The Breitling brand has been producing stunning timepieces for over 130 years and the brand is responsible for some of the most precise timing devices ever created. Working out of his workshop in the Jura mountains, Léon Breitling focused on making very intricate and complex watches that pushed the boundaries of timekeeping precision. Within 10 years of getting the brand up and running, Léon’s success meant that the company had to move into bigger premises, transferring to a factory in 1892.
Léon Breitling continued to make watches and chronographs until his death in 1914, leaving the business to his son, Gaston. Gaston continued the work of his late father – although his time at the helm was tragically short. Gaston developed and produced the Breitling chronograph, which was popular among the military and police forces during World War I. Gaston’s death, shortly after the Armistice, rendered the Breitling brand leaderless and it was a long, lost five years before Gaston’s son, Willy, stepped into the leadership role.
Willy was able to pick up where both his father and grandfather had left off, making the most of opportunities within aviation. Taking a fresh approach as to where Breitling watches could be used, Willy secured a contract to provide Breitling watches to the British Air Ministry. The Breitling watches featured several timing and conversion rulers that made them invaluable to pilots, who needed to generate in-flight calculations for distance, speed and fuel, among others. The development of the slide rule bezel made Breitling watches not only instantly recognisable, but endlessly practical.
Willy’s move into aviation proved to be inspired, with Breitling watches becoming the must-have time piece of the skies. With a starring role on the wrists of the British Royal Air Force, the Breitling brand began to be adopted by commercial pilots too. However, Breitling’s reach didn’t stop there. Working with Lt. Commander Scott Carpenter on the Mercury Atlas 7 mission, Breitling adapted the Breitling Navitimer to replace the standard twelve hour clock with a twenty-four hour one. This gave more meaning to time as – in space – the normal Circadian rhythm is null and void.
With the introduction of the Breitling Chronomat in 1969, it’s easy to believe that the brand’s future was secured. Although Breitling had developed the world’s first self-winding chronograph, in the Chronomat, the emergence of quartz movements damaged Breitling’s star. By 1979, Willy Breitling had been forced to close the company.
Enter Ernest Schneider, a pilot turned watchmaker, who managed where Willy Breitling had failed. Schneider was able to harness quartz technology and developed watches featuring a traditional handset alongside digital displays. This made the Breitling as easy choice for the aviators who made it their watch of choice. Models, including the Breitling Jupiter, Breitling Pluton and Breitling Mars, were developed through consultation of aviation professionals and pilots and led the way for the subsequent Breitling B-1, Breitling Aerospace and Breitling Emergency.