Turn Back Time: The History of Breitling
Breitling is a brand rich with history, famous for producing wrist chronographs since 1884. Learn more about the brand’s past here.
Since 1884, Breitling has played a vital role in the development of the wrist chronograph, leading the way through sturdy, reliable, and high-performance designs. Now, the family business is one of the last remaining independent Swiss watch brands, still famous for its iconic collections which have conquered the world of aviation. In this blog, we pay homage to the Breitling brand, as well as its watches, revealing more about the history and which elements have contributed to making the brand that we all know and love what it is today.
1884 – The Beginning
In 1884, a watchmaker named Léon Breitling started his watch business in the Swiss Jura, focusing exclusively on the creation of chronographs and precision counters for scientific and industrial purposes. He was ambitious and wanted to become the leader in designing and manufacturing these precise instruments to allow for sensitive timekeeping, required by scientists, industrialists, and even athletes. Little did he know that his handiwork would play a pivotal role in the world of aviation.
1914 – Breitling’s Death
After Léon died, the watch business was left to his son, Gaston. One year later, Breitling debuted the first independent chronograph push-piece and made history for doing so. In 1923, however, this feature was perfected with the introduction of separate start and stop functions, which allowed the wearer to keep time by adding successive or lap times without returning the hands to zero. This feature in particular made it a vital tool for pilots and those who were responsible for timing sports events.
1932 – Every Pilot’s Choice
In 1932, Gaston’s son and Léon’s grandson, Willy, took control of the company and it was during this time that Breitling made a big push by capitalising on its prestige and proven reputation to become the watch of choice for aviation crews’ pilots. Soon after, Breitling won the bid to supply watches to the British Royal Air Force throughout World War II.
1952 – Development
To truly appeal to pilots and air navigators, who relied on their watch to make crucial in-flight calculations, such as fuel consumption and air speed, Breitling unveiled the new Navitimer watch collection, which featured a slide rotating bezel.
1962 – Going To Space
The Breitling Navitimer was worn by astronaut, Scott Carpenter, on his orbital flight aboard the Aurora 7 capsule in 1962, which made the Navitimer the first ever wristwatch to travel to space.
1969 – The Breakthrough
In 1969, Breitling had a breakthrough in watchmaking, inventing the first Swiss self-winding chronograph movement – a truly historic moment for the industry.
1970s & 1980s – The Decline
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the watch industry suffered as a result of the introduction of quartz watches, which made watch production inexpensive. Traditional watchmakers, who relied on elaborate and expensive movements to power their watches were simply unable to compete. During this time, also known as the Quartz Crisis, the Swiss watchmakers saw a decline in their sales, with some brands coming to a halt entirely. Breitling had suspended its operations and began to lay off workers, as it failed to compete within the challenging and changing market.
1984 – Partnerships
During this time, Breitling partnered with the elite Italian Jet Team, Frecce Tricolori, to update its 1941 Chronomat, completely revamping the design to feature a sturdy case and a bezel with rider tabs. The design was created to withstand accelerations of up to 20-G forces. Since its debut, the Breitling Chronomat has remained the best-selling style within the collection.
1995 – New Collections
After the Quartz Crisis, Breitling re-established itself, releasing new collections, including the Breitling Emergency in 1995 – a unique timepiece, which contained a radio transmitter to broadcast distress frequencies and serve as a backup for airborne beacons.
Since 1999, every mechanical and electronic watch manufactured by Breitling has been certified by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute, making Breitling the only watch company in the world to have every watch certified as a chronometer. To this day, the brand continues to produce timepieces of the highest quality while staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in watchmaking.