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    

Magnificent Gold Filled Vintage1967 Breitling Twin Jet 806 Navitimer Chronograph1964 Breitling Top Time Black Dial Reverse Panda Chronograph Watch, Model 2003.4Vintage Breitling Chronograph Running Wrist WatchBreitling Vintage Black Dial Chronograph Telemetre Dial No ReserveMens Breitling Aerospace E79362 Titanium Quartz Wrist Watch Elegant Vintage Chronograph Breitling "beautiful Two Tones Dial Desing"from 1945Beautiful Vintage Breitling "two Tones Dial - Mirror Numerals" From 1950'Sicura Breitling Signal 17 Jewel Mechanical Alarm Watch Divers 70s Ronda 1243-21Vintage Breitling Aopa Navitimer 806 In Stainless Steel1946 " Breitling " Chronograph W/ Unusual Dial Design, Ref # 178, Manual Wind !!V.rare Vintage Solid 18k Gold Breitling Chronograph Cal.venus 188 - 37,5 MmMen's Breitling Bentley A44362 6.75 Ss Chronograph Black Dial Wristwatch 49mm1970s Gents Sicura Breitling Marine-star 600ft Auto Divers Watch Good ConditionBreitling For Bentley A25368 Green Dial Auto. Chronograph Men's Watch W/ B & PExcellent 18k Gf Vintage1960 Breitling Aopa 806 Navitimer Chronograph BeadedVintage Breitling Top Time Chronograph 1969 In Mint Cond.Breitling Colt 100 M Men Diving Watch Aeromarine A53035 ChronographBreitling Genuine Jupiter Pilot A59028 Quartz Chronograph AlarmVintage Breitling Premier Chronograph Venus 175- All OriginalBreitling Colt Chronoocean Chronograph A53050Vintage Sicura '400' Hand-winding Divers Watch By Breitling In Great ConditionBreitling Callisto Chronograph Gold & Steel Watch Ref 80520 Cal Lemania 1873 Massive Steel Case 1967 Vintage Breitling Navitimer Chronograph Ref # 0816Beautiful Breitling Superocean Watch A17040 Automatic Ss Mens Blue Wristwatch Sicura Breitling Jump Hour Instalite Gent's Wrstwatch. 1970's. Working Order.Breitling Avenger Ii Seawolf Mens Wrist Watch- 3000m / 10000ft - A17331Breitling Chronograph A73387 Black Dial 43 MmBreitling Navitimer A23322 Black Chronograph Stainless Steel Mens 42mm Watch NrRare Vintage Big Size Sicura Breitling Automatic Men's Watch From 1970's Years!Breitling Aeromarine Diver Shark Tiburon Quartz Full Zize 100% Swiss Made UnicBreitling 100% Genuine Vintage Jupiter Pilot Breitling SeawolfStunning Breitling 1884 Shark Men's Auto Ss Black Dial Date Watch A17605Breitling Chronospace Automatic Mens WatchVintage Breitling Chronograph 18k Rose Gold Watch 37 MmBreitling Galactic Unitime Men's Automatic Watch Vtg Sicura Breitling Chrono Chronograph Diver Mens Watch Date, Rotating BezelBreitling Montbrilliant Legende C23352 Two Tone Yellow Gold Steel LimitedBreitling Chronomat Wrist Watch For MenBreitling Mens Colt Automatic Stainless-steel Blue Dial Diamond WatchBreitling 1884 Chronographe 100m B13048 Vintage Breitling Sicura 400 Super Waterproof Divers Watch 23 Jewel C.1970sBreitling Chrono Avenger Mens E13360 300m Titanium Black Auto 44 Mm Watch !!!Breitling Superocean A17345Breitling Chrono Shark Steel Automatic Mens Watch A13051/bf103345Automatic Breitling Midsize Unisex White Dial A17035 Wrist WatchAuth Breitling Navitimer 1884 Jupiter Pilot A59027 Men's WatchBreitling Premier Automatic Stainless Steel Chronograph Watch A42035 W/papersBreitling Super Avenger A13370 Black Dial Ss Mens Chrono Papers Boxes ManualsLadies Steel And Gold Breitling Watch B72345Vintage Swiss Breitling 17 Jewels Manual Men's Watch,1953'sBreitling JetBreitling Colt Chrono Quartz Pro 2 Ss Band Blue Dial Mint!!! A73380 41mmBreitling Chronomat Colt Aeromarine Automatic Chronograph Ref.13035.1 Steel CaseBeautiful, Rare Dial, Sicura "breitling" Jump Watch From The 1970's - Swiss MadeBeautiful Breitling Chronomat Vitesse Chronograph Ref.13050.1 Steel 18k GoldVtg Super Rare Sicura Breitling "prototype" Submarine Super Waterproof. Day At 6Rare Vintage Sicura Breitling 200m Tritium Date World Timer Diver Mens WatchBreitling Navitimer World Wrist Watch For MenBreitling Rouleaux Bullet Bracelet 20mm Strap