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    

Outstanding Steel Vintage1966 Breitling Twin Jet 806 Navitimer ChronographBreitling Co-pilot 765 Cp Vintage Chronograph Cal. Venus 178 41 Mm CopilotVintage 1965 Breitling Navitimer Chronograph 806 Venus 178 For Parts Venus 178Breitling Navitimer 7806 From 1970. Manual Wind Valjoux 7740. Serviced. 1966 Breitling Navitimer Chronograph 806 Venus 178Breitling 1884 Chronographe 100m Mens Watch B13050.1. (s03011689)Breitling Chronograph Military Style Man’s Watch Hand Winding Venus 170Vintage Breitling Ref. 1450 Chronograph Valjoux 7736Vtg Sicura Breitling 400 Diver Mens Watch Date Rotating Bezel Mint Condition!! Breitling Navitimer D13022 Ss/18k Gold High Fashion Auto Chronograph Men's WatchBreitling Navitimer Chronograph 1461 A38022 Rare Limited Edition Box/papers MintBreitling Viintage Navitimer Aopa Rice Bezel 1959-60 Authentic Collectors WatchMens 1992 Breitling Aerospace Navitimer Titanium Wristwatch Ref:18988Breitling Chronomat 769 Stainless Steel Fresh From An Estate.Breitling Top Time Gents Wrist Watch 1970sBreitling Super Avenger A13370 Factory Original Diamond Bezel Chronograph WatchBreitling Navitimer Cosmonaute A22322 Ss 41.5mm Automatic Chronograph Mens WatchVintage Breitling Triple Date Moonphase Cal.venus 203 Calendar Fancy Lugs Breitling Premier Art Deco Dial 18k Pink Gold Chronograph,,, Screaming Pink!!Breitling Professional B-1 A68362 Ss Quartz Chronometer Watch Wristwatch W/ BoxRare Genuine Mercedes Benz Eta 2824-2 Automatic Watch With Breitling Strap BandGorgeous Gents Breitling Superocean Limited Edition Watch 2013 Unused Mint GwoBreitling Navitimer Airborne A33030 4-sub Dial Blue Chronograph Needs ServiceBreitling Chronomat 41 Watch Ab0140 41 M Steel Manufacture B01 Black Dial ChronoVintage Breitling Military Men Watch Chronograph Valjoux Or VenusBreitling Bentley A44362 Stainless Steel Automatic Chronograph 6.75 48mmBreitling Chronomat B13050.1 Steel Gold Automatic Watch On Pilot Bracelet 301dBreitling Chronomat Evolution 18k Gold Case & BraceletBreitling Chronomat Chronograph 18k Yellow Gold/steel 40mm Watch B13050Breitling Aeromarine Avenger Seawolf 45mm A17330 Gray Dial Mint No ReserveBreitling Navitimer TitaniumBreitling Emergency E76321 Blue Dial On Blue Deployant Breitling Navitimer 809 Aopa. From 1964. Manual Wind Venus 178. Serviced. Breitling Super Avenger Chronograph Factory Diamond BezelAuthentic Breitling Superocean 44 18k Gold Bezel Pro2 Bracelet C17390/ba77Breitling 1884 Colt Automatic Ss Mens Watch A17035 W/box & ManualBreitling Professional Cockpit B50 Night Mission Watch, Worn A Few Times OnlyBreitling Colt Series Watch A74380 Steel 41 M Case Black Dial Quartz Canvas StraMen's Breitling Aeromarine Colt Chronometre Date A73350 Ss Wristwatch 38mm 7"Breitling Callisto Chronograph Ref. B11045Stainless Steel & Gold Breitling Chronomat Windrider Chronograph.Breitling Geneve White Dial 18kts Gold Plated Case Circa 1940 Aprox.Breitling Colt 44 Black Dial Automatic Men's WatchRare Breitling B13048 Chronomat Burgundy Chrono Mens Watch - Nr !!Vintage 1950's Breitling - Wakmann Watch Panda Chronograph Serviced 2015 NrVintage 1970's Jumbo 42mm Automatic Sicura (breitling) Watch Rotating BezelBreitling Superocean Abyss WatchVintage 1950 Breitling Chronograph Men's WatchVintage Breitling Original Classic Dial1970s Gents Sicura /breitling 23 Jewel Divers Style Watch In Working Condition.Breitling Windrider Galactic A49350 Swiss Made Automatic 41mm Watch For MenBreitling Colt 44 A74387 Box PapersBreitling Colt A57035 Quartz 38mm 300m Green Watch30+ Ct, Breitling Super Avenger, Mother Of Pearl. $40000+ Appraisal! No Reserve!Ladies Breitling Callistino B72345 18k Gold Steel Mop Diamond Dial Quartz 29mmSuper Rare Vintage Breitling Bracelet For 1806 1808 1809 7651 2115 816 0816 0819Vintage Breitling 18k Gold Plated Men's Watch From 1950'sBreitling “chronomat Evolution” Chronograph Chronometre Automatic Watch A13356Breitling Callistino B52043 Women's Wristwatch. S.steel & 18k Gold. Blue Dial !!Rare Breitling Navitimer 806 Venus 178 Chronograph Custom Band Beaded Watch $1