ESSENTIAL BREITLING WATCHES
Every Swiss watch enthusiast knows the big hitters brand-wise – Audemars Piguet, Breitling, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, Patek Philippe, and of course, Rolex – but what are the individual timepieces within those brands that makes each of them great. Burdeen’s Jewelry is seeking to answer that question by looking at yet another iconic Swiss brand: Breitling. This is a brand that seems to polarize some established collectors and mesmerize new collectors. But, one thing is certain: if you love Swiss timepieces and the art and craftsmanship that goes with them, you have an opinion in Breitling.
Let's delve into the history, the watches and part of the allure of what makes this brand great.
Breitling is one of those brands that can be mislabeled as too "blingy." But, beyond the polished cases and large faces lies in-house movements, iconic watches with decades of history and a brand that’s well-deserving of its status in the pantheon of the greats. The brand itself was founded in 1884 by Leon Breitling, a watchmaker who specialized in making chronographs. His specialty turned out to be prophetic for the brand for decades to come, as the brand has made a name for itself through its Chronomat, Cosmonaute, and Navitimer lines – all chronographs.
Strong ties in air and space
While Omega can lay claim to being the first timepiece on the moon with its Speedmaster, Breitling has its own roots in aviation and spaceflight. In 1915, Gaston Breitling, the second generation owner of the brand, began supplying the UK Royal Air Force, as well as several commercial pilots, just a few years after the invention of the airplane itself. That Royal Air Force partnership kicked off a history deeply-rooted in aviation now for over a century.
Since then, pilots of all shapes and sizes regularly call Breitling Navitimers their chosen timepieces to this day. In fact, Breitling sponsors the world’s largest civilian flight team, pulling off maneuvers named after the brand’s trademark timepieces including the Chronomat, Avenger, B1, Blackbird and more. One of the original Mercury Seven American Astronauts, Scott Carpenter, wore a Navitimer on the Mercury Atlas 7 mission. Breitling replaced the 12-hour clock with a 24-hour clock to help him navigate the constant day-night cycles in orbit.
In the 1980s, when Ernest Schneider was running Breitling, he helped launch the Aerospace and Emergency lines of watches. It was the latter that has had lasting success, as its emergency-signaling antenna is a first amongst fine watch brands. Plus, it has made it a must-have item for both pilots and adventurers, alike.
A collector does not speak of Breitling without talking about the Navitimer. If there’s a pilot’s watch to end all pilot’s watches, it’s this one. Breitling launched the Navitimer line in 1952 as an extension of the Chronomat lineup. It featured complications such as the Chonomat’s slide rule bezel and chronograph, but also had something it did not – a slide rule bezel used to calculate operations such as speed without the usage of any other tools. With the addition of the stylish and practical slide rule bezel, the Navitimer was born.
Since then, countless special editions have debuted, and the current Breitling lineup features no less than eight different basic variants – all with their own subsets – including the Navitimer World, Navitimer 01, GMT, Cosmonaute, AOPA, and others. If you love chronographs, or you love pilot’s watches, or you just love a serious tool watch, then the Navitimer should be on your short list. That is, if you don’t already have one.
While the Navitimer has certainly stolen its crown, we’d be remiss if we didn’t restate that the Navitimer was created as an extension of the Chronomat and not the other way around. In 1942, Breitling debuted the Chronomat and its aforementioned slide rule bezel during the height of World War II. Today, you can see a design that is reminiscent to the first Type 42 Chronomats in the Montbrilliant 01. In the late 1960s, the Chronomat diverged more from the Navitimer lineup to what is now known as the “Big Case” Chronomats. This design is mirrored by the recent Chronomatic lineup.
Just a few years ago, Breitling modernized the Chronomat lineup with an all-new lineup. This time, the all-new model featured a futuristic digital-looking font and the then-new B01 movement. The B01 was good for a 70-hour power reserve and was one of the first dominoes to fall as Breitling began its move away from ETA movements to more sought-after, in-house movement. With a 70-plus year history, it is the Chronomat, not the Navitimer, that has sold the most units. But thanks to the unrivaled popularity of the Navi, it’s the Chronomat that’s the more stealthy piece on the wrist.
One of the most popular Breitling watches amongst younger and first-time collectors is the Avenger and Super Avenger lineups. Thanks to their polished cases ranging up to 48 mm wide and 18.6 mm thickness, the Super Avenger in particular grabs attention wherever it goes. Despite its stature as one of the most popular watches, the B01 movement has yet to permeate into either the Avenger or Super Avenger lineup, keeping the watches with COSC-Certified ETA movements, keeping costs relatively low.
In 1995, Breitling was in need of another world-beating watch. It got it in the Breitling Emergency. More than just a decorative piece of jewelry, the Emergency, and now the Emergency II, has a built-in micro-transmitter that can broadcast a distress call on the universal aircraft emergency frequency of 121.5 MHz. This watch can pull this feat off for 24 hours on a full charge. This amazing piece of technology shows Breilting’s commitment to technology – even in the old world tech of Swiss timepieces.
Obviously, Breitling’s lineup is made up of more than just these few pieces. But if you’re going to build a Greatest Hits Collection and have your prerequisite set of Breitlings, these are the essentials according to the pros at Burdeen’s. Until next time!
If you have any questions about Breitling, the Navitimer, Chronomat, Emergency II, Super Avenger II, or any other Swiss timepieces, call us at 800-656-0414. Or, visit us at our beautiful Chicagoland jewelry store located at 1151 W. Lake Cook Road in Buffalo Grove.