From humble family beginnings Breitling grew into a major player in the world of chronographs and aviation instruments. At the dawn of a new era, the brand is poised for a legendary future.
Breitling traces its origins back to 1884, when Léon Breitling started manufacturing timepieces and measuring instruments at his workshop in St. Imier, in the canton of Bern, Switzerland. Within a decade, the company had shifted its manufacturing to La Chaux-de-Fonds and had sold more than 100,000 chronographs by the end of the century.
Three generations of the Breitling family helped to keep the company’s watches abreast of technological developments, filing patents for eight-day power reserve movements (for cockpit and dashboard clocks), tachymeter scales (for measuring speed) and a slide rule facilitating all kind of calculations during flights. Later in the 1990s Breitling even introduced an emergency transmitter incorporated in a watch.
Willy Breitling in particular showed astonishing foresight when he set up the “Huit Aviation Department” in 1938. Named after the French number eight, which came from the brand’s pioneering eight-day power reserve dashboard clocks and on-board instruments, this department would go on to create the chronographs that caught the eye of the Royal Air Force, which ordered them for the fighter planes that played such an important role in the Second World War.
The 1940s also saw the invention of the Chronomat, with its patented rotating slide rule for scientists. The same idea was modified specifically for aviation use in the legendary Navitimer model, which was launched in 1952. Like many other Swiss watch brands in the 1950s, Breitling turned to production of divers’ watches with the Superocean as men started to explore the ocean’s depths. And when transatlantic flights became possible, Breitling introduced the Transocean models. Both product lines remain part of the collection to this day.