History of Breitling

From 1884 to the present day Breitling still retains a mixture of style and precision.

Léon Breitling

Léon Breitling first opened a workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1884, making pocket watches and chronographs. His son Gaston initiated the production of wrist-watches in 1914 for the military in the First World War.

Often associated with flying since 1936 when Willy Breitling (Leon's grandson) launched a chronometer for instrument panels in aircraft cockpits. The firm has a long association with Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed. In 1952 the Navimeter, a super chronograph designed especially for pilots.

In 1970 Breitling introduced the Breitling GMT, a chronograph with two hour hands (one for 12 hour system, one for 24 hours system). A year later the Breitling Unitime simultaneously shows time in all countries of the World. Ernest Schneider (qualified pilot) acquired the company in 1979. He has been very careful to preserve its tradition.

1884: In St. Imiez, in the Jura mountains of Switzerland, Léon Breitling opens a workshop specializing in making chronographs and precision counters for scientific and industrial purposes.

1891: German Otto Lilienthal, known as the "father of aviation", flies more than 50 meters (165 ft) in his glider.

1892: In response to his company's significant growth, Léon BREITLING relocates in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the centre of Swiss watch making in those days.

1903: On December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk (North Carolina), Orville Wright achieves the first powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine: 12 seconds over a distance of 36.5 meters.

1909: On July 25, 1909, Louis Blériot, "conqueror of the Channel" successfully flies from Calais to Dover in 37 minutes, in a Blériot XI.

1913: On September 21, 1913, Adolphe Pégoud, nicknamed "king of the air", loops the first ever loop in aviation history.

1914: On the demise of Léon Breitling, his son Gaston takes over the firm.

1915: Gaston creates the first wristwatch chronograph and subsequently provides pilots with the first wrist instruments.

1918: The spectacular progress made in aviation during World War I does much to hasten the end of the conflict. It is the end of the era of the formidable "Red Baron", Manfred von Richthofen.

1919: On June 15, 1915, John Alcock and his co-pilot Arthur Brown land their Vickers Vimy at Clifden, Ireland. Having left Newfoundland exactly 16 hours and 12 minutes earlier, they become the first to fly over the Atlantic.

1923: Breitling develops the first independent chronograph push piece. Start and return-to-zero functions had previously been controlled using the winding-crown.

1927: On May 20 and 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh flies the "Spirit of St. Louis" across the Atlantic from New York to Paris in 33 hours, 30 minutes.

1932: Gaston's son, Willy Breitling, takes the helm of the family firm.

1934: Breitling develops the second return-to-zero push piece. This invention, making it possible to measure several successive short times with an added function using the first push piece, gives the wrist chronograph its definitive form.

1935: On January 12, 1935, Amelia Earhart flies solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland. This feat takes aviation's popularity to dizzying heights.

1936: Breitling becomes official supplier to the Royal Air Force. This marks the start of a long-standing record of cooperation with international aviation.

1938: Boeing presents the first pressurized commercial plane, the Boeing 307.

1940: Igor Sikorsky demonstrates his mastery of free helicopter flight by keeping his VS-300 in the air for over 15 minutes, on May 13, 1940.

1942: Breitling launches the Chronomat, the first chronograph to be fitted with a circular slide rule. In parallel, the company broadens its professional clientele to include the American armed forces. July 18, 1942, sees the test flight of the world's first jet aircraft, the Messerschmitt 262. Equipped with arrow-shaped wings, an aerodynamic fuselage and an ejection seat, it is considered to be the forerunner of modern aircraft.

1947: At 10.30 am on October 14, 1947, the Bell X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager breaks through the hitherto inviolate sound barrier. The era of supersonic flight dawns.

1952: Breitling creates the Navitimer, a wrist instrument equipped with the famous "navigation computer" capable of handling all calculations called for by a flight plan. This super chronograph quickly becomes a firm favourite among pilots around the globe. By this stage, BREITLING is already supplying the major international airlines with cockpit counters. The De Havilland Comet, the first ever-civilian jet aircraft, inaugurates the era of jets on May 2, 1952, with a regular London-Johannesburg flight.

1957: On December 20, 1957, the first series produced Boeing 707 takes off from Seattle. Twice as fast as other commercial aircraft, it offers hitherto unrivalled levels of comfort.

1962: Astronaut Scott Carpenter wears the Cosmonaute chronograph on his wrist during his orbital flight aboard the Aurora 7 space capsule.

1965: Entry into service in the US Air Force of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird; this high-altitude strategic reconnaissance plane, able to reach three times the speed of sound, quickly pulverizes all speed and altitude records.

