For 70 years, Breitling’s original pilot’s watch has been beloved by aviators and tastemakers in equal measure. Worn by an astronaut in space and the biggest stars on Earth, it is Breitling’s most iconic timepiece. Today, Breitling honours the legend with the introduction of a new Navitimer that captures its most classic features while enhancing them with modern refinements.
“We don’t throw the term ‘icon’ around lightly,” says Georges Kern, CEO of Breitling. “The Navitimer is one of the most recognisable watches ever made. It’s on collectors’ lists of the greatest watches of all time. What began as a tool for pilots has gone on to mean something profound to every single person who has had this timepiece along on their personal journey.”
“It is an icon for us and will continue to play that role,” agrees Alvin Soon, president of Breitling Asia. “We are using this icon to amplify Breitling’s identity, and I do believe the Navitimer gives us unique reach — not just to pilots but anyone who likes aviation watches. We need to be authentic and I think this is the most authentic watch to Breitling’s DNA.”
Not even its inventor could have predicted the phenomenon the Navitimer would become. In 1952, Willy Breitling developed a wrist-worn chronograph with a circular slide rule that would allow pilots to perform all necessary flight calculations. Two years later, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the largest aviators’ club in the world, announced the design as its official timepiece. The association’s winged logo was emblazoned at 12 o’clock, and the “navigation timer” — or Navitimer — was born.
His design was an innovative wrist-worn instrument that would enable pilots to perform such forward-thinking flight calculations as average speed, distance travelled, fuel consumption and rate of climb. This early answer to the onboard computer was achieved by incorporating Breitling’s patented circular slide rule onto the watch’s rotating bezel. When it launched to AOPA members in 1954, the Navitimer was an instant success.
This very first Navitimer, completely designed and engineered to AOPA specifications, did not include Breitling’s name or logo anywhere on the dial. Instead, it was the AOPA logo that featured prominently at 12 o’clock.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Navitimer would continue to be the watch of choice for military and civilian pilots. Astronaut Scott Carpenter even wore a specially modified Navitimer in space in 1962. And it wasn’t just aviators who were drawn to the Navitimer’s uncompromising style and functionality. When the watch, featuring an unsigned version of the AOPA logo, hit the open market in 1955, it found fans among celebrities of the day, including Miles Davis, Serge Gainsbourg and Formula 1 champions Jim Clark and Graham Hill.
“If you’re a collector, there is a collection from every brand that you want. For Breitling, it is the Navitimer and it’s a must-have in any respectable collector’s range,” Soon adds. “More importantly, there is a huge growth and support of independent brands like us. Most people don’t know we are independent, which I think is because we don’t behave like it — we are the second-largest independent watch brand after Rolex. This is quite a feat!”
After 70 years, the Navitimer has gone beyond being a tool used by pilots to navigate their course. It has become a symbol for those plotting their personal journeys through life. Breitling celebrates this significance in a new campaign, Navitimer — For The Journey, featuring the Navitimer Squad, made up of basketball superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland and aviation pioneer and explorer Bertrand Piccard. Each member has been on an incredible journey to get to where they are today at the top of their fields. Each has charted a course and stayed on it through sheer determination. And each one is en route to achieving their next set of ambitions. Using powerful visuals and the squad members’ narration, the campaign gets to the heart of these moving journeys.
To create the new Navitimer, Breitling preserved the most recognisable aspects of the icon’s design code. From a distance, this is unmistakably a Navitimer, with its circular slide rule, baton indices, trio of chronograph counters and notched bezel for easy grip. Up close, however, its modern refinements come through loud and clear. A flattened slide rule and domed crystal create the illusion of a more compact profile. Alternating polished and brushed finishes give the metal elements a lustrous yet understated quality. A slimmer silhouette on the oscillating weight enhances the open-caseback view of the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres)-certified Breitling manufacture Calibre 01. This movement is backed by a five-year warranty, provides about 70 hours of power reserve and allows the wearer to change the date — now visible through a discreet window in the subdial at 6 o’clock — at any time.
The watch comes in a range of sizes (46mm, 43mm or 41mm), two case materials (stainless steel or 18-carat red gold), and a choice of straps (semi-shiny alligator or seven-row metal bracelet). Modern colours in shades of blue, green and copper define its updated dial options. And if there is one feature that is sure to spark nostalgia, it is the return of the AOPA wings to their original position at 12 o’clock.
“Our DNA is wrapped in what we call new luxury, which is casual and relaxed. The days are gone where high luxury is a must; casual luxury has become what people are most concerned with. Covid-19 has also put this into focus — where do you want to put your money? We are not an intimidating watch brand, we are inclusive in terms of styling and aesthetics and our watches work for any sort of lifestyle,” says Soon.
“Being independent is core to who we are and why we can celebrate the Navitimer’s anniversary with a new collection that is very much tied to its heritage, but is still fresh and new.”
The Navitimer has come a long way since Willy Breitling first drafted his idea for a wrist-worn flight tool. This redesign, with its focus on colour, styling and inclusive appeal, marks a new phase in its journey, one that blends Breitling’s modern aesthetics and values with its historic watchmaking savoir-faire to create an updated identity for the iconic watch that started it all.
This article first appeared on Aug 15, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.