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    

Early Scarce 18k Gold Stainless Steel Breitling Chronograph Maroon Dial WatchBreitling Navitimer 806 Aviation Pilot Chronograph Venus 178 Vintage Swiss WatchBreitling Superocean Chronometer Ref. A17364 Automatic WristwatchBreitling Superocean A17320 Wrist Watch Black Rubber Band See PicturesVintage Breitling Chronograph Large Watch 39.5mm 1950s Solid 18k Rose Gold Runs Breitling Navitimer 01 Ab0121 Limited Edition 2000p Ss Men's Watch Near Mint.Breitling Chronomat Ref Number 81950 With Satin CaseVintage Breitling Men's Handwinding Chronograph Swiss Watch No Band WorkingBreitling Navitimer Grand Premier Ref A13024 !Breitling Windrider Chronomat Solid Gold! B13047 Bullet Bracelet Mint! Rare! Nr!Stunning Breitling Aereospace 80360 Titanium Chronograph Gmt Utc Bracelet WatchBreitling 18k Gold Plated Men's Watch From 1950'sBreitling Vintage 18k Gold Plated Men's Watch From 1950'sBreitling 18k Gold Plated Men's Watch From 1950'sBreitling Chrono Shark Steel Automatic Mens Watch A13051/bf103345Breitling Chronomat Ref. D13050.1 18k Yellow Gold & Steel Automatic WristwatchBreitling A74380 Colt Ii Superquartz Chronometer 41mm Mens Watch 1716Breitling Bentley Motors WatchA Stunning 70s Automatic Sicura/breitling Divers Watch Rare 25 Jewels RunningBreitling Chronomat 41 Ab014012/ba52-378aStunning Breitling Men's Manual 18k-gp Black Dial Calendar WatchAuthentic Men's Breitling B-2 A42362 Automatic Chronograph Stainless Steel Watch Vintage 70’s Aviation Chronograph Carica 7763 - Breitling CosmonauteBreitling Chronograph Man’s Watch Hand Winding Two Tone Dial Stainless SteelBreitling Montbrillant Legende A23351 Chronograph Chronometer Watch Box Papers Vtg Sicura Breitling Chrono Chronograph Diver Mens Watch Date, Rotating BezelBreitling Chronomat Ref# 80520-d WristwatchVintage Breitling Aopa Navitimer 806 1953 Project Breitling Chronomat D13050 Ss/18k Gold Chronograph Automatic, Men's Superb Vintage Sicura Breitling Divers Watch 23 Jewels 400m Swiss Made Vintage Swiss Breitling 17 Jewels Manual Men's Watch,1956'sVintage Sicura (by Breitling) Jump Hour Digital Swiss Watch - Spares Or RepairVintage Breitling B55046 Steel & Gold Quartz WatchVintage Breitling Chronograph Watch Valjoux 7733 Runs Keeps Time Needs WorkVintage Sicura By Breitling Double Crown Diver Automatic Wristwatch Breitling Colt Automatic Watch In Box With Papers MintBreitling Colt A53035 Quartz Chronograph Blue/slvr Excellent Working Condition!S/s Breitling Antares Date Automatic Bullet Band B10048 38mm Wrist Watch NrBreitling WatchVintage Cordura Sea-gull Automatic 17 Jewel Mens Wristwatch Breitling?Breitling Men's Ref. 9122 Mechanical Gold Chronograph Watch Breitling Avenger Seawolf 2Breitling Colt Men Diving Watch Aeromarine A53050 Chronograph Box & Extra Band!!Vintage Wakmann Chronograph Valjoux Breitling Movement 17 Jewel Triple Day DateBreitling Colt Quartz A57035 Stainless Steel Wrist Watch For MenBreitling Men's Callisto Lemania 80520-1 Chronograph S.s And 18k Diamond WatchVintage Men's Sicura Breitling Jump Hour Automatic Watch 17 Jewels Swiss MadeBreitling Colt Chronograph Stainless Steel A73380 41mmBreitling Superocean 42 A17364 Abyss YellowBreitling Stainless Men's Chrono Cockpit A13357 WatchBreitling Superocean Chronograph 42mmBreitling Men's Colt Automatic A17035 Diamond WatchBreitling 81.950 Watch Mens Size Auto Sapphire Sapphire Brown Leather 18k GoldBreitling A51035 Vintage Sicura Breitling Diver Date Automatic 25j Watch 5atm Orologio Nato Superb Vintage Sicura Breitling Divers Watch 23 Jewels 400m Swiss Made Breitling E76321 Emergency Titanium Transmitter Men's WatchBreitling Chronomat 40mm For Men Automatic With 18kgold, With Genuine DiamondsBreitling Windrider Wings B10350 For Men 38mm Wide, Gold With Genuine DiamondsBreitling Colt Chronograph Ii 44mm Swiss Original, Genuine Diamonds, Documents