Flying high: Breitling Navitimer

As Breitling’s Navitimer turns 70, the watchmaker celebrates its most famous timepiece with a contemporary and colourful new collection

Watches & Jewellery 29 Mar 2022

No list of famous pilot’s watches – or indeed watches in general – would be complete without the Navitimer. While in recent decades Breitling’s universe may have expanded beyond the air to all manner of land- and sea-based endeavours, this favourite with aviators remains the watchmaker’s most iconic model by a large margin, and for good reason. 

By the time the Navitimer was developed in 1952, Breitling had already amassed considerable expertise in equipping pilots at the highest levels with the precision instruments required to navigate the toughest of flights. It was only natural that the US Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the largest aviators club in the world, would turn to then owner Willy Breitling to create a new chronograph for its members. 

The result was a groundbreaking timepiece that was not only reliable and precise, but enabled pilots to make all necessary flight calculations on the go, including average speed, distance travelled, fuel consumption, rate of climb or descent, and conversion of miles to kilometres or nautical miles. Using the design of an early Chronomat watch from the 1940s as a base, it introduced an ingenious circular slide rule integrated into a rotating bezel, surrounded by small beads for ease of use, even while wearing gloves. It was such a hit that the AOPA declared the Navitimer its official timepiece, emblazoning its signature winged logo at 12 o’clock. 

Ever since then, it has not only remained essential equipment for pilots, but has found favour with some of the most stylish tastemakers on the ground as well, and was spotted on the wrist of everyone from Miles Davis to Serge Gainsbourg. As the watch enters its 70th year, it’s receiving a contemporary update that not only speaks to its rich heritage, but cements its place as a sophisticated watch for everyday wear. 

Navitimer evangelists will be pleased to note that much of the original’s DNA remains untouched. You’ll still find the signature slide rule, baton indexes, trio of chronograph counters and notched bezel. It even sees the return of the AOPA wings at 12 o’clock, for a vintage finishing touch.

Yet look a little closer and there are some sleek enhancements that lend a contemporary feel. The flattened slide rule and a domed crystal lend the appearance of a more svelte profile. Meanwhile the movement’s oscillating weight has been slimmed down, giving a better view of the precise COSC-certified Breitling Manufacture Calibre 01. As well as a 70-hour power reserve, it is equipped with a date function, displayed discreetly at 6 o’clock. 

And just as versatile as the Navitimer itself is the sheer choice in this range. The watch comes in 41, 43 and 46mm case sizes, in stainless steel or dressier red gold. In addition to more classic monochromatic designs, the dials are presented in eye-catching shades of blue, green and copper, paired with alligator straps or metal bracelets. Despite its grand age, Breitling is continuing to prove there’s still new life in this timeless design.