The 1950's and 1960's: The Innovations Continue

The 1950's and 1960's: The Innovations Continue

1952 marked the debut of an unprecedented watch prototype that remains an icon to this day: the Breitling Navitimer. Its name is a portmanteau of the words “navigation” and “timer.” Equipped with the flight-specific slide rule that was introduced with the Chronomat, it is little wonder that countless pilots, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers have opted for this timepiece ever since.

Another milestone in the 1950s was the extraordinary SuperOcean. Willy Breitling was determined to make a splash (literally!) on his 25th anniversary as head of the family business. He did so with this diver’s watch, which featured a water-resistant case up to 20 bar (or depths of up to 200 meters). Building on the SuperOcean’s momentum, Breitling launched the simple but robust TransOcean in 1958. The popularity of this shockproof, anti-magnetic, and “super-sealed” automatic chronometer was buoyed by the brand’s reputation for aviation precision.

In 1962, a version of the Navitimer designed by astronaut Scott Carpenter joined the original classic. An important feature was its 24-hour dial, because in space, it was impossible to distinguish between day and night. Carpenter used the watch on May 24, 1962, during his mission aboard the Aurora 7 spacecraft.

In 1965’s Thunderball, James Bond as played by Sean Connery received a very special Top Time watch from Q. The film version of the watch is equipped with a Geiger counter, which 007 uses to avoid a nuclear disaster by locating stolen missiles that have been hidden underwater, all with the help of the Top Time on his wrist.

Given its daring square shape, the Top Time was also heavily marketed toward a new generation, and to young women in particular. An advertisement of the day proclaimed, “Everyone is thinking chronograph,” and the trend-setting watches were snapped up by stylish women who were looking for a fashion accessory that would help them stand out from the crowd.


Léon Breitling focused on chronographs

Scott Carpenter and Sean Connery were not the only celebrities whose wrists were fitted with Breitling watches. Actress Raquel Welch added an unmistakable dash of glamor to the Co-Pilot watch in her film Fathom. Jazz legend Miles Davis was a Navitimer wearer, as were Formula 1 drivers Jim Clark and Graham Hill. It is now known that Olympic gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy, famously associated with another watch brand, also wore a Breitling – even on the slopes – between 1965 and 1967. And more recently, identical-twin NASA astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly have relied on their Breitling wristwatches both in space and on solid ground.

The final chapter in the Breitling family saga was one of the most important. In 1965, Willy Breitling participated in the development of the world’s first micro-rotor automatic chronograph in cooperation with Jack W. Heuer, the Büren-based movement manufacturer, and Dubois-Dépraz, a specialist in chronograph control wheels. The 1969 launch of the Chrono-Matic, with its winding crown on the left side, caused a sensation on the international watch scene. This true original has since been optimized several times and manufactured in different versions.

1969 also marked the beginning of the era that, somewhat improbably for the Swiss watch industry, was marked by electronically controlled wristwatches. Breitling, like most other major brands, responded to the trend with its own quartz models, including a quartz Chronomat, and starting in 1973, they even introduced quartz versions of the iconic Navitimer.