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July 06, 2022

Breitling Navitimer: 70 years as an icon

«We don’t take the word icon lightly», says Georges Kern. And Breitling’s CEO doesn’t speak randomly. Because he’s at the helm of a brand that is quite rich in icons – the real ones, not those invented by marketing – given its long history and the incredible variety of collections created over the decades. One of these icons, ça va sans dire, is the legendary Navitimer.

This legend turns 70 in 2022 and Breitling celebrates it with a new collection in its natural environment, the sky. Because Breitling and Kern like to do things big: if the Navitimer is “For the plane – For the pilot“, as stated in an advertising campaign of the 1950s, the new collection must be presented enhancing the historical relationship between the brand and the flight. And so, it is.

An international event, today, brings the international press aboard a special flight from Zurich to Geneva; there, at the city’s airport, Georges Kern unveils the Navitimer collection celebrating the 70 years of the watch. An incredible experience, in which WATCH INSANITY also participates and which testifies how much the brand cares about this anniversary, this watch, this tradition that binds it hand in glove with the world of aviation.

One of the most modern airports in Europe is the evocative location chosen to unveil one of the most modern watches on the market. A way not only to breathe the history of Breitling and the history of the watch, but also to see it live in its habitat, between the sky and the earth of Switzerland. WATCH INSANITY is among the few guests, thanks to the authority gained not only towards the brand, but the whole market. A great satisfaction, guys, that we like to share with you by telling you about the new Navitimer “live”.

BREITLING NAVITIMER: FROM TOOL WATCH TO MUST HAVE

But how was the Breitling Navitimer born? In 1952,Willy Breitling developed a wrist-worn chronograph with a circular slide rule that would allow pilots to perform  all necessary flight calculations. In 1954, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the largest aviators’ club in the world, announced the design as its official timepiece. The winged Aopa logo was engraved at 12 o’clock, definitively consecrating the “navigation timer”, or Navitimer.

Breitling Original Navitimer (Pre 806) from 1954 bearing the AOPA signed logo
Original Navitimer (Pre 806) from 1954 bearing the AOPA signed logo

In a short time, the watch became a must for the airline captains and amateur aviators, in years in which civil aviation experienced a rapid and impetuous development. In 1962 he participated in the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission on the wrist of astronaut Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth after John Glenn.

At the time, pilots, professional or amateur, weren’t the only ones to love the Breitling Navitimer, sported on the wrist by celebrities such as musicians Miles Davis and Serge Gainsbourg and Formula 1 drivers Jim Clark and Graham Hill.

Miles Davis

THE EVOLUTION OF THE SPECIES

In its long life, the Breitling Navitimer has seen constant evolution and different versions. After the 1954 debut alongside the AOPA with the caliber Valjoux 72 inside the case, in 1955 the movement was replaced by the Venus Caliber 178 and the first version intended for the general public and not exclusively for AOPA customers was made available at the end of the year. A reference with the Breitling branding on the dial for the first time.

Historical Breitling Navitimer Ref.806 from 1959
Historical Navitimer Ref.806 from 1959

Another milestone was, as mentioned above, the 1962 Mercury-Atlas 7 mission. Carpenter’s Navitimer had the 24-hour reading instead of 12-hour dial, more useful during a flight in which different time zones were crossed rapidly. To do this, it was necessary to replace the Venus 178’s hours wheel with one that could performe one full turn in 24 hours. Thus, was born the reference 809, commercially known as Cosmonaute.

Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute Ref.809 from 1962
Navitimer Cosmonaute Ref.809 from 1962

1965 saw the introduction on the Breitling Navitimer of the famous “twin-jet logo”, with the stylized silhouette of two slightly superimposed aircraft, which accompanied the watch for several years. And if 1969 was an important year for mechanical watchmaking – with the birth of the first automatic chronograph – the Navitimer could not be excluded from this technical revolution. As the references 1806/1809 moved by Breitling’s Caliber 11 “Chrono-Matic” testify.

Breitling Navitimer Ref.806 Twin-Jet from 1965 & Navitimer Chrono-Matic Ref.8806 in 18k red gold from 1974
Navitimer Ref.806 Twin-Jet from 1965 & Navitimer Chrono-Matic Ref.8806 in 18k red gold from 1974

In the 1970s, the legend of the Navitimer continued to live on among flying enthusiasts and professionals, with the sword of Damocles of the quartz crisis threatening the entire Swiss mechanical watch industry. Quartz watches more and more precise and easy to use made the calculation tools on mechanical timepieces such as the Navitimer obsolete. However, the watch withstood the storm and, in 1985, the manual-winding reference 81600, with the new winged logo of Breitling, was born. That watch redefined the aesthetics of the collection for years to come.

