Léon Breitling, the son of German parents who, looking for work, migrated to Switzerland, was already fascinated by the idea of short-term measurement during his watchmaking apprenticeship. At the age of only 24 years, in 1884 he manufactures the first counter chronograph on his own in Saint-Imier. The founding of the Breitling brand is accordingly dated to this year. In 1892, Breitling moved to the watchmaker town La Chaux-de-Fonds. Here, in the newly built production facility G. Léon Breitling S.A., Montbrillant Watch Manufactory one specializes first on pocket chronographs.
When Léon Breitling dies in 1914 with only 54 years, the manufacture passes on to his son Gaston. This one, in the wake of the newly emerging development of aviation, begins to be interested in aeronautics and starts reflections on how to construct watches suitable to this application. Alsready from 1914 on watches with chronographs are manufactured for sporting and military purposes, and in 1915 Gaston Breitling produces the first chronograph with central seconds hand and 30-minute counter.
With this bracelet tool he enables aircraft pilots to perform time measurements and other calculations during flight. In 1923 Breitling develops the first chronograph pusher; previously the start and the resetting of the short time measure still had been performed with the crown.
Gaston Breitling dies at 30 July 1927. It is not until 1932 that Willy, his only son, can adopt the company management. He continues the innovation of its predecessor. Already in 1930 the company can offer about 40 different chronograph models. The invention of the two-pusher chronograph in 1934 underscores the dominance of the company. In the year 1936 Willy Breitling brings a famous on-board chronograph for airplanes on the market, which is later used by over 30 airlines, and has since supplied the Royal Air Force with cockpit clocks for their aircrafts.
1942 Breitling presents the model Chronomat, a chronograph with slide rule and manual winding, which is officially introduced in the U.S. Army Air Force. By the way, the name combines “chronograph” with “mathematics” (not “automatic”!), in allusion to the calculations possible with this kind of watch.
The best-know model of the company beneath the Chronomat is the Navitimer with built-in slide rule, developed in 1952. 1986 a new edition is brought to market. This wrist chronograph can, by its ability to achieve a correct air traffic control, replace an on-board instrument. With its help time measurement, speed calculation and measurement of fuel consumption can be performed. The Navitimer is chosen as official pilot's watch by the pilot union AOPA, whose logo adorns the first models.
In 1965, the Swiss companies G. Leon Breitling S.A. in Geneva, Heuer-Leonidas S.A. in Biel and Dubois Dépraz S.A. in Le Lieu had teamed up together on a secret project to bring on the market the first chronograph of the world with automatic winding. The company Buren S.A. in Büren on the Aare was commissioned to develop the automatic movement; Dubois Dépraz provided the chronograph mechanism, completely mounted on a plate. On 3 March 1969, they simultaneously presented its product in Geneva, New York, Hong Kong and Beirut under the name 'Chronomatic'. The barrel of the watch is wound by means by an eccentric weight segment (microrotor). Because of the movement construction, the crown is placed left.
But already on 10 January of that year they had already been overrun by the company Zenith/Movado, who had presented their own development of an automatic chronograph movement, called “El Primero” (in English “the first”) to the eyes of the world. While the Calibre “Chronomatic” only beats with 19,800 semi-vibrations, its rival “El Primero” oscillates with for that time unusual 36.000 semi-vibrations. Both developments mark, each in itself, the excellence of Swiss watchmaking art.
In the course of the quartz crisis, which, due to a rapid price decline, leads to the extinction of mechanical watches, Breitling launches some models with quartz movements in the late 1970s. But then also this brand, like most of its competitors, is meet by sudden fate It finds itself in acute financial distress. Unavoidable consequence is the sellout of the last stocks of their own movements, as well as original and manufacturing equipment. Breitling laid off all workers and halted production in 1978. A few weeks later, in May 1979, Willy Breitling dies.
The industrialist Ernest Schneider, himself an avid pilot, purchased the trademark from the Breitling family in April 1979, shortly before the death of Willy Breitling, and brings the old model range of wrist chronographs back to life. Headquarters of the new Breitling Montres SA, which is officially registered at the 30th November 1982, is now Grenchen. Schneider would manage Breitling's growth from the 1980s until it is sold in 2017 to CVC Capital Partners and former Richemont executive Georges Kern.
