The Navitimer is one of those great icons of watchmaking that can be identified without any mention of the company behind them. Introduced in 1952 as a pilot’s indispensable flying companion, the Navitimer is above all a tool watch that comes with a chronograph function, a circular slide rule, the date, and of course the time.
Shortly after its launch, the American Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association approached Breitling to manufacture special edition Navitimers bearing the AOPA logo for its members. One thing led to another, and the Navitimer soon became the de facto symbol of aviation and aviators. But the Navitimer wasn’t created overnight. Neither was it born of happenstance. It was the careful and ingenious combination of everything Breitling knew and could do at that point in history.
Chronographs had been a Breitling specialty as the manufacture contributed greatly to evolving this timekeeping function. In 1934 third-generation business owner Willy Breitling filed a patent for the world’s first two-button chronograph, a design that continues to be the industry standard today. Much later on in 1969, it was one of the first companies involved in producing the first automatic chronographs.
But Willy Breitling had also expanded Breitling’s range of products to include on-board chronographs for airplanes. These gradually came to be used by over 30 airlines and Breitling even became the official supplier of cockpit clocks to the Royal Air Force. When World War II was imminent, Breitling’s production expertise became even more essential.
These cockpit clocks and dashboard instruments were made in a separate division established by Willy Breitling for that specific purpose. Created in 1938, he named it Huit Aviation in reference to the eight-day power reserve offered by Breitling’s aviation instruments. They also were distinguished by lightweight cases and ease of installation. Additionally, the division had been central to the development of wrist chronographs made for aviation use.
And so it is that without Huit Aviation, the Navitimer might not have come to exist.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The new Breitling Navitimer 8, thus, is a throwback to the 1930s when the company was a specialist in on-board flight instruments. It tells the story of Breitling before the Navitimer, before the Chronomat, and even before the War. This is why it is not fitted with a circular slide rule–the distinguishing feature in all Navitimers–even though it shares the name.
Yet the Navitimer 8 is by no means a watered-down version of the Navitimer 1 (all Navitimers are clearly demarcated as 1 or 8). Indeed, it is very much a completely new watch, rather than a wholesale reissue of an existing historical piece. From a purely commercial standpoint, this watch which is going to win Breitling a bigger, newer and younger clientele, should have been created long ago. Creative director of Breitling, Guy Bove, tells us more.
“The intention was to go from dashboard clock to wristwatch because that was the point of origin. The prequel to the Navitimer story. The Navitimer 1 occupied the era before the age of on-board electronics. The Navitimer 8 goes back to Huit Aviation, which made on-board mechanical clocks. This is part of our history. These clocks are exactly what you’d expect from a pilot’s watch: easy to read, distinctive… especially the one we chose as the base. But it’s not a wristwatch; it’s just the dial. For the rest of the watch, we needed to decide what we’re looking for to design the bezel, the case, lugs, and so on. We had to filter all the vintage pieces we’ve seen to pick out which ones are useful to the task. We could have turned out 50 different possibilities, and we’ve decided this is the one.”
Modern with a discernible vintage spirit, the Navitimer 8 has enough similarities to link it to the Navitimer 1, yet has a unique identity that allows it to hold its own. Its polished scalloped bezel offers traction without the hard aesthetic of the Navitimer 1’s fluted bezel, and has a more elegant look. You can turn it in both directions, marking an event’s start or finish using the discreet inverted arrowhead–a feature also used for the five-minute markers. The hour numerals are directly inspired by the cockpit clocks from 1941.
There are two core variations of the Navitimer 8 Chronograph: In-house movement or industrial calibre. They can be distinguished by the colour of the sub-dials. Contrasting sub-dials indicate an in-house movement while single-colour dials use industrial calibres. Most of the watches are made in classic stainless steel with a couple made in Blacksteel and a limited edition one in red gold, which is the only one with a bronze dial, otherwise dial colours are either black, blue or silver only.
At its launch, the collection includes an in-house chronograph, a standard chronograph, a three-hand, a day/date, and a Unitime. All watches are self-winding.
Bove elaborates on the new design: “You can take codes of what is conventionally considered luxury and take materials which are handled properly to create a new code. It’s the same with the watches. We use finishes which are fairly rooted in the past and quite traditional, but in a different way. The bezel, for example, the polished scalloping set off against top of the brushed bezel and case sides. From a point it’s very industrial and technical, but then turn the watch and it radiates light. Light travelling along the horns. These little touches are the exception that provides the rule.”
The Navitimer 8 revisits Breitling’s past but it’s not a new-old watch. Bove continues: “We’re making new watches that have a much longer lifespan because they’re rooted in the past. They look like they’ve always been around. Anyone buying a Swiss mechanical watch today is looking for something durable. Nobody wants to spend a lot of money on something which you’re not sure is going to age well.”
The Breitling Navitimer 8 is available at Breitling boutiques and all authorised distributors.