Breitling Navitimer Ref.81600 from 1985
Navitimer Ref.81600 from 1985

The brand tested itself with major complications, such as the split-second model of 1995, where the counterweights of the two seconds hands of the chronograph – one in the shape of an anchor and one in the shape of a B – “disassembled” the Breitling logo in a brilliant design trick. The last important milestone before 2022 was in 2010, when the first in-house caliber was introduced into the collection.

Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante Ref.J34030 from 1995
Navitimer Rattrapante Ref.J34030 from 1995

BREITLING NAVITIMER: THE NEW COLLECTION

Now, however, it is enough to talk about the past: I focus on the present and on the new collection presented today in Geneva. To create the new Navitimer, Breitling preserved the most iconic aspects of the watch design. Starting from the circular slide rule, the bâton indexes, the three counters (small seconds at 9, 30 minutes at 3 and 12 hours at 6) and the notched bezel to be easily manipulated even when wearing aviator gloves.

Breitling Navitimer 70° Anniversary Collection

And, speaking of aviators, the reintroduction of the AOPA wings in the applied logo at 12 o’clock cannot be overlooked. In addition, the silhouette of the watch is softened by the flattening of the slide rule; this improvement, combined with the domed crystal with internal and external anti-reflective coating, makes the watch more compact.

Breitling Navitimer 70° Anniversary Collection

The aesthetic details define the soul of the new Navitimer, professional yet elegant. Applied indexes well highlighted by the Super-LumiNova, sunray dial, chronograph counters with circular finishes, polished bezel, lugs and pusher’s heads contrasting with the satin finish of the case side and the chronograph pushers side testify to the great attention paid by Breitling in the desing and creation of the watch.

Breitling Navitimer 70° Anniversary Collection

There are 28 references, in different case sizes: 8 by 46mm, 12 by 43mm, 8 by 41mm. The difference is made by the materials – 2 references for each size are in red gold, all the others are in steel -, the choice between a crocodile leather strap or a 7-row metal bracelet – each piece of each reference has the two alternatives – and the color of the dial. Black, dark green, blue or silver for the 46mm, black, silver, copper, ice blue or mint green for the 43, blue, silver, or mint green for the 41.

Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 41
Navitimer B01 Chronograph 41
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43
Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 46
Navitimer B01 Chronograph 46

THE CALIBER

Such a great effort in references matches with an extreme simplicity in the choice of the movement. All models are powered by the same automatic movement, the in-house Breitling 01 caliber. Fans know it very well: 70 hours of power reserve, 28,800 vibrations / hour, column-wheel chronograph with vertical clutch, COSC certification for top rate precision.

Breitling Navitimer 70° Anniversary Collection

The caliber is visible through the sapphire crystal caseback. A treat for fans but also a job for Breitling. Using the same movement with the same dimensions (30 mm x 7.2 mm) inside cases with different diameters, on the one hand, led to a difference between the thickness of the cases in order to maintain the proportions (it goes from 13.60 mm on 41 to 13.95 mm on 46). On the other hand, led to use different casing rings.

Breitling Navitimer 70° Anniversary Collection

In this way, the caseback of the 46 mm Navitimer has a thick and well visible ring; that of the 41 mm is instead much more open and airy and the vision of the movement is well enhanced, even more than in the 43 mm. For some it is an irrelevant detail, but many do not like a too thick ring: the market and the fans will judge. 

The prices? The 41 mm references range from 8,300 euros for the versions equipped with crocodile strap to 35,000 for the gold one with bracelet, the 43 mm ones range from 8,400 euros to 35,500, the 46 mm from 8,500 to 37,500 euros.

THE SUPPORTING CAMPAIGN

The importance of the new collection in the consolidation of Breitling’s brand identity is evidenced by the support campaign “Navitimer – For The Journey”, which involves three of the leading brand ambassadors, members of the so-called Navitimer Squad: Nba star Giannis Antetokounmpo, first American Ballet Theater dancer Misty Copeland, aviation pioneer and explorer Bertrand Piccard.

Misty Copeland
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Bertrand Piccard

Why did Breitling choose them? Because each of them went on an incredible journey to become the best in their field, as Misty Copeland explains: «This journey means a lot to me, because it celebrates not only where I’ve been in my life, but also where I’m from and where I’m going. There is an undeniable parallel between traveling to a physical destination and traveling to the destination that you imagine for your future, for your life. This is the theme you will see developed in our three stories».

Breitling Navitimer 70° Anniversary Collection

Travel, flight, adventure, exploration, history and tradition. In the Breitling Navitimer that today we see, touch, try on the wrist and share with you there is this, but also much more, for 70 years. That’s why, with this watch, the word icon is not taken lightly at all.

By Davide Passoni