1969: Breitling invents the self-winding chronograph movement, in cooperation with Büren and Heuer-Leonidas. This technical feat represents a major breakthrough for the entire Swiss watch industry. The year of superlatives. On February 9, 1969, the Boeing 747 or Jumbo Jet makes a successful test flight. Weighing 315 tons, able to carry 400 passengers or 50 tons of freight and 178 tons of fuel, it is the largest civilian aircraft ever built. Barely a month later, on March 2 in Toulouse, the Franco-British Concorde supersonic plane takes off for the very first time.

1974: The European Airbus project takes shape with the entry into service within Air France of the A-300, the first twin-engined wide-bodied jet airliner.

1979: Ernest Schneider - a pilot, watch manufacturer and microelectronics specialist - takes over the Breitling brand from the founder's grandson, Willy Breitling.

1981: Aeronautical innovations continue with the first stealth bomber, the Lockheed F-117. This aircraft, capable of avoiding radar detection systems, is secretly put into service from 1983 onwards, but its existence will only be officially recognized in 1988.

1984: Breitling launches the Chronomat, in close cooperation with the "Frecce Tricolori" elite flight team. With its sturdy case and famous bezel with rider tabs, the Chronomat marks the return of the chronograph and quickly becomes the best-selling line in the Breitling collection, a position it has held ever since.

1985: The Aerospace, an innovative multifunction electronic chronograph crafted in titanium, immediately appeals to many pilots.

1986: Aboard the experimental Voyager plane, Jeana Jaeger and Dick Rutan achieve the first non-stop round-the-world flight without refuelling, in only 216 hours.

1993: On March 4, 1993, the Saab Gripen began operating within the Swedish Air Force. It is the world's first 4th-generation fighter plane in service. Described as a "multi-role" aircraft, it can be used for interception, attack and reconnaissance missions.

1994: Entry into service of the B-2 stealth bomber made by Northrop Grumman.

1995: Breitling presents the Emergency, a multifunction instrument watch with built-in micro-transmitter broadcasting on the 121.5 MHz aircraft emergency frequency.

1997: A major development in military aviation, with the first flight of the F-22 Raptor from Lockheed Martin; this 4th-generation fighter aircraft, which is also a stealth bomber, is the most sophisticated plane ever built.

1998: Breitling launches the B-1, the most versatile multifunction chronograph ever to emerge from its workshops. Designed in cooperation with aviation professionals and fitted with a microprocessor specially developed for Breitling, the B-1 embodies significant progress in the field of Swiss microelectronic engineering.

1999: The last aviation record is set on March 21st 1999. After 20 days of flight, the experimental Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon, flown by Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard, touches down in the Egyptian desert. It has achieved the apparently impossible: a non-stop round-the-world balloon flight.
1999: 1st Round the World Balloon Flight by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in the Breitling Orbiter 3 - Duration of the flight was 19 Days 21 Hours 47 Minutes.

The history of Breitling began in 1884, when the company was founded by Leon Breitling, continued by his son and grandson Willy, who in 1934 invented a second return-to-zero push piece, making it possible to measure several successive short times, with an add function, using the first push piece, giving birth to the modern mechanical chronograph. It remains Breitling's biggest selling instrument. Since the 80's when the company was taken over by Ernest Schneider, Breitling has only increased in popularity among the new generation, fascinated by the adventurous image, the rugged oversized cases and complicated dials. Year after year, the House expands its historic collections, which include some of its best sellers like the Crosswind, Chronomat, Wings, Navitimer, Montbrillant and Rattrapante, to name but a few. Included among Tarrytown Jewellers Pre-Owned watch collection are many Breitling's, on bracelets and straps. Call us or drop us an email, to own a premier watch at a discounted price today.

Breitling Chronomat
The Chronomat has a long and storied history. Ernest Schneider acquired Breitling from Willy Breitling in 1979 when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Beginning in 1984, the 100th anniversary of the firm's founding, Ernest Schneider sought to bring out a new mechanical wristwatch. Up until that time, Schneider's Breitling offerings were mostly quartz watches with a military flavour. The Breitling version of the story is that they consulted with the Italian air force aerobatic team known as Frecce Tricolori. The result was a chronograph with some peculiar case details. First, it had a flat profile. Most large chronographs have lugs that bend downward toward the wrist. Breitling instead put the "bend" in the lug end of the bracelet.
The second curious feature of the Chronomat design was screw-on markers at noon, 15, 30 and 45 minutes on the bezel. The rationale for attaching these "rider tabs" with screws was that the bezel could be converted to a countdown timer (although it ratchets in one direction only) by exchanging the 15 and 30-minute tabs.
Perhaps the third unusual feature of the watch was the name. When Schneider bought Breitling from the ailing Willy Breitling, he also bought rights to all registered trademarks. Schneider chose the name of one of the defunct watch lines instead of registering a new trademark. Thus the Breitling Chronomat was reborn, but with no resemblance to the original (which looked much like a present-day Navitimer Montbrillant).

