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Breitling Watch History & Models

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Swiss luxury brand Breitling is famous for rugged and stylish timepieces such as the Breitling Navitimer, the Breitling Windrider, the Breitling Emergency, the Breitling Chronomat and the Breitling SuperOcean.  The firm has a rich heritage and vintage or pre-owned watches from Breitling, such as those supplied by Wimbledon Watches, can deliver classic style at a fraction of the cost. 

The Breitling is the choice of action men of all pursuits, including free diver Herbert Nitsch, explorer Bear Grylls, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Olympic rower James Cracknell and ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.  A host of Hollywood actors also wear Breitlings, such as Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Duvall, Sean Connery and Mel Gibson. 

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Breitling Watch History 

Breitling was founded by Léon Breitling in 1884 in St Imier, Switzerland, with the specific purpose of developing precision chronographs and counters for scientific and industrial applications. In 1892, after outgrowing his premises, Breitling relocated his workshop to La-Chaux-de-Fonds, at that time the metropolis of the Swiss watch industry, where the company still has workshops. 

The company created what was effectively the first wristwatch chronograph in 1915 and later, in 1934, added a second push piece, enabling either cumulative or incremental time recording, giving the chronograph its current configuration. 

In 1936 Breitling became the official supplier to the Royal Air Force and soon after widened its professional clientele to include the American armed forces. In 1942, Breitling launched the Chronomat, the first chronograph to be fitted with a circular slide rule. 

1954 saw the creation of the iconic Breitling Navitimer, equipped with its now famous slide rule "navigation computer". By that time, Breitling was already supplying the major international airlines with cockpit clocks. 

In cooperation with Buren and Heuer-Leonidas, Breitling invented the self-winding chronograph in 1969. This technical feat represented a major breakthrough for the entire Swiss watch industry. 

In 1979, pilot, watchmaker and microelectronics expert Ernest Schneider bought Breitling from the founder's grandson, Willy Breitling. In 1984, Breitling heralded the rebirth of the mechanical chronograph by launching a new version of the famous Chronomat, which has since become its best-selling model. 

In 1985, the Aerospace, a titanium multi-function electronic chronograph, attracted the attention of a large number of pilots and ten years later, Breitling introduced the Emergency, with a built-in micro-transmitter transmitting on aircraft emergency frequency. 

In 1998, Breitling launched the B-1, the most versatile multifunction chronograph ever to emerge from its workshops. Designed in cooperation with aviation professionals and fitted with a specially developed microprocessor, the B-1 was a bold step forward for Swiss microelectronic engineering. 

In 1999, Breitling set itself the ambitious goal of submitting its entire product range to the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute. A world first among major watch brands. In the same year, the company sponsored the Orbiter 3, the first balloon to fly around the world non-stop. Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones both wore Breitling Emergency watches during the mission. 

In 2002, the company established Breitling Chronometrie, a unit specializing in the making of mechanical chronograph movements, based in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the town where Leon Breitling opened his first factory in 1884. 

1980s revival 

Like many Swiss watch companies, Breitling was hit hard by the quartz revolution, but fought back under the leadership of Ernest Schneider with a clever 1980s advertising campaign that sold the benefits to men of wearing a bulky, oversized watch. 

The campaign was a huge success and by the late 80s the Breitling wristwatch, with its large case and distinctive bezel, was a recognizable status symbol all over the world and widely copied by competitors. 

The Breitling Navitimer 

After its launch in 1952, the Navitimer Chronograph quickly became the favourite watch among aviators. Apart from its capacity of measuring short periods of time, it is equipped with a 'navigation computer', a circular slide rule that allows to solve navigation flight calculus such as ascent times, fuel consumption, and even conversion from miles to nautical miles or kilometers. 

The watch was endorsed as the official model of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Many models produced in the 1950s and 60s feature the AOPA logo on the dial. In 1962, a Navitimer accompanied Scott Carpenter on his orbital flight aboard the Aurora 7 capsule, thus becoming the first space-going wrist chronograph. 

A cult object for pilots and aviation enthusiasts, it has been continuously manufactured for almost 60 years - making it the world's oldest mechanical chronograph still in production. 

Models in the Navitimer range include various versions of the Navitimer, Cosmonaute, Montbrilliant and Chronomatic. 

Breitling Professional 

The ‘Professional’ range is where you will find the most technologically advanced and flight-specific Breitling chronographs, from the relative simplicity of the Breitling Aerospace  to the groundbreaking Breitling Emergency, with its built-in microtransmitter and the cutting-edge sophistication of the B-1. 

The Breitling Emergency contains a radio transmitter which broadcasts a distress signal on civil aviation frequencies. There is also a military version which operates on military frequencies.

In calm conditions, the signal can be picked up from up to 90 nautical miles away (167 km) or by aircraft flying at up to 20,000 feet (6,000 m). 

In 2003, two British pilots, Squadron Leader Steve Brooks and Flight Lieutenant Hugh Quentin-Smith, were rescued from a helicopter crash in Antarctica after activating their Breitling Emergency transmitter watches. 

Models in the Professional range include the Emergency, B-1, Aerospace, Airwolf, Skyracer and Co-Pilot. 

Breitling Windrider 

The Windrider models have inherited the exclusive style of the Breitling Chronomat, indisputable leader of the Breitling collection. If the rotating rider-tab bezel constitutes the common characteristic of Windrider line, each model possesses the highest reliability criteria and a unique quality finish. 

This series contains the Chronomat Evolution (previously just the Chronomat), the best-selling Breitling watch. Other models in the ‘Windrider’ range include the Cockpit, Starliner and Blackbird. 

Breitling Aeromarine 

The Aeromarine Series was originally part of the Professional series, but now has separated off to consist of diving and other watches less influenced by aviation. These watches feature a simpler version of the rider tab bezel made popular by the Chronomat. 

The ‘Aeromarine’ range includes the Colt line of entry-level watches as well as various versions of the Avenger and deep-diving watch the SuperOcean. 

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