When watch enthusiasts think of pilot watches, many likely gravitate towards large, time-only watches styled after those famously used in World War II and built by German-speaking brands. While originally utilitarian, the stark look attracts many.
Pilot watches can also mean chronographs and slide rules, as timing events, calculating distances, and other necessary math were crucial aspects of a pilot’s job, especially before onboard computers. Possibly the most famous brand manufacturing such chronographs is Breitling.
Breitling’s History and Creation of Pilot Watches
Breitling started in 1884 in Saint-Imier, Switzerland by Léon Breitling. In 1914, the business was passed on to his son Gaston. Gaston’s son Willy took over in 1935. Their early historical developments centered around the automobile and making improvements to the chronograph.
Adding a tachymeter, a second reset pusher, and creating one of the first wrist-worn chronographs were all developments made by Breitling between 1905 and 1934. In 1938, Breitling founded the “Huit Aviation” department, their own research and development arm aimed at meeting the needs of both civil and military pilots.
In 1940, Breitling unveiled the Chronomat, short for “chronograph-mathematique.” The slide-rule inner bezel allowed for a myriad of calculations. In 1952, Willy Breitling started adapting the Chronomat for aviation-specific use, including calculations for speed, distance traveled, fuel consumption, and ascent rate.
In partnership with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Navitimer was born, and became publicly available in 1956. In 1962, the Cosmonaute was developed. Geared towards space use, the 24-hour format and enlarged bezel were tailored to space flight.
Scott Carpenter successfully orbited the Earth with his custom watch, which was later made publicly available. Family control ended in 1979, as the remaining members had no interest in the business. Breitling was bought by Ernst Schneider of the Secure Company.
This era saw the beginning of quartz movements being used and the beginning of Breitling’s focus on “instruments for professionals.” The Chronomat model we are more familiar with today was released in 1984, and partnerships were made with various groups, including the “Frecce Tricolori” model.
In 2017, CVC Capital Partners purchased a major stake, and then in 2018, they purchased the remainder. In December 2022, a Swiss investment and private equity firm called Partners Group took over the company.
The Best Breitling Pilot Watches
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 46 (ref. AB0137211B1P1)
Originally, the Navitimer was 41mm wide. Modern Breitling, since the early 2000s, has been known for large sizes, and this specific Navitimer is no different. Measuring 46mm wide, 13.95mm thick, and 51.8mm lug to lug, the Navitimer B01 Chronograph 46 will not be missed while on the wrist.
The look has been modernized while staying close to the original Navitimer design and maintaining the original functions. Only water resistant to 30 meters, this Navitimer is strictly for aviation and dry land use. Inside is Breitling’s own B01 caliber.
A tri-register chronograph with date, the B01 has a 28,800 bph beat rate, with 47 jewels and a 70-hour power reserve. This modern column wheel chronograph with a vertical clutch has a track record of being reliable after years of refinement. The Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 46 retails for $9400 on a leather strap.
Breitling Super AVI B04 Chronograph GMT 46 Tribute to Vought F4U Corsair (ref. AB04451A1C1A1)
Inspired by the Ref. 765 AVI that was released in 1953, the Breitling Super AVI B04 Chronograph GMT 46 Tribute to Vought F4U Corsair is geared towards modern pilots. The large dial and 46mm case size are to ensure easy legibility. The bezel is knurled, and the crown is oversized to allow easy use, even while wearing gloves.
The addition of the red 24-hour hand adds extra functionality for the frequent traveler, allowing for the tracking of multiple time zones. Water resistant to 100 meters, it will withstand aquatic adventures too. The Super AVI B04 Chronograph GMT uses Breitling’s B04 calibre. Built upon the B01 movement, the B04 adds the GMT functionality.
The GMT function does add some thickness, but the watch is purposefully large, to begin with. The 46mm wide case measures 15.9mm thick, 51.5mm lug-to-lug, and has a 24mm wide lug width. The Breitling Super AVI B04 Chronograph GMT, 46 Tribute to Vought F4U Corsair, retails for $11,100 on a steel bracelet.
Breitling Avenger B01 Chronograph (ref. AB01821A1C1X1)
Intended to withstand the worst anyone could throw at it, the Avenger line is built to be a no-nonsense pilot watch. The bezel, crown, and pushers were all designed to be usable with gloves. The 45mm wide steel case is water resistant to 300 meters.
Not for the faint of heart, at 15.76mm thick and 55.7mm lug-to-lug, legibility and usability take precedence over a svelte stature.
The Avenger B01 Chronograph uses Breitling’s B01 movement, supplying the chronograph and date functions to the watch. This specific model is a limited edition of 500 pieces. The Breitling Avenger B01 Chronograph retails for $7500 on a textile and leather strap.