The movement in the Chronomat is the now-popular Valjoux 7750. It has been reported elsewhere that Breitling began with the 17-jewel version, but upgraded during their 97/98 product line to the 25 jewel version. Some have said the Breitling version is not overly adorned or re-tuned. However, in 1997, Breitling bought Kelek and has incorporated their movement technology into their product line. The reports of Breitling's having mechanical problems have subsided. Quietly, people have stopped maligning these watches. Nevertheless, I have been told (so it is third hand now) that older Chronomat's suffered from poor quality control. Be careful when buying a used Chronomat.

Other case features: the crown is screw-down. The pushers are an interesting rounded/ridged design that keeps them from dominating the side of the watch. There are crown protectors on either side of the crown protruding from the case.
The case is available in all stainless steel, two-tone (the rider tabs, bezel screws, pushers and crown are 18k gold OR bezel is 18k gold but rider tabs are SS), and all 18k gold. Since the 1994/95 model year, the Breitling emblem on the face is either 18k yellow gold (TT or solid gold versions) or white gold (SS versions). The hands have changed somewhat over time. They are precious metal in the TT/18k gold versions, but the chronograph hands are blue metal. Early Chronomat's have a central chronograph hand that ends in a simple, squared-off tail (see the early Chronomat picture above). Newer Chronomat chronograph hands have the Breitling script "B" and anchor at the end (see the pictures below). The hour and minute hands have tritium fields for luminescence.

Chronomat GT Chronomat Vitesse
Continuing onto the face: there is two face styles currently in production. The "GT" style has large rings around the totalizers (sub dials), and large hour markers ending in tritium dots. The "Vitesse" style has block Arabic numerals for the hour markers, which in turn are filled in with tritium for luminescence. The immediately previous generation of Chronomat's came with either somewhat thinner hour markers, or somewhat smaller and non-slanted numerals.
The face styles and colours are many and varied. I've put a few favourites below, but there are many others.

There are several Chronomat variants/descendents, listed here in no particular order:
· One notable variant is the Chronomat Blackbird, a black faced Chronomat GT (technically, no, it is closer to the Chronomat's prior to 97/98), with an all-matte stainless steel case and (optional) matching pilot bracelet.
· A second variant is the Chronomat Longitude, which has a second, independent hour hand for keeping two time zones. The Longitude's bezel is also bi-directional and marked with hours, so that yet a third time zone can be kept track of.
· On the size front, there are several smaller sizes-- Chrono Sextant (mechaquartz, 36mm diameter), Chrono Jetstream (also mechaquartz, 36.6mm diameter), Chrono Cockpit (automatic, discontinued, 38mm); and, one larger size-- Chrono Crosswind (7750-based, luminous chronograph hands, 44mm)

The bracelets for Chronomat's comes in two options-- a so-called pilot bracelet or a bullet bracelet.
Pilot Bracelet in stainless steel.
Rouleaux (bullet) bracelet in stainless steel.
I only have experience with the Pilot bracelet, but have found it to be quite comfortable and of high quality. The links are solid metal and fit together tightly. It doesn't "shave my wrist" when I wear it.

Some hints on how to identify a fake:
· Most likely, the movement is quartz, since faking a chronograph movement is expensive. Thus the seconds' totalizer will have a hand that "jumps" instead of smoothly sweeping across its arc.
· Many fakes do not have the Valjoux 7750 configuration to the totalizers. The correct totalizer configuration is:
o 6 o'clock is the hour totalizer (marked 12/2/4/8/8/10 in newer Chronomat's or 12/3/6/9 in older Chronomat's)
o the 9 o'clock is the sweep seconds totalizer (marked 60/10/20/30/40/50 in newer Chronomat's or 60/20/40 in older Chronomat's)
o The 12 o'clock totalizer is the minutes totalizer (marked 30/5/10/15/20/25 in newer Chronomat's or 30/10/20 in older Chronomat's)
· Breitling has very crisp lines to the minute marks on the bezel. If you look at a real Breitling, these lines are very sharp recesses that are clearly defined. In many fakes, the lines are stamped and show deformation in the surrounding metal.
· On some fakes, the bezel is marked as though it were a Chronomat Longitude (i.e., 12/1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11), but the watch has no spare hour hand.