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    

Awesome Big All Original Vintage 1966 Breitling Twin Jet Navitimer 806 Venus 1781953 Gents Steel Breitling Navitimer 806 In Excellent Condition.Vintage Breitling Premier Chronograph Gents Wrist Watch 18k Gold Serviced 790 NrBreitling Geneve Men's Chronograph Two Registers Car Valjoux 7734. Wrist WatchJust Serviced Vintage 1945 Breitling Solid 18k Gold Chronograph Venus 175 Ref760Breitling Superocean Steelfish X-plus Silver Automatic Bracelet Watch A17390Breitling Stainless Steel & 18k Gold Chronomat Chronograph Automatic Watch Vintage Sicura By Breitling Hand Winding Chronograph Bullhead Valjoux 7734Vintage Gent´s Luxury Swiss Watch Breitling Datora Triple Date Moon PhaseMens Breitling Navitimer World !!!Breitling Transocean A4531012/bb69 StunningHuge Vintage 18k Gold Original Breitling Aopa Navitimer Mens WatchBreitling Superocean Colt1000 Mt Men Diving Watch Aeromarine Beautiful A170400Vintage Wakmann By Breitling Chronograph Valjoux 7734 Stainless Steel Mens WatchBreitling Colt Automatic Mens Watch A17035Early G. Leon Breitling Montbrillant Sprint Landeron Hahn Chronograph Mans WatchMint Breitling Superocean Heritage 44mm / 18k Rose Gold Bezel / U2337012/bb81Breitling Chronomat B13048 Automatic Chronograph 18k/ss 2 Tone W 2 Dials 40mm NrBreitling Navitimer Montbrillant Watch "blue Angels" 18 Kt Yellow Gold 38 M CaseAviation Breitling Cosmonaute 809 Ollech Wajas Chronograph V Rare Pre 1979 !Collectable Vintage Breitling Geneve Top Time Chrono Mechanical Men Watch,nr!!Breitling Colt Chronoocean A.53350 WristwatchVery Nice Breitling Callisto With Lemania 1873 Stainless Steel Macgyver WatchStunning Breitling Colt Chronometer Nos Cond Divers Aviators A73350 No Reserve Vintage Breitling Top Time Chrono Manual Breitling AerospaceWatch Raro Breitling Chrono Camaro Caja De Acero Esfera Panda Cal :valjoux 7733Vintage Breitling Chronograph Movement Up Down Style Cal Venus 170.Rare Vintage Sicura Breitling Watch Swiss Automatic SubmarinerBlue Breitling B13047 Chronomat Chronograph Diamond Mens Watch Valjoux 7750Breitling Navitimer Ref A2332212/b635 - Perfect With Box, Papers And TagsBlue Breitling B13048 Chronomat Chronograph Mens Watch Valjoux 7750Breitling Colt 1000 Ft Men Sport Diving Watch Aeromarine White A57035Breitling Superocean Mens Chronograph Watch With Original Box & CertificateBreitling Chronomat (late) Automatic A13052 - Black DialNice Huge Size 37.5 Mm Breitling Venus 170 Mens Vintage Chronograph WatchBreitling Premier Wristwatch Parts Serial #631239 ?runs?Huge Vintage 1960's Cordura Sircura By Breitling Sea Gull Automatic Diving WatchMens Breitling Chrono Chronograph Cockpit Pearl *** Diamond *** !!!Breitling Superocean Heritage A37320 38mm Automatic - Croc BandBreitling Aerospace Professional Series Titanium/18k F56062Breitling Super AvengerNos. Swiss Sicura Breitling Jump Hour Watch. 17j. Hand Winding. Chrome Finish. Breitling Sicura Vintage Divers WatchVintage Swiss Mans Watch Breitling Chronograph Hand Winding Just ServicedAuthentic Breitling Navitimer 43mm Excellent Condition A35340Vintage Swiss Breitling Black Dial Square Case Manual Wind Man WatchBreitling Callistino Lady's Women Sport Diving Watch 100 M D52043 Two ToneBreitling For BentleyVintage Breitling "cadete", Hermosa Esfera En (2) Tonos Gris Plata Cal : L 523Breitling 1884 Super Avenger After Market Manufacturing W/ 30.00ctw Diamonds Breitling Chronospace A56011 Digital/analog WatchBreitling Aerospace Evo Latest Model, Breitling Titanium Band, E79363 Breitling Galactic 36 Watch A37330 Steel Red Leather Automatic 36 Mm DisplayRare Vintage Sicura / Breitling Submarine Swiss Made Gents Mens Wristwatch WatchVery Rare Elegant Vintage Men's Sicura Breitling Automatic Watch 1970's Years!Breitling Navitimer Heritage Left Flyback chronograph A35360 Limited 250 GrayBreitling Avenger Skyland Blacksteel Limited Edition M13380 - #217/2000Breitling Mens Titanium Dive WatchVintage Jewish-masonic Alphabet Breitling Hand Wound Wrist Watch From 1960