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|Founded||1884, in Saint-Imier, Switzerland|
Number of locations
|Owner||CVC Capital Partners|
Breitling SA (German pronunciation: [ˈbraɪtlɪŋ]) is a Swiss luxury watchmaker based in Grenchen, Switzerland. The company was founded in 1884 by Léon Breitling in Saint-Imier. Breitling is known for precision-made chronometers designed for aviators.
Ernst Schneider bought the company from the founding Breitling family in 1979 and his family retained ownership until April 2017. Ernst's son, Theodore Schneider, sold the majority stake (80%) in Breitling to CVC Capital Partners for over $870m. Theodore Schneider retained 20% control of Breitling until November 2018, when he sold these remaining 20% to CVC. Historically, Breitling sourced movements from suppliers such as Valjoux, ETA, and Venus rather than producing movements in-house. In 2009 Breitling developed the B01, an in-house self-winding, column wheel chronograph movement, used in the Breitling Chronomat 01 and subsequently Navitimer 01.
The company fits all of its watches with mechanical or quartz movements that are chronometer certified by the COSC. Watches are usually marketed towards either diving (SuperOcean) or aviation (Navitimer). Aviation models such as the Navitimer offer aviation functions largely as complications, since their function in aviation has largely been replaced by modern electronic instruments. The styling of Breitling watches is characterized by polished cases, bracelets and large watch faces which are designed to improve readability. Many models have an automatic winding mechanism that is purely mechanical (i.e. using no electronic components) and frequently have complications. Breitling has also supported pilots with group orders, customized to include logos. By the 1990s, the use of logos for military aviation customers had also expanded to include various unit logos on the Aerospace and Chronospace Auto models, primarily those of squadrons and usually part of a group purchase by the pilots and navigators/flight officers of that particular unit.
In the 1940s, Breitling added a circular slide rule to the bezel of their chronograph models for use by aircraft pilots. This bezel became most associated with the Navitimer, which launched in 1952. The name Navitimer comes from two words that were used to describe its purpose: Navigation and Timer. During the 1950s and 1960s, a version of the Navitimer was offered by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association with the AOPA logo on the dial. In 1961, Scott Carpenter, one of the original astronauts in the Mercury space program, approached Breitling with the idea of incorporating a 24-hour dial instead of the normal 12-hour dial. This was needed because of the lack of day and night during space travel. Breitling complied, and produced the 24-hour Navitimer which Carpenter wore on his 1962 space flight. Breitling then proceeded to produce a commercial version of the 24-hour version as the so-called Cosmonaute Navitimer - under both Breitling and AOPA logos. The first automatic Navitimer chronograph was introduced to the public in 1969. The movement was co-developed by Breitling, Dubois-Depraz, Heuer, and Hamilton.
The first Chronomat had a circular slide rule and its design followed the tension of the era for military watches. The movement of the first Chronomat was the Venus 175 with 17 jewels, a manual wind movement.
The current Chronomat was released in 2009 and was the first watch produced entirely by Breitling, featuring the in-house B01 caliber. The B01 movement has a 70-hour power reserve and COSC certification.
The Breitling Emergency watch contains a radio transmitter for civil aviation use which broadcasts on the 121.5 MHz distress frequency and serves as a backup for ELT-type airborne beacons. For military users, the Emergency has a miniaturized transmitter operating on the 243.0 MHz military aviation emergency frequency. Under normal conditions—flat terrain or calm seas—the signal can be picked up at a range of up to 90 nautical miles (170 km) by search aircraft flying at 20,000 feet (6,100 m). Since 1 February 2009, the Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System has not monitored the 121.5/243.0 MHz frequency; however, the signal transmitted by the Emergency was never strong enough to be picked up by satellite, and Breitling has announced that, as these frequencies will still be monitored by aviation, particularly during the localization phase of a rescue attempt, there are no plans to modify the signal's frequency.
Reuters reported that in January 2003 two British pilots, Squadron Leader Steve Brooks and Flight Lieutenant Hugh Quentin-Smith, crashed their helicopter in Antarctica and were rescued after activating their Breitling Emergency transmitter watches.
The Emergency is available for customers who do not hold a pilot's licence, but they must sign an agreement stating that they will bear the full costs of a rescue intervention should they trigger the distress beacon.
The model was heavily advertised by the Breitling Orbiter 3—both Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard were wearing the Emergency. Breitling sponsored the Orbiter 3 project, which in 1999 became the first balloon to completely orbit the Earth without landing. A commemorative Orbiter 3 version of the Emergency watch was subsequently produced, with a production run of 1,999.
In April 2013, Breitling announced a new version of the Emergency watch. This upgrade transmits on the 121.5 MHz frequency, but adds the 406.04 MHz signal that is monitored by satellites. It has a separate, rechargeable battery for the transmitter.
Breitling for Bentley
In 2002, Breitling designed the dashboard clock for the Bentley Continental GT. The following year, Breitling started making chronographs for Bentley Motors. As part of 10th anniversary of a Breitling–Bentley partnership, the Bentley B04 GMT, B05 Unitime and B06 (based on COSC Certified Breitling Calibre B04, B05 and B06 respectively) were produced. In 2015, Breitling designed the Mulliner Tourbillon dashboard clock for the Bentley Bentayga, which spins 3 times every 15 minutes.
Breitling sponsors aeronautical endeavors, including the first circumnavigation of the globe by balloon (Breitling Orbiter), the fixed-wing jet pack flights of Yves Rossy, aerobatics teams including the Breitling Jet Team and Breitling Wingwalkers, and the Reno Air Races from 2002 to 2015. Breitling was a sponsor of Team Bentley during their Le Mans 24 Hours campaign, running from 2001 to 2003. To commemorate this, it created the Breitling Bentley 24 Le Mans Watch.
In popular culture
In the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball, Bond is given a Breitling Top Time by Q which contains a geiger counter that enables Bond to track down two stolen nuclear warheads. After the movie was filmed, the watch disappeared and later resurfaced in a car boot sale in England in 2012 where it was bought for GB£25. It later sold at Christie's auction house for over GB£100,000.
Jerry Seinfeld can be seen wearing either a Navitimer or Chronomat in almost every episode of the TV series Seinfeld, and frequently appeared wearing the Navitimer in promotional photos for the show's later seasons; as of 2019 he still owns the watches featured onscreen.
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- Jerry Seinfeld's Watch Collection
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