The Navitimer pre-806
Let’s start with Breitling
A relatively understated brand when it comes to vintage watches.
Is it due to the current Breitling production, the fact that few famous drivers or Hollywood stars wore their models….
Breitling was however important and influential in the horological world since its foundation in 1884 at St Imier by Léon Breitling until the quartz crisis in 1979, when the grand-son of the founder, Willy Breitling, turned over reins of the family own company to Ernest Schneider.
Before entering in more details into relation between Breitling and the world of aviation which will lead to the Navitimer, let’s get back on main steps of this wonderful family business.
Breitling was founded in 1884 by Léon Breitling, in the swiss city of St Imer.
This young horologist of 24 years old only shortly specialized in chronographs.
Since the beginning, Léon Breitling worked on chronograph movements and developed some important innovations.
In 1892, the company moved to La Chaux de Fond and established in a street which will be named Montbrillant shortly after.
Since then, the company is renamed “Léon Breitling, Montbrillant Watch Manufactory”.
At Léon Breitling’s death, in 1914, his son Gaston, presided over the destiny of the company, at 30 years old only.
During the torments of the 1st World War, Gaston Breitling tried at all costs to keep and preserve its markets and to adapt the production to make the company live.
In continuity with the work done by his father, Gaston Breitling developed and presented the first chronograph with independent pusher at 2 o’clock in 1915.
It is important to say that other brands, like Omega in 1913, presented chronographs with independent pusher but Breitling is the first to place it at 2 o’clock.
However, even if this chronograph is easier to manipulate, it does not enable to restart the chronograph without reseting it.
Breitling patented in 1923 a chronograph movement with an independent pusher for starting and stopping the chronograph. The function reset was done by the crown.
Even if this innovation clearly announces the imminent arrival of the chronograph as we know it today, with two separated pushers at 2 and 4, we should wait for 1933 to see this famous patent.
In the meantime, Willy Breitling succeeded his father in 1932, once he reached the age of maturity.
Willy will make the company works during 4 decades before the terrible quartz crisis that will prove to be stronger than the family company.
Without entering into polemics concerning ownership of this or this invention, it is undeniable to my eyes that Breitling, with more than 220 models since its foundation until 1979 (excluding executions of a same model!), was an important actor in chronographs with inventions and design that defined codes of the modern chronograph we know today.
For those who are interested, I can only advise you to read the fascinating interview of René (@Dracha) and Fred (@WatchFred on FratelloWatches :https://www.fratellowatches.com/vintage-breitling-the-expert-interviews/. A condensate of what makes, for me, Breitling an important and fabulous brand to discover and collect.
Breitling and the aviation
First flight instruments were produced in 1938 with 8 days power reserve dashboard clocks.
One year after, a special division dedicated to aviation is created: the division “Breitling Huit Aviation”, referring to the 8 days power reserve clocks cited above.
The first collection of wrist chronograph “for pilots” appeared for the first time in a catalog in 1940/1941.
We can see the first apparition of the famous waterproof chronograph ref 765, which will become AVI in 1953.
And what about the Navitimer?
In 1954 Breitling associates with the AOPA (Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association) and proposes a chronograph with a calculation rule integrated in the bezel.
This special chronograph is initially available for sale to AOPA members only.
Here below is an advertising of the time:
Worthy successor of the Chronomat created in the early 40’s, the Navitimer is the first chronograph with integrated calculation rule dedicated to pilots, the Chronomat being for scientists and mathematicians.
The name Navitimer is a concatenation of Navigation and Timer, enlightening its initial purpose of being the perfect tool for any pilot during a flight.
At a time when computers were not very present in cockpits, this instrument enables to make easy and reliable calculations, like multiplications, divisions, fuel consumption, speed…
A controversial history
The initial issue date of the Navitimer gave rise to a large number of debates among collectors.
In fact, official communication from Breitling is that the first Navitimer was issued in 1952.
This is based on some Navitimer having a serial number starting by 82XXXX, dating those watches in 1952, indeed.
However, researches by most knowledgeable collectors (Kurt Broendum especially), have shown that Navitimer having those serial numbers starting by 82XXXX share the same characteristics as models from the end of the all-black dial Navitimer (beginning of the 60’s).
Those characteristics are, to name a few :
- Bigger beads of rice (93 instead of 125/126 for first Navitimer)
- Importation code WOG (Wakmann Watch Corporation) instead of BOW (Breitling Watch Corporation of America) which was used until 957.
The theory advanced and which is know widely accepted is that there was a mistake in serial number stamping and that a Navitimer batch was accidentally stamped 82XXXX while it should have been stamped 92XXXX.
Facing this documented theory, Breitling now changes a bit its communication and confirms that first relations with AOPA are indeed dated from 1954 with the “civilian” Navitimer issued the same year but a “military” Navitimer would have been produced in 1952, under the name of “Navigation Timer”.
Until now, none of those supposed “military” Navitimer have surfaced….
Features of the first generation (1954 to mid 1955)
The caseback is really special because it does not bear the typical 806 reference number, adding weight to the allegation that the first Navitimer was initially offered to AOPA members only, without being referenced in any Breitling catalog.
Lugs shape is also special to this first generation but I unfortunately don’t have any pictures for illustration.
Hands (hour, minutes and chrono hands) are made of mat steel, not painted. Painted hands will come later (mid 1956).
From mid 1955 to mid 1956, there is also a transitional period: Navitimer have mat steel hands seen on first gen but with the Venus 178, instead of the Valjoux 72.
The bead of rice bezel
Generally speaking, the more the bead of rice the older the watch is.
Rene also did a very interesting work on that : https://www.vintage-breitling.com/?page_id=142.
From what I know, pre-806 Navitimer have bezel with beads of rice ranging from 124 to 126.
The movement of this first gen, pre-806 Navitimer, is the renowned Valjoux 72, used in so many famous chronographs.
The bridge is stamped with “Breitling Watch Corp Seventeen 17 Jewels Swiss” as well as with the importation code BOW, which will be in use until 1957, when Breitling distribution in USA will be transferred to Wakmann company.
The movement being a bit too small for the case, it is hold tight with a ring and 3 screws.
Navitimer pre-806 portfolio
All along its life, the Navitimer has seen a lot of executions with some even rarer than the “typical” pre-806…
For those who are interested, you can go visit Kurt’s website (https://kurt-b.com/), an exceptional source of information with all Navitimer and Cosmonaute executions known today.