The "G. Leon Breitling" firm was founded in Saint-Imier,
Switzerland in 1884 by Leon Breitling. Leon Breitling started out
inventing and creating complicated watches, chronographs and special
measuring instruments. He moved his company to La Chaux-de-Fonds in
1892 where he built a full-fledged factory. At this time, the company
was renamed to "Leon G. Breitling S.A. Montbrillant Watch Manufactory"
and had 60 employees.
After much success, Leon Breitling passed away in 1914 and his son
Gaston inherited the business. Gaston knew that Breitling's specialty
and biggest seller was the chronograph, and he set out to develop this
market further. His first big accomplishment, the Vitesse chronograph,
was enthusiastically used by police authorities, the military and
During World War I, Gaston grew the brand outside of the closed
European markets. He continued to invent new chronograph models with
special time-event scales on the dials. Gaston Breitling died in 1927
and the Breitling firm was without leadership until 1932 when his son
Willy stepped in.
Breitling developed the aircraft chronograph and made Breitling famous
worldwide. Breitling signed a contract with the British Air Ministry
and started making chronographs for the Royal Air Force. People
associate Breitling with aviation largely because of this contract and
the success it brought the company. Many more contracts were
subsequentially signed with aircraft manufacturers and airlines.
Pilots took notice and acknowledged the great quality of Breitling's
Willy Breitling was also responsible for one of Breitling's most
famous inventions, the slide rule bezel. The first watch to include
this feature was the Chronomat. By 1946, Breitling manufactured about
250 different models in six categories. Obviously, they included their
famous chronographs. In addition, Breitling now also offered
In 1952, Willy moved the company's headquarters to Geneva, while
production remained in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The company had now
abandoned in-house movement manufacturing and relied on suppliers such
as Venus. This saved cost and allowed Breitling to focus on its main
strength: designing and refining their special dials.
same year also saw the introduction of Breitling's most famous model,
the Navitimer. Flight and rally calculations could be made with this
wrist-worn navigational instrument and it was a huge hit with pilots
around the world. The famous Cosmonaute, a 24-hour dial Navitimer, was
introduced in 1962. It went into space on Lt. Commander Scott
Time magazine wrote of the Navitimer in 1957: "The firm of
Leon Breitling introduces a new stopwatch that is intended for
engineers and technicians, and is equipped with a calculator as well
as three hands for time and speed measurements." Around the same time,
the Super Ocean diver's watch was introduced. The trendy Top-Time was
introduced in the early 1960s.
In cooperation with Heuer-Leonidas, Hamilton-Buren and Dubois et
Depraz, Breitling introduced in 1969 the new Chronomat. It was an
automatically winding chronograph, something that took 500,000 Swiss
francs to construct. This movement, marketed by Breitling as Caliber
11, was nothing short of a Swiss watch industry sensation.
As the quartz revolution began, Breitling reluctantly introduced a
quartz version of the Chronomat in 1975. It was manufactured alongside
their mechanical varieties. A quartz Navitimer followed the next year.
Adjusting to the new quartz technology was a difficult, if not
impossible, task for Breitling and in 1979 the Breitling firm was
voluntarily closed by Willy Breitling. He had become ill and passed
away the same year. The inventory went to the family, but Ron
Geweniger of Chicago purchased half of it.
100 years of watchmaking and Breitling tradition was not about to
vanish off the face of the Earth, however. In 1979, the Breitling name
was taken over by Ernest Schneider of the Sicura firm in Grenchen.
Willy Breitling's two sons, Gregory and Alain, were too young to take
over the business.
Schneider reaffirmed to the public that Breitling was worthy of
their confidence. He showed them that the original philosophy was
unchanged and that special focus was, as always, given to the flying
sports. A pilot himself, Schneider conferred with other pilots and
introduced the Jupiter, Pluton and Mars chronographs in 1980. The
market at this time wanted electronic watches, so these watches had
were changing again in the early 1980s; the mechanical watch was
making a comeback. In 1984, Breitling introduced its first mechanical
chronograph since the death of Willy Breitling. It was, like the 1942
model, to be called the Chronomat. 1986 saw the comeback of the
1950s-style Navitimer. Watches catering to sailors were also
introduced at this time. Breitling had re-emerged as the indisputable
champion of "Instruments for Professionals".
Today, Breitling continues its involvement in aviation and all the
adventures that it entails. The "Breitling World Cup of Aerobatics"
was introduced in 1993 and is recognized by the Federation Aeronatique
Internationale as having the same status as a world championship.
Breitling also had enormous success with the