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The History of the Breitling Watch Company

The "G. Leon Breitling" firm was founded in Saint-Imier, Switzerland in 1884 by Leon Breitling. Leon Breitling started out inventing and creating complicated watches, chronographs and special measuring instruments. He moved his company to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1892 where he built a full-fledged factory. At this time, the company was renamed to "Leon G. Breitling S.A. Montbrillant Watch Manufactory" and had 60 employees.

After much success, Leon Breitling passed away in 1914 and his son Gaston inherited the business. Gaston knew that Breitling's specialty and biggest seller was the chronograph, and he set out to develop this market further. His first big accomplishment, the Vitesse chronograph, was enthusiastically used by police authorities, the military and governments.

During World War I, Gaston grew the brand outside of the closed European markets. He continued to invent new chronograph models with special time-event scales on the dials. Gaston Breitling died in 1927 and the Breitling firm was without leadership until 1932 when his son William stepped in.

William Breitling developed the aircraft chronograph and made Breitling famous worldwide. Breitling signed a contract with the British Air Ministry and started making chronographs for the Royal Air Force. People associate Breitling with aviation largely because of this contract and the success it brought the company.

Many more contracts were subsequentially signed with aircraft manufacturers and airlines. Pilots took notice and acknowledged the great quality of Breitling's chronographs.

William Breitling was also responsible for one of Breitling's most famous inventions, the slide rule bezel. The first watch to include this feature was the Chronomat. By 1946, Breitling manufactured about 250 different models in six categories. Obviously, they included their famous chronographs. In addition, Breitling now also offered waterproof watches.


In 1952, William moved the company's headquarters to Geneva, while production remained in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The company had now abandoned in-house movement manufacturing and relied on suppliers such as Venus. This saved cost and allowed Breitling to focus on its main strength: designing and refining their special dials.

The same year also saw the introduction of Breitling's most famous model, the Navitimer. Flight and rally calculations could be made with this wrist-worn navigational instrument and it was a huge hit with pilots around the world. The famous Cosmonaute, a 24-hour dial Navitimer, was introduced in 1962. It went into space on Lt. Commander Scott Carpenter's wrist.

Time magazine wrote of the Navitimer in 1957: "The firm of Leon Breitling introduces a new stopwatch that is intended for engineers and technicians, and is equipped with a calculator as well as three hands for time and speed measurements." Around the same time, the Super Ocean diver's watch was introduced. The trendy Top-Time was introduced in the early 1960s.

Breitling watch


Times were changing again in the early 1980s; the mechanical watch was making a comeback. In 1984, Breitling introduced its first mechanical chronograph since the death of William Breitling. It was, like the 1942 model, to be called the Chronomat. 1986 saw the comeback of the 1950s-style Navitimer. Watches catering to sailors were also introduced at this time. Breitling had re-emerged as the indisputable champion of "Instruments for Professionals".

Today, Breitling continues its involvement in aviation and all the adventures that it entails. The "Breitling World Cup of Aerobatics" was introduced in 1993 and is recognized by the Federation Aeronatique Internationale as having the same status as a world championship. Breitling also had enormous success with the Breitling Orbiter 3, the first balloon to fly around the world. In the year 2000, Breitling inaugurated its new headquarters in Grenchen.

In cooperation with Heuer-Leonidas, Hamilton-Buren and Dubois et Depraz, Breitling introduced in 1969 the new Chronomat. It was an automatically winding chronograph, something that took 500,000 Swiss francs to construct. This movement, marketed by Breitling as Caliber 11, was nothing short of a Swiss watch industry sensation.

 

Breitling for Bentley

As the quartz revolution began, Breitling reluctantly introduced a quartz version of the Chronomat in 1975. It was manufactured alongside their mechanical varieties. A quartz Navitimer followed the next year.

Adjusting to the new quartz technology was a difficult, if not impossible, task for Breitling and in 1979 the Breitling firm was voluntarily closed by William Breitling. He had become ill and passed away the same year. The inventory went to the family, but Ron Geweniger of Chicago purchased half of it.

100 years of watchmaking and Breitling tradition was not about to vanish off the face of the Earth, however. In 1979, the Breitling name was taken over by Ernest Schneider of the Sicura firm in Grenchen.

William Breitling's two sons, Gregory and Alain, were too young to take over the business.

Schneider reaffirmed to the public that Breitling was worthy of their confidence. He showed them that the original philosophy was unchanged and that special focus was, as always, given to the flying sports. A pilot himself, Schneider conferred with other pilots and introduced the Jupiter, Pluton and Mars chronographs in 1980. The market at this time wanted electronic watches, so these watches had quartz movements.

Breitling made and COSC certified 148,380 watches in the year 2000, up 20,721 from the previous year. In the entire watch industry, Breitling ranks #2 in terms of how many watches it certifies. Only Rolex certifies more and Omega is just slightly behind Breitling at #3.

According to Wristwatch Annual 2002, about 5% of Breitling customers are actual pilots. Breitling watches appeal to many different people. Not all pilots wear Breitlings, and not everyone who wears a Breitling is a pilot. The watches are popular among aviation fans (including pilots), engineers, public officials, celebrities and anyone who appreciates a fine watch with a unique design. See What is the history of Breitling? for information about Breitling's early and current ties to aviation.


For more details please use our custom search facility - specifically optimised for delivering quality results for premium watch information in the UK, developed in partnership with Google, or take a look at the official Breitling website.


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