Breitling – a brand synonymous with aircraft and flight. And for good reason. Before it made itself an essential piece of a pilot’s toolbox, it made dashboard clocks for planes and military chronographs. But none of these are as famous as the Navitimer.
The most celebrated pilot’s watch of all, and arguably one of the most instantly recognisable watch designs ever, the Navitimer is a bonafide classic that walks a fine line between elegance and brute masculinity.
Whether you’re in the market for one or you’re simply window shopping, everything you need to know about the Breitling Navitimer is right here.
For starters, thanks to its innovative slide rule you’ll never need a calculator again. Its design hasn’t lost that wow factor despite being in its sixties and, although it’s been around for a while, that aforementioned slide rule makes it a bit of a connoisseur’s choice because unless you read the manual (or our cheat sheet below) or if you’re a pilot, very few people know how to operate it properly.
Like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, it’s a bit arrogant without being too flash, exudes confidence and will definitely give you a loving feeling. Despite having one of the busiest watch dials out there and a not-small case size, the Navitimer is surprisingly wearable too, and will suit a range of styles from tailored through to weekend casualwear.
If you went to school when Dickens was a boy, congrats, you know how to use a slide rule. For the rest of us, things are little woolier.
If you want to know how to use it to work out if the Airbus A380 you’re on has enough fuel to get you where you’re going we refer you to this section of the FHH website.
If you just want to know enough to stop your mates taking the piss at the local because you can’t use your new toy, then here’s three (useful) calculations you can make with the Navitimer.
BREITLING NAVITIMER AUTOMATIC 38 BREITLING NAVITIMER CHRONOGRAPH GMT 46 BREITLING NAVITIMER B01 CHRONOGRAPH 43 PAN AM BREITLING NAVITIMER REF.806 1959 RE-EDITION BREITLING NAVITIMER 8 BREITLING NAVITIMER B01 CHRONOGRAPH 43MM
Multiplication: Look for the red fixed 10 (this will be your friend through all these calculations). Position one of the numbers in your multiplication opposite the ten and the other opposite it. Then read off the result under the second number in that sum. If you want to know what 9 x 8 is for example, align 9.0 with the 10, put the 8 opposite and read off the number under the 8.
Division: Here the situation is reversed. Your guide is the moving outer scale, with the result on the fixed inner. So, for 30÷4, set the 30 on the outer scale opposite 4.0 and read off the number above the 10, which should be 7.5.
Currency exchange: Aka, the stag do’s best friend. Find out the conversion rate before you attempt this trick and align that number on the outer ring with the 10. If you’re converting sterling into Czech koruna (because, Prague) then £1 is on the inner scale and K28.50 is on the outer and the equivalent amounts in each currency are opposite each other on the two scales. Jednoduchý.
The classic Navitimer in its purest form, the B01 Chronograph boasts a design barely changed since it was first released 1952. With its innovative slide rule and characteristically busy dial, it’s instantly recognisable as a piece of Breitling – and horological – history. The 43mm case size isn’t too intimidating either, as can be seen on the photos on this page.
When is a Navitimer not really a Navitimer? When it’s this new 8. There’s no slide rule here just pure uncomplicated 1930s cockpit-inspired loveliness. At 41mm, it’s a more elegant take on traditional pilot’s design and harks back to Breitling’s history of making dashboard instruments. It’s even powered by the movement formerly known as a Valjoux 7750 – the Breitling 13. All in all, a solid 8 (out of 10).
This isn’t just a reissue; it is a painstaking recreation of the 1959 original. The case dimensions are exactly the same; the slide rule is there in all its complex glory and the dial is protected by Plexiglas rather than sapphire crystal. The only concessions to modernity are the 30-metre water resistance and the SuperLuminova, though even that has been coloured specifically to give it an aged feel.
A certain golden-crowned brand might be able to claim the first partnership with this particular airline, but Breitling wins in the style stakes. Corporate tie-ins can err on the side of tacky, but this livery really works. Going tricolour makes the slide rule more legible, the mesh bracelet is just lovely and having the Pan-Am logo on the case back adds a touch of “if you know” to the design.
For those who think there isn’t enough going on in a standard Navitimer, here’s one with a GMT function added as well. Obviously a 24-hour timescale is the ideal complication for the jet-set, and it looks right at home on this iconic pilot’s watch. By keeping the dial pale, the attention is drawn to the outer rings, which means that while you may have to squint a little, it isn’t that hard to read.
The 38mm case size has been gaining popularity for the past couple of years and this version of the Navitimer shows why it’s been a hit. It’s ideal for men who don’t like watches to dominate the wrist (and who don’t mind their partner’s timepiece-stealing habits), while the hint of rose gold pushes this design into slightly more dressy territory. Black tie might be taking it too far, but a navy corduroy number would be just the (first-class) ticket.
Launched in 1952 and the successor of the Chronomat, it upped the pilot watch ante with its innovative slide rule. This logarithmic scale, which has its roots in 17th century astronomy, was adapted to measure the three most important units for pilots: STAT for standard mileage, KM for kilometres and NAUT for nautical miles. These three combined allowed pilots to easily do complex calculations, such as average speed and fuel consumption.
It was deemed so crucial for aviators that the original watch bore the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) logo. Willy Breitling, grandson of the brand’s founder Léon, pushed the aviation angle further with adverts specifically targeting pilots; something which cemented Breitling’s reputation as a brand for those who took to the skies.
The 1960s saw a movement switch from the original Venus 178 to the Valjoux 7740 – predecessor to the now-legendary 7750. Then in 1969, the Navitimer had the honour of being the timepiece into which Breitling would put the revolutionary Calibre 11 – the first automatic chronograph developed in collaboration with Heuer and Dubois, instantly recognisable because the movement construction necessitated a left-hand crown.
However, even the success of the Navitimer and its quartz and LED (yes, LED display in the middle, slide rule around the outside) relations couldn’t stymie the effects of the Quartz Crisis (when battery-powered watches savagely undercut mechanicals in the seventies).
The Navitimer design had a second half-life as a Sinn watch after Breitling was sold to the Schneider family who owned Sicura watches; a brand that was eventually shelved in favour of Breitling.
In a very canny move the Schneider family kept their powder dry on their new acquisition; only when they were sure that the quartz threat was truly over, in the 1990s, did they relaunch the Navitimer now equipped with the famed Valjoux 7750.
By 2009, Breitling’s flagship watch was given its first in-house movement – the whizzy integrated column-wheel chronograph calibre Breitling 01. A fitting tribute to a watch designed take its owners to the world’s heights.