When Willy Breitling established the Huit Aviation Department in 1938, he would change the course of timekeeping in the skies forever. With a focus on producing high-quality pilot’s watches and flight instruments, the department quickly attracted the attention of military aviators, going on to supply the Royal Air Force. Notably, it also paved the way for some of the watchmaker’s most important timepieces launched in the 1950s, including its famous Navitimer.
Lesser known, but just as pioneering, was the Ref. 765 AVI released in 1953, affectionately known as the ‘Co-Pilot’. Powerful, reliable and highly legible, it quickly became a favourite with aviators, and was reborn last year by the house in a special re-edition. The influential timepiece has also provided the inspiration for a new collection, the Super AVI, that not only celebrates Breitling’s rich legacy, but also four of history’s greatest aircraft.
The P-51 Mustang played a key role in World War II, and this powerhouse of a fighter plane is honoured with two sleek watches in stainless steel and luxe red gold. The former features a cool, all-black dial paired with a brown leather strap, while the latter’s anthracite dial is matched with a black option.
Presented with a blue dial and tone-on-tone chronograph counters is the Super AVI tribute to the Vought F4U Corsair. Its design takes its cues from the livery found on this naval aircraft, which made the record books as the first single-engine fighter to crack the 400 mph (640 km/h) mark. Meanwhile, the Super AVI Mosquito opts for a contrasting colour scheme of black and white, finished with red and orange highlights, which recalls the rounds and markings found on the de Havilland Mosquito. Born out of necessity in an era when aluminium and steel shortages were common, the versatile ‘Wooden Wonder’ went on to outperform many of its metal counterparts to become one of the fastest planes of the 1940s.
Breitling recently paid homage to the distinctive Curtiss Warhawk with its Aviator 8 line, and now this formidable plane, with its distinctive shark-mouth artwork, gets another outing in this collection. Its details come through in the military-green hue, with white contrasting chronograph counters and flashes of red.
Each timepiece in the collection evokes the vintage appeal of the original Co-Pilot with its large Arabic numerals and clear and balanced dial, while the knurled bezel (providing optimal grip) and top-stitched calfskin straps nods to the flight gear of the era. But just as Breitling looks back to its innovations of the past, it continues to present some of the best of modern precision watchmaking, with the collection equipped with the COSC-certified Breitling Manufacture Caliber B04 movement.