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.

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    

Breitling Chrono-matic 1960's-1970's Chronograph-men's Watch, Vintage RacingBreitling Old Navitimer Ref#b13019 Gold/steel WristwatchBreitling Vintage Chronograph C60's Venus 188 Ref. 1199Breitling Ref 790 Cal. Venus 150 Premier Chronograph 1945 Steel Military WwiiBreitling Transocean Chronograph 43mm B01 Ab15212/ba99 Black Dial Watch CompleteBreitling Bentley A44362 Stainless Steel Automatic Chronograph 6.75 48mmRare Mens Breitling Chronomat Bombardier Aerospace Flexjet Watch Black A13050.1Vintage 1964 Breitling 808 Chronomat Chronograph For Parts Venus 175 Pat, 217012Vintage 1945 Breitling 178 Up Down Pilot's Chronograph 178 For Parts Venus 170Solid 18k Gold Case Chronograph Gents Wristwatch Breitling Crosswind Ref K13355Breitling Navitimer 92 A30022 Rare Excellent Condition 38mmBreitling B2 J42362 18k White Gold Chronograph Date Swiss Automatic Mens WatchAuthentic Breitling Bentley 18k Yellow Gold Chrono Mens Rare Watch, No ReserveBreitling Windrider Lady Sirius Perpetual B62021 Ss/18k Gold Quartz Ladies WatchMen's Breitling Superocean Automatic A17364 WatchBreitling Windrider Crosswind Special A44355 Big Date Auto. Chrono. Men's WatchBreitling Bentley Watch T Motors A25365 Blue Dial Steel Rubber 49 Mm Box PapersVintage Breitling Diving Watch.valjoux 7730No Reserve Auction /breitling Colt Ocean A17350-automatic Diver's Watch Box&papeBreitling Transocean Limited Addition Chronograph Unitime Blacksteel Mens Watch Breitling B01 Chronomat Ab0110 Chronograph Msrp-8k *mint Condition* No Reserve!!Breitling Chronomat B13050.1 2tone 39mm No Reserve!!Authentic Vintage S.s Breitling Chronomat Automatic Chronograph B13048Breitling Chronomat Longitude Gmt Watch A20048 Automatic Chronograph W/dateBreitling Stainless Steel Avenger Ii Seawolf Automatic Watch Near Mint A17331 Mens Breitling Super Avenger Black Diamond Watch (a13370) - Needs BezelMen’s Breitling Watch Chronomat 18k Gold With High End Diamonds!!Breitling Superocean A13340 Chronograph (diver 500m) Automatic Diamond BezelBreitling Navitimer WatchSicura Breitling Link Mens Electronic Hi Beat Retro Watch Vintage 60s 70s Swiss Vintage Breitling Sicura Diver 400 & World Time Manual-wind Racing Dial RareBreitling WatchBreitling Chrono-matic 18k Gold Automatic Vintage Breitling Geneve Incabloc Gold Plated Men's Wristwatch - No Reserve45mm Men's Breitling Hercules S/s 6ct Diamond Watch Model A39363Beautiful Breitling Navitimer Aopa 806 (93 Bead Bezel)Breitling Chronograph B2 44mm Certified Cosc Chronometer """"no Reserve""""!!!Breitling Chronomat 44mm Limited Edition Yellow & Black Model Ab0110 Box Papers Antique Breitling Military Wwii Golden Plated Tone Case From 40s Wristwatch!Men's Breitling Stainless Steel 18k Gold 100 M Chronograph Just Serviced 39mmBreitling Colt Ocean Quartz Stainless-steel Gray Dial Diamond WatchVintage Breitling Mechanical Watch. (possibly Military) Not WorkingMens Breitling Colt Chronograph A73350 - Watch Needs RepairAuthentic Beautiful Breitling Sextant B55047 Chronograph Gold And Steel Watch NrAuthentic Beautiful Breitling Sextant B55047 Chronograph Gold And Steel Watch NrBreitling Stainless Steel & 18k Gold Custom BraceletVintage Breitling Aerospace E65062, Chronometer, Gray Dial, Titanium Case, Elegant Vintage Breitling Automatic Mens Watch From 1950,gold Plated (felsa)Breitling World 80840 Watch As Is!Breitling Bentley H25363 18k Rose Gold Limited Addition Of 500Classic Breitling Men's Chronograph Ref 170 From 1950'sBreitling Chronomat 41 Ab0110 Ss Anniversary Edition Flawless!Authentic Extra Large Breitling Bomber Jacket Coat No Reserve AuctionVintage Sicura (breitling) Mechanical Watch,steel-gold,not Running- Parts,repairGents Breitling GeneveOriginal Vintage Breitling Chronograph Valjoux Movement 7736 For Parts/repairBreitling Superocean Heritage 46Antique Breitling Golden Plaque Tone Case From 50s Manual Wind Wristwatch!Breitling Mens 1884 Chronograph 18k/ss Two Tone Swiss WatchBreitling Super Avenger Chronograph Mens Watch Dial Diamond Bezel A13370