens Breitling Bentley Limited 18k Gold *** Diamonds Everywhere *** !!!Breitling Aerospace Multi Function Pro Watch Titanium & 18k Gold Excel ConditionBreitling Aerospace Professional Series Titanium F65062Breitling Chronograph Longitude Gmt A20348 Nice WatchBreitling Super Avenger With Diamond Bezel - A13370Breitling Aerospace Evo Watch E79363 Titanium 43 Mm Case Brown Dial LeatherVery Rare Vintage Swiss Watch Breitling Chronograph Mono Pusher Mid Size Junior Mens Breitling Duograph World Cup Of Aerobatics Wristwatch Limited EditionBreitling A20405 Gmt Chrono Longitude Automatic Stainless Steel Gent’s Watch !!!Breitling Avenger Skyland Black, With Genuine Diamonds, All Documents, BoxesBreitling Cockpit Lady Diamond 100m - A71356Authentic Breitling Super Avenger A13370 Box, Papers & 2 Ct Diamond Bezel!Breitling Navitimer S/n 23322 Stainless Steel White DialRare Vintage Breitling M50035 Military Fixed Lugs Pvd Case Wrist WatchBreitling Superocean BlueBreitling Superocean Steelfish X-plus 44mm Custom Black Diamonds! Model A17390Superb Ww2 Era Mint Dial Breitling 15j Cp/ss Waterproofcased Gents Watch - 1945Vintage Wakmann Two Registers Watch Wakmann Breitling Watch Incabloc Valjoux Breitling Superocean Heritage 46 Blue Box And PapersBreitling Super Avenger A13370 Blue, With Genuine Diamonds, Documents, BoxesBreitling Aeromarine Colt Quartz A57035 Wrist Watch For Women And MenMens Breitling Chronomat Crosswind Special *** Diamonds Everywhere *** Display !Breitling Superocean Gmt Automatic White Dial Mens Watch A32380Breitling Navitimer Moonphase Perpetual Chrono A19340