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.

Key terms for Antique and Vintage Breitling Wristwatches:

Flyback: The ability to push a single button on a watch to stop, reset, or restart its chronograph function.

Chronograph: A watch that also records time intervals, like a stopwatch.

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    

Vintage Breitling Chrono Matic Ref. 2114Originl Mint Vintage 1963 Gf Breitling Aopa Navitimer 806 Venus 178 Beaded BezelBreitling Windrider Wings B10050 Ss Automatic Men's Watch W/ Date & Black DialBreitling Cosmonaute Navitimer 24 Hour Serie Speciale Limited Edition A12023Vintage Breitling Navitimer Huge 48mm Chrono-matic Model 1806 Caliber 12 Breitling Navitimer 2003 Watch A23322 Steel Black Dial 42 Mm Case Size Chrono Breitling Navitimer Montbrillant WatchBreitling Navitimer Montbrillant Automatic Chronograph Ref A41330 Men's WatchBreitling Navitimer WorldHuge Vintage Rare Breitling 1806 Navitimer Chronomat Ic 1st Automatic ChronBreitling A13035.1 WristwatchBreitling Super Ocean A17320 Blue Dial Mens Watch / Nice ConditionMens Breitling Navitimer - Display Model !!!Breitling Colt Ref A17035 Automatic Men’s WatchSwiss Man Watch Breitling Oversized Textured Dial Just ServicedMens Breitling Chronograph Automatic 18k Gold & St.s Teel Blue Dial . Ref.13050Breitling Chronomat Sextant Chronograph B55045 18k Gold /steel Very Nice FancyRare Vintage Divers Style Sicura Breitling Auto Calendar S.steel Wrist WatchBreitling Chronomat 1808 Ss Automatic Chronograph Large Case Men's WatchBreitling Colt Quartz 38mm A57035 Black DialVintage Breitling Premier 787 Column Wheel 3 Reg Chronograph Original Needs TlcSuper Rare 1963 Vintage Breitling Aopa 1st Period Cosmonaute 809 Beaded BezelBreitling Aeromarine Chrono Colt Quartz A73350 Black DialBreitling Ab0110 Chronomat 01 Flying Fish Mens Watch W/ Box & Papers No ReserveMen's Breitling Windrider Callisto A77346 200m Stainless Steel Watch _3 95083Stunning Women's Breitling Callistino Watch W/ Blue Mop Dial (a72345) In Box Rare Mens Breitling Navitimer Chrono-matic 49 M1436003/ba67-137s From 2014 !!!Vintage Wakmann Breitling Triple Date ChornograhBreitling Aerospace Titanium/gold Analog/digital Quartz Ref. F56062 Men’s WatchGenuine Breitling Colt Quartz Ref.60180 Military Black Dial Men's WatchPre-owned Breitling Colt Superocean Automatic Steel Men's Watch Ref A17040Beautiful Vintage Breitling Chronograph With Venus 170: From 40's, Big SizeBreitling Top Time, 18k Yellow Gold Breitling Chronograph1946 Breitling Vintage 1st Generation Chronomat Chronograph - Stainless SteelBreitling Avi Automatic A13023Breitling Starliner B7134053 Diamond Mop Stainless Steel 18k Gold WristwatchBreitling Chronomat Steel 18k Gold Mens Watch On Black Rubber Strap-b13356 -b&pGenuine Vintage Breitling Cadette Valjoux Cal 7730 - 1155 For Spares Or RepairsBreitling Super Avenger Black Dial With Box & Papers A1337011Breitling Superocean Steelfish 44mm Automatic Divers Watch Cream Dial A17390Breitling Superocean Chronometre Diver Automatic A17360 Full Original Steel Big Breitling Chrono-matic Chronograph Automatic Vintage Watch!S.steel Breitling Colt Chrono Trancocean Yachting Chronograph Men Watch A53340Luxury Breitling Men's Watch Chronomat Automatic Chronograph B13047_18k Gold_!!Breitling 809 Cosmonaute Navitimer Breitling Aerospace F65062 Multifunction Minute Repeater Titanium & Gold -nr-Breitling Colt Mens Automatic Chronograph 100 Meter Watch A13035.1Breitling A13340 Super Ocean Chrono 1.60ctw Diamonds Watch W/ Box & PapersHandsome Men's Stainless Steel Breitling Galactic Watch W/ Chronograph! A13364Breitling Evolution A13356 Automatic Black With Diamonds, All Documents, BoxesBreitling Chrono Colt A73380Breitling Military Colt 80180Rare Vintage Sicura Breitling Diver Style Automatic Calendar S.steel Wrist WatchBreitling Super Avenger Diamond Auto. All Paper Work And BoxBreitling Superocean Heritage Chrono Blue A1332016-c758-101x-a20ba.1 **$5,370**Breitling Cockpit Stainless Steel Automatic Watch Factory Diamond Bezel A49350Breitling Super Avenger A13370, 1.8ct Diamonds, All Original Documents And BoxesLadies Breitling Stainless Steel, 18k Gold & Diamonds Blue Dial Wrist WatchBreitling Bentley 6.75 A44362Breitling Navitimer World