Navitimer 2022: Breitling’s Iconic Pilot’s Watch Turns 70 With An Exciting New Edition

For close to a hundred and forty years running, Breitling has routinely redefined the modern explorer’s timepiece — giving us a series of incredible, iconic watches over the decades. This year, the Swiss watchmaker dove deep into this storied horological heritage — giving us a watch greater than the sum of its parts.

Back in 1952, the Navitimer was designed in collaboration with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association or AOPA — and was so inseparable from the organisation that it was initially only available to AOPA pilots, and even carried AOPA branding rather than Breitling’s marque.

We take a deeper dive into the Navitimer’s rich history, iconic features, and new redesign for the 2022 calendar year.

Seven Decades of History

The Navitimer grew up alongside the burgeoning civil aviation industry. Coveted by airline captains and aircraft enthusiasts, it even made its way into space on the wrist of astronaut Scott Carpenter in 1962 as a 24-hour timepiece to tell day from night. And it wasn’t only pilots drawn to the watch’s irrepressible aesthetic. Celebrities of the day, such as Miles Davis, Serge Gainsbourg, Jim Clark, and Graham Hill, were devotees, proving that the Navitimer had style as well as function.

Despite the long years of piloting heritage, however, the Navitimer’s most iconic feature — it’s slide rule — wasn’t even developed for the Navitimer or for pilots in the first place.

Like most pre-information age patents, the Navitimer was designed for a world devoid of smartphones, computers, calculators, and the like — something near unimaginable to us today. It was in such a world that Willy Breitling, son of founder Léon Breitling, decided to make his own mark on the watchmaking world — filing a patent for the first double-pusher chronograph, a design followed by British RAF pilots in World War II as well as the average watch enthusiast today.

This success inspired Willy to develop a concept for the ‘perfect’ chronograph — the ultimate timepiece capable of much more than simply recording time. Keeping Breitling’s ongoing aviation contracts with civil and military clients aside, the then-twenty-something Schweizer developed some truly fantastic designs — filling Breitling’s 1930s catalogue with icons such as the Duograph and Chronomat. It was the latter which was designed for scientists and mathematicians — and brought slide rules into the world of wristwatches.

The slide rule was an immediate hit, especially when introduced to pilots with the Navitimer. Capable of quick multiplication, division, speed calculations and more, pilots would use the Navitimer to plan routes, keep an eye on fuel conservation, and several other uses both in the cockpit and on solid ground.

Some say that Willy Breitling may actually deserve credit for inventing the first ‘smartwatch’ — we think they’re probably right.

Breitling’s New Take on a Beloved Classic

This year, Breitling decided to pay homage to this memorable era by returning to the classic AOPA logo nearly 70 years after it initially appeared on the Navitimer — one of several changes that fans are likely to appreciate.

Aesthetic choice takes a major leap forward this year with a variety of dial sizes and colours on offer. The 2022 Navitimer comes in 41, 43, and an imposing 46mm dial size specification, paired with either stainless steel or 18-karat red gold cases, a variety of leather and metal straps, and a fresh palette of dial colours ranging from shades of blue, green, and classic copper.

Each of these models offer the same 30 metres of water resistance — a necessary limitation because of the rotating external bezel. This may in fact be a blessing — as an aviator’s watch, the Navitimer won’t be expected to take a plunge too often, and this reduced priority on water resistance helps the case stay slimmer — a feature shared by the flattened slide rule and COSC-certified Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01 movement. Framed by an alternating halo of polished and brushed metal finishes, the movement provides a respectable 70 hours of power reserve, and allows the wearer to easily change the date at any moment.

“We don’t throw the term ‘icon’ around lightly,” says Georges Kern, CEO of Breitling. “The Navitimer is one of the most recognisable watches ever made. It’s on collectors’ lists of the greatest watches of all time. What began as a tool for pilots has gone on to mean something profound to every single person who has had this timepiece along on their personal journey.”

It’s unsurprising that a watchmaker who saw the very rise of aviation would come to define one of the discipline’s most iconic instruments — a desirable design that’s evolved several times over the years and in many ways, returned to the functional, elegant form of Willy Breitling’s original drafts from the early 1950s.

Images: Breitling SA

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