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Léon Breitling at the age of 20 was already a watchmaker of great talent. He established a workshop in 1884, produced a chronograph in his name, and continued developing his interest for watches with complications. In 1892, he moved to Chaux-de-Fonds where he died on 11 August, 1914.
The company succeeded to his son Gaston and later to his grandson Willy. Since both had a passion for aeronautics, several navigation instruments were at that time produced by the company. Breitling, closely linked to various sports events, always reflects this interest in its productions. Gaston Breitling died on July 30, 1927 and for several years, the firm had no leadership. At the beginning of the 1930's, they had forty chronograph models, and these numbers were to increase. At the beginning of 1932, Willy Breitling, the only son, took over the firm. At this time, the chronograph for aircraft was developed by Breitling and was to carry their name all over the world.
Since 1939, when Breitling signed a large contract with the British Air Ministry, more and more manufacturers and airline companies signed contracts with Breitling. Then in 1952 Willy Breitling decide to move the firm's headquarters to Geneva. From 1957 to 1986, Georges Caspari was responsible for all of Breitling's advertising decisions, and became, over the years, one of Breitling's closest advisors. In 1979, the entire Breitling firm was closed. The low-priced offerings from the Far East, the price war, the inflated Swiss Franc, the increasing shift to electronic watches on the part of the public, and finally the illness of Willy Breitling, are the basic reasons that caused him to close down his firm.
Despite this Willy Breitling wanted to keep the name of this world famous firm alive and looked for a practical solution. Ernst Schneider of the Sicura firm took over the names of Breitling and Navitimer and thus had the right to go on usig Breitling as the firm's name. The sons of Willy Breitling, Gregory and Alain, were too young to participate in the survival of the firm. Willy Breitling died in May 1979.
A new impetus was given to the company by Ernest Schneider, specialist in electronics and pilot, but who also looked to another sport, sailing. Together with Eric Tabarly, he launched a series of watches for skippers and divers. Among the most striking design, the Navitimer was presented again in Basel in 1992, in a more compact version, using a chronograph module of 26,20 mm. In 1998, Breitling sponsored and directed the technical and electronical management, together with Bertrand Piccard, grandson of Auguste (Swiss physicist of great renown) and son of Jacques, and his team, in the launching of a balloon from Château-d'Oex in Switzerland, which attempted for the first time, the non-stop world tour with such an aerostat. This attempt did not succeed, but on 1st March 1999, a new departure took place from the same place. The present day firm was officially registered as Breitling Montres S.A. on November 30, 1982 and was located in Grenchen.
Breitling Orbiter 3
Breitling has recently set a new record for aviation by realizing the first non-stop round the world flight in the Breitling Orbiter 3, the balloon flown by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones. The Breitling Orbiter 3, a roziere balloon featuring the most advanced technologies, took off from Château-d'Oex in Switzerland on March 1, 1999 at 08H05 UTC, flew 45'755 km and landed on March 21, 1999 at 05H52 UTC in Egypt completing a non-stop flight of 19 days 21 hours 47 minutes. This extraordinary flight has been made possible thanks to the proficiency of the crew and the efficiency of the entire Breitling team who worked hard during the last 5 years on what can be considered the last major aeronautical event of this century.
In the 1960's, Breitling, qualified supplier to the US Military and to the majority of the word's aircraft manufacturers and airlines, launched the Co Pilot model. This watch is the unique example with a 15-minute register for close timing and 12-hour recorder. It features a large, easy-to-read and luminous dial as well as an outer locking bezel which can be set to indicate the time for Estimated Time of Arrival or for various time zones.
The first Chronomat was called Chronomat and was launched in 1942; the automatic model in a new designed case was launched in 1976, and in 1984, for its Centennial, Breitling launched a new version of the old Chronomat. In 1994, this model celebrated its tenth anniversary.
At the beginning of the sixties, Breitling devoted a new series of watches called Top Time to young people. They had correctly recognized that the future belonged to the young, and a market analysis showed that more than 50% of buyers were under 25 years of age. The Top Time was worn by James Bond in the 20th Century-Fox movie "Operation Thunderball".
Trademark registered in La Chaux-de-Fonds on 26 February 1955. The first Navitimer watches were launched on the market. Navitimer is a word derived from "Navi" and "Timer". It was truly a milestone and for many people it was "the" Breitling watch or chronograph. The watch was designed for flying enthusiasts, racing fans and sportsmen. With this instrument, all the necessary calculations for a rally or a flight could be made, so the Navitimer was more than just a chronograph, it was a complete navigational instrument worn on the wrist. It was universally used in flying, and for that reason, the first Navitimer bore the letters A.O.P.A., the initials of the "Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association", in the Breitling emblem. The Navitimer is equipped with the logarithmic scales of a slide rule. The moveable outer scale position was chosen in order to allow for the calculating process. Although, one must keep in mind the decimal place. Some examples among the many calculating operations are: multiplication, division, calculation of speed per hour, distance covered in a given time and at a specified speed and the time needed to cover a certain distance at a certain speed.
The Breitling firm's emblem
In the firm's early days, watches were usually marked on the underside of the dial, so that from the outside it was not easy to see that the watch was made by Breitling. The signature at that time was Montbrillant. Around 1930-1932, the watches were signed with the "Breitling" script, which remained until the sixties. The Navitimer was an exception. Beginning in 1952, the AOPA emblem - the large wing with the letters on it, the big swallow - was used, since this watch was intended for pilots. Wily Breitling changed the "Breitling" signature in the sixties, since he was of the opinion that one could not easily read the name of Breitling in script form. He left the typical "B" initial on the dial, and the name could now be read in capital letters. Again it was only the Navitimer that had the two stylized airplanes on the dial as the firm's symbol. The firm's emblems changed more often in advertisements. The present Breitling firm has maintained the old tradition, and the present-day symbol consists of the "anchor" with the letter "B" in the centre, plus the wings, to represent Breitling in the water, on land and in the air.