In the continuing retro wave, the Breitling Aviator 8 collection reinterprets Breitling’s early pilot watches without simply duplicating them. In this in-depth review from our October 2020 issue, we observe how the newest Aviator 8 model, the B01 Chronograph Mosquito, keeps up in modern everyday life. (Original photos by Olaf Köster.)
Just as a gusty wind can sometimes transition into a storm, the timepieces in Breitling’s Aviator 8 family have experienced a lot of change. Launched in early 2018 as the Navitimer 8, the collection has since transitioned to become the Aviator 8, albeit without making much of a stir. The move now appears to be complete — and the new line reflects the long history that links Breitling with aviation.
A Smooth Transition to the Aviator 8
The phrase “back to the cockpit” heralded the beginning of Georges Kern’s tenure as Breitling CEO in 2017. His aim was to revisit and reinvent Breitling’s first steps in the world of aviation. As early as the 1930s, Breitling produced cockpit instruments for airplanes, long before the first Navitimer with its famous slide rule came on the market in 1952, so it was surprising that the new line was called Navitimer (now “8”) and omitted the model’s characteristic slide rule. And the Navitimer 8 was supposed to be telling the part of Breitling’s pilots’ watch history that existed before the Navitimer.
That’s why the Navitimer 8 features a number of elements from Breitling watches produced in the 1930s and ‘40s, like a rotating bezel. The limited edition issued in the summer of 2018, since renamed the Navitimer Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph, was equipped with markers and even-numbered numerals in addition to the existing orientation triangle.
Deep black and contrasting colors on the dial and rotating bezel, as a pilots’ watch should be.
Then came the Curtiss Warhawk, another special edition issued about a year after the introduction of the Navitimer 8, and finally the Aviator 8 that now stands for Breitling’s early connection to aviation. The change was carried out gradually without causing a big stir. Although it’s still possible to find Navitimer 8 models on the Breitling website (and maybe these models will become collectible because of their brief lifespan), the unique models with the slide rule are found under “Navitimer” and the new watches are listed under “Aviator 8.” The Navitimer name on the dial has disappeared.
Our test watch, the Replica Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph Mosquito, came onto the market in late 2019 and reaches “back to the cockpit,” as Georges Kern defined it, and back to the style of cockpit clocks that were designed by the Huit Aviation Department in the 1930s and ‘40s. This department was founded at Breitling in 1938 (huit is French for “eight”) and handled airplane cockpit clocks with an 8-day power reserve.
A Movement with Steady Rates
While the B01 in-house movement doesn’t offer an 8-day power reserve, it does extend over almost three days (70 hours), the current state-of-the-art. The chronograph movement with column-wheel control and vertical clutch was introduced in 2009 to commemorate the 125-year anniversary of the company. Its basic version powers the Chronograph Mosquito, but upon closer inspection there are some slight differences. For example, the eccentric screw for fine regulation is in a different place, and there were a few finishing flaws on the levers for the stopwatch function, which unfortunately were noticeable through the sapphire caseback.
But none of this appears to affect the excellent chronometry of Breitling. The B01 movement runs with very balanced rate results in various situations: on the timing machine, on the wrist or when the chronograph is engaged. The B01 is very reliable in this regard.
Bright yellow on the underside of the leather strap underscores the vintage look. The B01 caliber is visible beneath the sapphire caseback.
It is housed in a 43-mm stainless-steel case like that of the Navitimer, with lugs that are now shorter and more curved and polished edges that give the watch a strong and sporty look, especially when viewed from the side. Breitling often finished its watches with these same facets from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Also historically inspired are the “mushroom” chronograph pushers, which are, like the fluted crown, another Navitimer feature. The column-wheel control gives the chronograph pushers pressure points that are solid but very smooth. The screw-down crown is rather hard to release and secure in place but is easy to pull out to its different operating positions.
A Dashing Pilot Watch in Diamondblack
The grooved bidirectional rotating bezel turns smoothly and is radically different from the Navitimer with a smooth, downward sloping top, white hour markers and numerals, and a red reference point. The grooved section continues a sharp conical downward slope, and in contrast to the Navitimer, the raised portions are not exactly parallel to the grooves. The Mosquito bezel ring is also coated with ADLC, which turns it a deep, dark black unlike the more anthracite color of a DLC coating that Breitling has used for many years.
The “Diamondblack” ADLC coating was developed especially for luxury objects. Its hardness and resistance to impacts and scratches and its elegant black metallic color make this carbon-based coating ideal for watches. The gas-based process and low coating temperatures of less than 200 degrees Celsius are ideal for coating complex shapes and sensitive materials. The 2-to-3-micrometer coating retains the structure of polished or matte surfaces. Diamondblack is hypoallergenic and resistant to acidic and alkaline chemicals and solvents. Thanks to its good friction properties, Diamondblack can also be used as a coating for mechanical watch components. It reduces the need for lubrication and extends maintenance periods. Here, however, it is not used in the watch movement.
The dial glows brightly at night thanks to the generous application of Super-LumiNova.
Colorful Accents Recall the de Havilland Mosquito
The black dial is reminiscent of vintage cockpit instruments and clocks. Bold red-orange accents are designed to recall the insignias and markings on the fuselage of the de Havilland Mosquito, a British multi-use airplane from the 1940s that was one of the fastest planes in the sky during World War II and was built almost entirely of wood — this was the inspiration for the name “Mosquito” used for this Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph.
The eye-catching hands that show the main time with their orange framing dominate above the dial. The same color is repeated on the small hand for the stopwatch function and on the tip of the central stopwatch seconds hand. While these elements are not luminescent, the primary hands, together with the hour numerals and markers and the 12 small triangles on the minutes/seconds track around the edge of the dial, glow bright green in the dark. In daylight, the white Super-LumiNova provides a stark contrast to the black dial, enhancing legibility.
The minute track around the edge of the dial is based on the original reference 634, with triangle markers pointing inward every 5 minutes, extended lines for the minutes, and thinner line markings for the fractions of a second. The large Arabic numerals come from the Ref. 765 AVI, which made a name for itself among aviators and was known as the “co-pilot.” The three silver subdials and the numbering on the bezel can be also found on these earlier models.
A Flight Instrument With its Own Identity
The sturdy dark-brown leather strap with a bright yellow underside has a vintage style that matches the character of this watch. Our test watch was equipped with a robust pin buckle whose polished edges match the polished bevels of the case. It’s a well-rounded package — the former Navitimer 8 has found its own identity as the Aviator 8.