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Boeing 747 (ref. AB01383B1G1P1)
To celebrate the discontinuation of the Boeing 747, Breitling released this special edition of 747 pieces. The color scheme used on the Navitimer 43 Boeing 747 is meant to recall the original colors used when the 747 was released in 1969. On the case back, “One of 747” and “The Original Jumbo Jet,” are engraved, again paying homage to the iconic Boeing airplane.
Inside is the Breitling B01 movement, providing the chronograph and date functions. This 43mm wide watch measures 13.69mm thick, and 49mm lug-to-lug with 22mm lug spacing. The stainless steel case is water resistant to 30 meters. The Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Boeing 747 retails for $9600 on a leather strap.
Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 (ref. AB0119131C1P1)
The Aviator 8 collection is intended to be a simplified version of their pilot watches. While intended to be incredibly useful and practical, the Navitimer may be too busy and complicated looking for some. If that is so, the Aviator 8 collection is worth looking at. The Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 is 43mm wide, 13.97mm thick, 51.1mm lug-to-lug, and has 23mm lug spacing.
The steel case is 100 meters water resistant, and inside is the Breitling B01 movement. In addition to the chronograph and the date, there is a rotating 12-hour bezel that can be used to time additional events or to track an additional time zone. The Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 retails for $8300 on a steel bracelet.
Breitling Avenger Automatic GMT 43 (ref. A32397101A1X1)
Again, the Avenger series is intended to be Breitling’s modern tool watch series. This Avenger Automatic GMT measures 43mm wide, 12.28mm thick, 52.6mm lug-to-lug, and has 22mm lug spacing. Inside is the Breitling 32 movement, which is based on the ETA 2892-2.
This movement offers a 42-hour power reserve and an adjustable 24-hand in addition to the time and date. While largely intended as a pilot’s watch, the Avenger GMT could also be used as a diver with its 300 meters of water resistance, high contrast dial with lumed indices, and a lumed pip on the rotating bezel. The Breitling Avenger Automatic GMT 43 retails for $4300 on the leather strap with a tang buckle.
Breitling Navitimer B02 Chronograph 41 Cosmonaute (ref. PB02301A1B1A1)
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Cosmonaute was Breitling’s Navitimer adapted for space travel. The original was the first Swiss-made chronograph worn in space on May 24th, 1962, at the personal request of Scott Carpenter when he boarded the Mercury-Atlas 7.
The 24-hour format was used to differentiate between AM and PM, as the concept of day and night does not exist in outer space. The Breitling Navitimer B02 Chronograph 41 is a modern re-issue of the original. Made in 362 pieces to mark the 60th anniversary of the original mission, this special edition features luxury updates, including a platinum bezel and sapphire caseback.
The 41mm steel case is 30 meters water resistant, and measures 13mm thick, 47mm lug-to-lug, and has a 22mm lug width. Inside is the B02 movement, which is the same as the B01, but modified to display 24-hour time. The Breitling Navitimer B02 Chronograph 41 retails for $11,500 on the steel bracelet.
Breitling Aviator 8 Automatic 41 (ref. A17315101B1X2)
This version of the Aviator 8 is maybe one of the more fashion-oriented Breitling’s featured here. While still maintaining a clear legible dial and rotating bezel marking elapsed time, the tan lume and lack of additional marking on the bezel are less utilitarian and more vintage-inspired, recalling designs from the 1930s and 40s.
The 41mm steel case of this Aviator 8 is water-resistant to 100 meters, measures 10.74mm thick, 48.7mm lug-to-lug, and has a 21mm lug spacing. Inside is the Breitling 17 movement, which is based on the ETA 2824-2. The movement has a 38-hour power reserve, a date function, and is chronometer-certified, keeping with Breitling’s tradition of chronometer watches. The Breitling Aviator 8 Automatic 41 retails for $4250 on a leather strap with a folding clasp.
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 41 (ref. AB0139241C1P1)
Much the same as the Navitimer 46 already mentioned, this 41mm version is closer to the original Navitimer, with a modern movement and case finishing. The smaller case size pairs down the dimensions, measuring 13.6mm thick, 47mm lug-to-lug, and has 22mm lugs.
Additionally, the 41mm gets unique colorways that are different from the other sizes. Pictured here in blue with black sub-dials, it may be the most suitable for daily wear. The Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 41 retails for $9200 on a leather strap.
Breitling Aerospace Evo (ref. E79363101C1E1)
The Breitling Aerospace was originally released in 1985 and was a groundbreaking multifunction watch at the time, including developments such as a thermo-compensated quartz movement, mixed analog and digital display, and a digital minute repeater.
Today, the Breitling Aerospace continues to maintain the usability of the original. Equipped with the Breitling 79 Super-Quartz movement, it is based on the ETA 988.352 movement and has a battery life rated to 3 to 4 years.
