Brand History

Breitling

Most people who have heard of Breitling would be most familiar with the iconic pilot watch the Breitling Navitimer, but there is a lot more to this brand than just that one watch. Breitling does not have the popularity among watch brands such as Omega or Rolex, but the quality of the watches they produce can easily rival these manufacturers. While some of their achievements might be clouded by other manufacturers what they have achieved is definitely still worth discussing.

Most people who have heard of Breitling would be most familiar with the iconic pilot watch the Breitling Navitimer, but there is a lot more to this brand than just that one watch. Breitling does not have the popularity among watch brands such as Omega or Rolex, but the quality of the watches they produce can easily rival these manufacturers. While some of their achievements might be clouded by other manufacturers what they have achieved is definitely still worth discussing.

Breitling SA was founded by Léon Breitling in 1884 in Saint-Imier, Switzerland. Léon Breitling was born in 1860 and from a very young age he always had an interest in watchmaking, which lead him to work under other watch makers as an intern. At 24 years old he started Breitling, and soon after the demand for his watches outweighed what his factory at the time could produce which forced him to relocate to La Chaux-de-Fonds into a larger production factory. La Chaux-de-Fonds is very well known to be the starting ground for many watch manufacturers, such as Girard-Perregaux, Omega, Tissot, Movado and for the earlier part of the 20th century as much as half of the world’s watches were produced here. At the age of 54, Léon Breitling passed away and the company was then passed down to his son Gaston Breitling. Gaston continued his father’s legacy and made chronographs for pilots to wear as their first wrist instrument during flight. The company was then passed down to his son Willy Breitling  before being acquired by Ernst Schneider in 1979, his family continued to hold ownership up until it was sold to CVC Capital partners in 2018.

Léon Breitling the founder of Breitling

There are a few notable accomplishments from Breitling that are often not talked about or are overshadowed by other manufacturers. Most of the accomplishments I can find have been put into this table below.

YearAccomplishment
1884Léon Breitling founded Breitling in Saint-Imier, Switzerland.
1915The company was passed down to his son Gaston Brietling, who also unveiled the first wrist chronograph. Also added the now standard functionality of activating and controlling the chronograph with an independent push piece. Before this achievement, chronographs were controlled by the crown.
1923The chronograph was improved with the start/stop function being completely independent from the reset function. Before this if the user restarted the chronograph it will also reset the timer to zero.
1934Another improvement on the chronograph with the introduction of a separate reset pusher, which made it possible for the wearer of the watch to measure several successive short times with an add function.
1936Breitling became the official supplier to the Royal Air Force.
1942A new phase for Breitling with the launch of the Chronomat, the first chronograph with a rotating sliding rule. Breitling also became suppliers to the American armed forces.
1943The launch of the Premier line which are chronographs made for civilians.
1950Became the official supplier to world aviation, the chronographs were equipped into propeller planes and jets of airlines and aircraft manufacturers.
1952The launch of arguably the most iconic piece from Breitling the Navitimer. The watch was the ultimate watch for pilots around the world as it had the capacity and functionality to perform 18 calculations and conversions necessary for pilots.
1957Breitling debuted the SuperOcean range of watches to meet the demand for dive watches.
1962Astronaut Scott Carpenter wears the Cosmonaute Chronograph during his orbital flight abord the Aurora 7.
1979Willy Breitling the grandson of Léon Breitling who was running the company from 1932 sold Breitling to Ernst Schneider. Willy Breitling passed away a few weeks later after he sold the company.
1984Breitling launches the Chronomat which was made in close cooperation with Frecce Tricolori elite flight team.
2002The opening of new manufacturing facilities in La Chaux-de-Fonds which are dedicated to high-performance calibres.
2002Breitling partnered with car manufacturer Bentley to design the Continental’s clock and other instruments.  
2009Introduction of the Breitling 01 calibre, which is an in-house chronograph movement with COSC chronometer certification.
201780% of the company was sold by Ernst Schneiders son, Theodore Schneider to CVC Capital Partners. He later sold the remaining 20% in November 2018.
The most iconic watch from Breitling and also my personal favourite

It is very impressive to see how far Breitling has come from their inception in 1884. I still hold the opinion that the Breitling Navitimer is the best pilot watch on the market as it is the most legible and most elegant. Other pilot watches seem to overcrowd the dial too much that it becomes ridiculously difficult to be able to just read the time. I will keep up to date with Breitling to see how far they will continue their journey and what they will achieve.  

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