Icon: a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration (Oxford English Dictionary)
I find the general love of all things Breitling a bit mystifying, if I’m honest. Whilst I don’t doubt their quality for a moment, I really haven’t seen many that I like and most are simply far too blingy for an old fart/traditionalist like me. That said, there has always been one exception, and that’s the Navitimer. Within the iconic watch hierarchy I believe it holds a place very near the top, and some time ago I allowed a rather lovely example to slip through my fingers. yesterday, however, I put that right.
The Navitimer has a genuinely interesting heritage and history. After the great success of Breitling’s first slide-rule watch (the Chronomat), the Navitimer was launched all the way back in 1952. Whilst the Chronomat was focussed on the engineer and businessman market, the Navitimer was designed specifically for pilots; so much so that the “Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association” (AOPA) immediately decided to make it their official watch. This new Navitimer combined three essential tools for navigation – a watch, a chronograph and a slide-rule. It was, effectively, a navigation timer, hence the name it was given.
The Navitimer was designed with the Venus 178 movement (although some later models contained a Valjoux), a well-respected column wheel chronograph, and the first to be produced were fitted with a black Arabic dial and the famous AOPA logo. In fact, on the very first models “Breitling” was only seen on the case back. Shortly afterwards, the Breitling name was added over the AOPA logo, sometimes topped with the “B”. The reference of this watch was 806, and remained so until the introduction of a completely new generation in the 1970’s.
Over the following years, there were a number of dial variations, each termed a “Generation” (numbered 1-7 or so up to the 70’s, at least); there are some reasonably good sources of information out there for anyone who may be interested, but it takes a bit of legwork and it can be a little confusing as not all historic accounts are completely consistent.
Anyway, this acquisition is lovely – a 2nd Generation 806 that dates to 1966. It really is in good all-original condition, with a white on black dial and incorporating the earlier/smaller subdials that I think are by far the nicer. Aside from the fact that the case is largely unmarked, the patina on dial and hands is even and dark, and the subdials are gorgeous (it was very recently serviced, but a decision was made at the time not to attempt to clean the dial – there are obvious signs of discolouration, but on the plus side it means that it’s in untouched condition). Note the absence of red highlights too – seen on later/current models but unsubtle in comparison.
Just a little (more specific) information on the 2nd Generation variant, taken from the Net:
In approximately 1960 – after the watch had already become a huge success – the Navitimer’s design was modified and thereafter became known as “2nd generation”. The three subdials changed from black to white, the hands were remodelled and the Breitling name appeared in printing on the dial. During the 1960’s the slide-rule bezel was also remodelled twice. Moreover, the AOPA wing was removed from the dial and the official Breitling Navitimer logo became two aircrafts flying in close formation. At the same time, however, Breitling continued to supply AOPA with Navitimers sporting the AOPA logo on the dial.
It was quite hard to glean much data on the Venus 178, but I did find this:
Lever movement, stem wind, seconds bit with second hand, column wheel chronograph with carrying arm, 1/5 second, 30-minute register and hour counter. Diameter 31mm, 18.000 BPH, 17 jewels, Incabloc shock protection.
So, a few photos then…