The 43mm titanium case measures 10.8mm thick, 52mm lug-to-lug, and has a 22mm lug width. The case is also rated 100 meters of water resistance. The Breitling Aerospace Evo retails for $4450 on a titanium bracelet.
Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition (ref. AB0910371B1X1)
Vintage re-editions have their place. While some enthusiasts want something entirely new, some enjoy vintage watches’ look and feel. Vintage watches have their own problems, as they can be difficult to service and maintain because of their age.
This is where vintage re-editions come in, as they present many of the charms of a vintage watch with the reliability and durability of a modern watch. The Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition aims to match the original Navitimer as closely as possible. The dial text and printing present as if someone found a new-old-stock example.
The case was measured to replicate the exact dimensions of the original. Breitling even used a high-domed Plexiglas crystal instead of sapphire to heighten the vintage look. Inside is a modern B09 movement, a COSC-certified hound-wound version of Breitling’s B01 movement.
The stainless steel case measures 41mm wide, 12.98mm thick, 48.7mm lug-to-lug, and has a 22mm lug width. Because of the Plexiglass crystal, the weight is notably lighter, weighing in at 75g on the strap. True to the original, the watch is rated to 30 meters of water resistance. The Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition retails at $9050 and is limited to 1959 units.
Breitling AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition(ref. AB0920131B1X1)
Breitling gave reference 765 the same treatment as reference 806 with the Breitling AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition. Limited to 1953 watches, this watch re-creates the reference 765, which served as the inspiration for Breitling’s current AVI collection. Here, Breitling went with a more aged look with the luminescent paint on the dial.
The stainless steel case has an external bidirectional bezel, is water resistant to 30 meters, and measures 41mm wide, 14.06mm thick, 48.7mm lug-to-lug, and has a 22mm lug width. Inside is the same hand-wound B09 movement as the 1959 Navitimer Re-Edition.
The Breitling AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition retails for $9050.
Breitling Avenger Automatic 45 Seawolf (ref. A17319101I1X1)
Maybe best suited for underwater duty with a staggering 3000 meters of water resistance, the bright yellow dial and large 45mm size of this Avenger 45 Seawolf should still be legible if reading in a cockpit. Like other Avenger watches, this watch is designed to be used as a tool, with the functions being easily utilized in a variety of environments.
The steel case measures 45mm wide, 18.39mm thick, 55.2mm lug-to-lug, and has a 22mm lug width. With those dimensions, this watch is not for the faint of heart, as the thickness is more than the strap widths on many dress watches. Inside is the Breitling 17 automatic movement. The Breitling Avenger Automatic 45 Seawolf retails for $4350 on a leather strap with a tang buckle.
Breitling Emergency (ref. V76325221B1S1)
The Breitling Emergency is similar to the Aerospace Evo, with the Breitling 76 thermo-compensated quartz movement inside. In addition to the chronograph, 4-year calendar, countdown timer, and second timezone, a dual-frequency distress beacon can be used in emergencies.
Should one find themselves in an emergency situation far away from conventional communication, the distress beacon can be accessed by unscrewing and pulling the crown on the bottom lug, releasing the antenna. Once activated, emergency responders will be able to pinpoint your location and provide assistance.
The DLC-Coated titanium case is water resistant to 50 meters and has a bi-directional external bezel. The case measures 51mm in diameter, 21.6mm thick, 65.5mm lug-to-lug, and has a 26mm lug width. The battery life of the Breitling 76 movement is rated at 2-3 years.
The Breitling Emergency retails for $18,760 in titanium on a rubber strap. Additionally, should you activate the emergency beacon in a non-emergency situation, there is a very, very, large fine.
Breitling Super Avenger Chronograph 48 Night Mission (ref. V13375101C1X1)
The “super” part of the title of this watch is not to be taken lightly, as it likely refers to the bold 48mm wide case dimension of the watch. Made in DLC-coated titanium with a blue dial and strap, these aspects will provide some much-needed visual and physical levity to the timepiece.
The Super Avenger Chronograph 48 uses the Breitling 13 movement, which is based on the Valjoux 7750. In addition to the large case diameter, the case measures 17.73mm thick, 59mm lug-to-lug, has a 24mm lug width, and is rated to 300 meters of water resistance.
The titanium will lessen the weight, but this watch is definitely about presence. The Breitling Super Avenger Chronograph 48 Night Mission retails for $6400 on a leather strap with a tang buckle.
Breitling’s history has been devoted to building purpose-oriented timepieces that are still attractive objects of horology. Even today, while some watches are quite large, their size and design are still oriented toward utility. Breitling’s aviator timepieces are aimed at those who are both technically and adventurously minded and are in need of a timing companion for their excursions.