The History Of Breitling | In-Depth

Discover the fascinating history of Breitling timepieces from 1884 to the present day

If you are looking for a detailed history of the iconic high-end watchmaker Breitling, you have come to the right place. In the post below you will discover the right historied past of Breitling including their founding in 1884 by Leon Breitling, their links to aviation through the ages, as well as how Leon’s grandson Willy had to smuggle Breitling’s timepieces out of Switzerland right under the nose of the Nazis in WW2!  

You’ll also find plenty of information on some of the biggest innovations that Breitling spearheaded in the world of horology, as well as detailed descriptions of some of the most iconic Breitling timepieces that are still being made. Begin your Breitling journal, below. 

Breitling Historical Timeline 

1884 – Léon Breitling Founds Breitling

Set in the context of the late Industrial Revolution, Leon Breitling founded his master watch-making company with a focus on matching the fast-developing technologies in industry, sport, and the Sciences. 

Accuracy was the name of the game for Breitling, and this led him to secure the patents for some of the most important technology in watches and chronographs of the time. 

1915 – Breitling Creates Their First Timepiece Wearable On The Wrist 

Driven by the need for a timepiece more practical than the pocket watch for use in aviation cockpits in WW I, Breitling developed a chronograph that can be worn on the wrist. This allows pilots to check the time, and time their runs much more conveniently in a small space while making sure their hands are free to control the plane. These new wrist-wearable chronographs became popular with non-pilots as well. 

1935 – Breitling Pursues Further Work In Aeronautical Timing Instruments

In addition to wristwatches, Breitling also began to make a name for themselves by developing aeronautical timing instruments. It is in this way that the history of Breitling timepieces is inextricable from the history of manned flight itself. 

Breitling was so good at creating timing instruments that they entered into contracts with the Royal Air Force during WWII. 

1940s – Willy Breitling Takes Over The Company In War-Torn Times

Leon’s grandson Willy takes over the Breitling business in 1940, just in time to deal with the Nazi occupation of Europe. A situation that left Switzerland surrounded and unable to ship out any items deemed helpful to the war effort, a category that the accurate and sought-after Breitling timepieces obviously fell into. 

However, Willy shared not only a love of chronometers with his grandfather but his spirit of innovation as well. This was something that led him to organise his own expiry flights for Breitling timepieces in the relative cover of the local countryside. Willy Breitling and his colleagues risked life and limb to use their car’s headlights as makeshift runways that allowed these undocumented flights to take off and deliver their products to the Allied forces.

He was even ingenious enough to come up with a clever alibi in case of being questioned. Willy would head straight to a local bar once the plane had taken off, and make sure everyone saw him acting drunk enough that he’d been there all night. 

1949 – Breitling Navigates Peace Times By Slimming Down

With a history so inextricably linked to wartime and aviation, one of the major concerns of the Breitling company is that their timepieces would no longer be needed during times of peace. However, innovation once again saved the day as Breitling saw the need for slimmer, more elegant timepieces that both men and women could wear with suits. Indeed, Breitling identification of a potential market for wristwatches in women’s fashion was groundbreaking at the time and ensured they continued to lead the market, long after the war was over. 

1952 – Breitling Dominates The Golden Age Of Air Travel With The Navitimer

While the late 1940s saw Willy Breitling lead his company into fashion markets, he never forgot their aeronautical roots. This was responsible for his design of the iconic Navitimer chronograph. 

The Navitimer’s clever design which included a slide rule for measurement, made it so popular that Breitling once again became synonymous with flight. With Breitling instruments dominating the cockpits of commercial flights. 

1962 – Breitling Conquers All Terrains Including Space 

Much has been made of the connection between Breitling technology and aviation. However, it’s important to remember that the company also designed very popular and well-regarded timepieces suitable for use in a range of different terrains including land, sea and even Space!  

Indeed, in 1962 the Navitimer Cosmonaute was created for Scott Carpenter, a Lt. Commander and astronaut, and one of the first people to ever orbit the Earth. Even earlier in 1957, the Superocean was developed for use underwater. 

Breitling in the 21st Century 

A market leader in the field of luxury watches, Breitling is currently under the leadership of CEO, Georges Kern. Breitling continues to design and manufacture some of the most high-end, and beloved timepieces on the market, of which you can read about the most popular models below. 

Classic Breitlings That Are Still Available Today! 

Many of Breitling’s designs are so popular that they are still available today. While others have been updated and remodelled for the modern market. Find some of the most beloved Breitling timepieces described in detail, below. 

Breitling Avenger Automatic 45 Seawolf

Easily recognisable on the wrist, the sunshine yellow dial of the Breitling Avenger Automatic 45 Seawolf is as iconic as the rest of its build. Designed to survive the deepest of oceans the Breitling Avenger Automatic 45 Seawolf can withstand up to 3000m, making it ideal for divers. You’ll notice that the second hand is tipped with red to make it easy to read, even in the most challenging of conditions, and the Breitling Avenger Automatic 45 Seawolf has 38 hour’s worth of reserve power, which means even if you forget to wind it, it will still provide reliable readings. 