During the renaissance of the mechanical watch the Breitling brand experiences a rapid resurgence. Primarily involved is the leader model Chronomat, presented in 1984, which, with its new design and its striking appearance, meets with the approval of the buyers. This chronograph with automatic winding has been developed for the Italian air squadron 'Frecce Tricolori' and can withstand accelerations of up to 20 G. The striking pilot's watches meet the public on best response, and Breitling positiones itself in this market segment as a watch manufacturer of the hour. It would also desirable to clarify that the Chronomat has nothing in common with its predecessor of 1942 than just the name. The former watch, both with its looks as well as its integrated slide rule, was much more similar to the model Navitimer.
With the Emergency, the company in 1995 presents as unique world novelty, an expedition watch which can save lives in an emergency. It is a quartz watch with built-in mini transmitter that can emit emergency signals at the frequency 121.5 MHz.
The high popularity of the company is further increased, when it acts as main sponsor of the first nonstop balloon flight around the earth The balloon Orbiter 3 of the Swiss Bertrand Piccard and the Briton Brian Jones appears almost for three weeks in all news with the unmistakable signature “Breitling”, before the flight, after a period of exactly 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes, is completed successfully on 21 March 1999.
2000 Breitling relocates to a new headquarters in Grenchen. After the acquisition of Kelek, a renowned specialist in complications, their expertise is introduced into the Breitling Chronométrie, which is located in La Chaux-de-Fonds and opened in 2002.
On the 50th Anniversary of the first model presentation, in 2002 the anniversary model Navitimer 50th Anniversary is launched, which is certified as chronometer by the COSC, as are now all watches of Breitling (also including all electronic watch movements!). So since 1999 Breitling is the first and only watch manufacturer in the world, who lets certify all of the timepieces as chronometer.
Another well-known watch series of the manufacturer is called “Montbrillant” in reference to the Rue Montbrilliant as the head office of the Breitling factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The special model Montbrillant 1903 appears in 2003 as a tribute to the historic flight of the Wright brothers, which exactly one hundred years earlier, on 17 December 1903, had marked the birth of aviation. Other well-known models are Montbrillant Datora and Montbrillant Olympus.
During a collaboration with the luxury car manufacturer Bentley about 2004 Breitling launched the Model Series Breitling for Bentley, starting with the model Breitling for Bentley Le Mans, to date the largest in-house fabricated chronograph. The series is gradually extended and includes models like Breitling for Bentley Flying B, Flying B Chronograph or Flying B No. 3. Here one manages the feat of congenially transferring the noble flair of the automobiles to the watches - for example by adopting design forms or taking original Bentley varnish colors and use them as dial colors.
Today Breitling establishes all models in five main ranges
On the occasion of the 125th anniversary in 2009 Breitling surprises with the first in-house produced manufacture movement, the column wheel chronograph Calibre B01. It has a chronometer certification and impressive 70 hours of power reserve. Its new architecture brings features like a patented self-centering system, a heart lever for the zero-position and an exclusive regulator mechanism, which allows to adapt the adjustment quickly and easily to the watch wearer. Also with regard to automatic manufacturing and maintenance new paths were followed.
London-based private equity firm CVC Parters purchased 80% of Breitling in March 2017 for an estimated $870 million. This took control from the Schneider family. Respected executive Georges Kern, until then Head of Watchmaking at Richemont and CEO of IWC also invested, and joined Breitling as CEO. The new company re-focused according to the theme of land (Transocean), sea (Superocean), and air (Navitimer). Kern brought in prominent collector Fred S. Mandelbaum to help set the historic lines in order and designer Sylvain Berneron to create new products.
Kern also brought noted watchmaker Kilian Eisenegger from IWC to help build the company's in-house movement expertise. The company's Cal. B01 would provide a basis for chronograph watches, while their Kenissi partnership with Tudor provided time-only movements.
P.O. Box 1132
Tel. +41 32 654 54 54
Fax. +41 32 654 54 01