Space race: Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute

Sixty years on from becoming the first Swiss wristwatch in space, the Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute returns in a limited edition

Watches & Jewellery 24 May 2022

In the mid-20th century, the Soviet Union and the United States battled it out to prove their superior spaceflight capabilities. But in Switzerland, another simultaneous space race was taking place as watchmakers created highly precise and practically indestructible timepieces to guide these astronauts on their groundbreaking journeys.  

If there’s one brand that can claim the coveted title of the first Swiss wristwatch in space, however, it’s Breitling. The company already had significant expertise in equipping pilots at the highest level, with its Navitimer, released in the 1950s, leading the way in aviation timekeeping. So, it was a natural choice for astronaut Scott Carpenter to turn to when he needed a custom watch for a very special mission. 

On 24 May 1962, Carpenter orbited the Earth three times on the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission, and on his wrist was the Breitling Cosmonaute. By personal request, this unique take on the Navitimer featured a 24-hour dial, allowing him to easily tell day from night in space. When he splashed down in the Atlantic in the Aurora 7 space capsule, the exposure to seawater resulted in irreparable damage to the Cosmonaute. Sixty years on, not only has this iconic piece of timekeeping been displayed publicly for the first time since this historic moment, Breitling has celebrated the occasion further with a special limited-edition timepiece that pays fitting tribute to the original. 

The nods to its heritage are sure to win over collectors, and include the Navitimer’s signature slide rule, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s winged logo and, of course, the Cosmonaute’s 24-hour dial. Meanwhile, it comes with a number of sleek updates, such as a luxe platinum bezel. And powering the watch is the best of Breitling’s modern-day timekeeping in the form of its in-house calibre B02, made even more special with engravings on the bridge with the words “Carpenter”, “Aurora 7”, and “3 orbits around the Earth”, along with the name of the original group of seven astronauts who were aboard Nasa’s first human-crewed spaceflights, Mercury 7. 

These details on the movement are viewable in all their glory through the sapphire-crystal caseback, which similarly holds an homage to this momentous occasion. This includes an inscription of the date of Carpenter’s mission and the phrase “First Swiss wristwatch in space”, as well as the watch’s number out of 362, in reference to the spacecraft’s circumnavigations of the Earth and the year that changed space travel.