Breitling Premier Bo1 Norton

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Another famous collaboration, this time seeing Breitling pairing with famous motorcycle manufacturers from the UK Norton. Indeed, in a similar way to many of the other limited edition Breitling, you can flip the case to see the logo and Norton motorbike engraved on the transparent materials. The Breitling Premier Bo1 Norton also features straps available in either stainless steel or a brown leather finish, and minute and hour hands flecked with gold for a luxurious look. 

Although. When it comes to the Breitling Premier Bo1 Norton it’s not just the outside of the watch that’s impressive as the inside holds white subdials, a black Arabic dial, and a tachymeter scale. Combine these features with the 100m of water resistance that the Breitling Premier Bo1 Norton offers in its stainless steel case, and you can see why this limited edition is a popular one with collectors.  

Breitling Superocean Automatic 46

Based on the original 1957 design, as mentioned above, the Breitling Superocean Automatic 46 has been updated for modern markets. That means you can expect both enhanced looks and performance from the Breitling Superocean Automatic 46, making it ideal for watersports enthusiasts such as swimmers, divers, and surfers. Indeed, the Breitling Superocean Automatic 46 boasts water resistance to 300m, as well as glowing hands and indexes for enhanced underwater visuals. 

Breitling Chronomat B01 42

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If you are looking to impress then the Breitling Chronomat B01 42 is the perfect timepiece. A mechanical chronograph based on the original 1984 design that continues to be crafted in-house. It is set apart from other chronographs in its category because of the range of options it comes in, including ice blue, red gold, and stainless steel. 

You can expect high performance from the Breitling Chronomat B01 42 too, including 200m water resistance, lightweight design and a whopping 70-hour power reserve.

Breitling Endurance Pro 

Bold and sporty the Endurance Pro is a must for athletes, gym goers, and runners alike. A sports chronograph Breitling Endurance Pro is notable for several reasons including being water resistant up to 100m, hypoallergenic, and powered by the Calibre 82 SuperQuartz chronograph. 

The Breitling Endurance Pro also turns heads with its bold straps crafted from a Breitling innovation known as Breitlight. A strap material that is 6 times lighter than stainless steel, making the  Breitling Endurance Pro incredibly comfortable on your wrist. The Breitlight straps even come in a range of bold colours such as orange, blue, red and green so there can be no mistaking by onlookers just what brand of watch you are sporting on your wrist.   

Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 Curtiss Warhawk 

Looking for a Breitling that combines modern functionality and retro styling? Then the Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 Curtiss Warhawk is a model you’ll definitely want to consider. 

Named for the 1938 American single-seat warplane, the Warhawk is aesthetically appealing, and as you might expect hard to get your hands on, as it is made in small batches and often sells out very quickly. With that in mind, if you see a Curtiss Warhawk Chronograph available for purchase and have been considering adding it to your collection, don’t be put off by its £6000+ price tag, and pull the trigger ASAP, lest another collector get in before you. 

With a Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 Curtiss Warhawk, you can expect a transparent sapphire case back, a 70-hour power reserve, and 100m of water resistance. You’ll also find the date window at 4.30 pm, with an army green dial, and an image of the legendary P40 on the case back. 

Breitling Aerospace Red Arrows Limited Edition

Limited to only 350 timepieces, the Breitling Aerospace Red Arrows watch is a must for all collectors. Crafted from top-grade titanium, and proudly adorned with the red arrows motif which is a testament to a 90-year-plus working relationship between Breitling and the RAF. Indeed, Breitling is the only watch manufacturer allowed to use the RAF team system on their watches. 

On the  Breitling Aerospace Red Arrows Limited Edition you’ll find a wealth of features including a repeating minute setting, a second time zone, crown-activated functions and a 1/100th-second chronograph. 

Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 – “The Panda”

Another remarkable watch we couldn’t leave off our list of most popular Breitling watches for men is The Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42.

One of the most stylish and most expensive Breitling models, the B01 Chronograph 42 is named for its watch face where you will find a dial design that includes two black subdials on a white base, reminiscent of panda eyes. 

Endlessly elegant, the Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 is based on an original Willy Breitling design from 1943. However, you won’t find as many practical features on the model as you will on many of the others, it’s more for the playboy rather than the adventurer. Although you can choose between a calfskin or alligator strap. 

That’s not to say that you can’t rely on that Breitling accuracy with the Panda because you most certainly can and it is a timepiece that would grace any successful man’s wrist or watch collection. 

Final Thoughts On How Breitling Has Impacted Horology

If there were two words to summarise the impact that Breitling has had on the field of Horology, they would be accuracy and innovation. Indeed since its inception by Leon Breitling in 1884, an obsession with improving accuracy through innovation and providing timepieces for aviation purposes has been present in the Breitling agenda. 

To fuel this obsession for accuracy both Leon and Willy Breitling innovated new technology, materials and techniques to continually push the field forward. The current CEO Kern, has obviously also taken on this quest in a most serious manner. Breitling has also continually been a market leader when it comes to identifying and working with rapidly changing needs and fashions in the Horology field. 

In summary, Breitling has at once pushed the field forward technologically, and in terms of responding to fashion and customer needs. All the while leaving an indelible mark on the field of horology that field watch-lovers would ever want to erase.  

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