A brief history of the most famous Breitling of all
Navitimer, black subdials - ca. 1952/54 to early 1960's
The story of the first Navitimers is shrouded in mystery and even controversy. Quite simply, no-one knows for certain the full story, or if they do they have not yet spoken. The records held by Breitling SA in Grenchen, Switzerland are incomplete, so to tell the story of the most famous Breitling of all involves detective work and even a certain amount of speculation; the foremost world experts on vintage Breitlings cannot agree on all details.
What is certain is that following the great success of the Chronomat, the world's first slide rule chronograph released in the early 1940's, Breitling made a second slide rule chronograph and released it some time between 1952 (claimed by Breitling) and 1954 (believed by eminent Breitling experts). This watch has the logo of the AOPA - the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association - on the dial, and current thinking is that all the first examples of the watch had this logo. Indeed some researchers think the watch was specifically designed for members of AOPA although others believe Breitling designed the watch and that AOPA then asked for it to show their logo and to be specially made for their members. The true facts are not currently known but may be buried in the records of AOPA, many of Breitling's own early records having been lost.
An early Breitling Navitimer reference 806 - the serial number of this example seems
to date it to 1953 but some experts believe a number of watches with apparent
1953 serial numbers were in fact released around 1960.
The movement of this "1953" Navitimer does not have the Breitling "WOG" code stamped
on the bridge. Although most had a code, either WOG or more rarely BOW, vintage
Breitlings without a code on the bridge are not uncommon.
Venus 178 movement in another apparent "1953" Navitimer ref 806. This one is stamped "WOG" as are most movements in early Navitimers.
"1953" Navitimer case back with the model reference 806 stamped into it.
The serial numbers of early Navitimers were stamped inside the back.
The Valjoux 72 Navitimers - 1954 to 1955
The Valjoux 72 version is thought to be the first Navitimer by experts who believe the apparent 1953 Navitimers actually date from circa 1960. During the 2000's a spokesperson for Breitling stated that the Valjoux 72 Navitimers were only produced during 1954 and 1955. Unfortunately Breitling do not have full records that could shed light on the whole question of the first Navitimers and research is proceeding with difficulty in this area.
1954 Navitimer with Valjoux 72 movement. This watch and all others with the Valjoux 72 movement seen by the author do not have "806" stamped into the case back which adds credence to the theory that these were in fact the first Navitimers and did not have a Breitling model reference because they were an AOPA watch only available through AOPA to its members.
Valjoux 72 movement in the 1954 Navitimer. Note the watch company code is "BOW"
rather than the much more usual "WOG" for Breitling. Sometimes there is no code
on the movement.
Some Navitimers with the Valjoux 72 movement did not have the AOPA wings logo but had a gilded traditional "B" Breitling logo. These watches are extremely rare and the author has only ever seen two. How they fit into the overall picture is still unknown at this time.
1955 Navitimer with "B" logo instead of AOPA wings. This watch has a Valjoux 72 movement
and does not have "806" stamped into the back. (Please note that the moiré interference
pattern on the subdials in this image gives the wrong impression; the guilloche texture
consists of the usual concentric rings).
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assocation claimed they had played a part in the design of the watch and say in their brochure that the Navitimer is "completely designed and engineered to AOPA specifications". It is not known whether this is advertising hyperbole or fact.
This 1950's/early 60's AOPA brochure advertising the Navitimer was probably produced for AOPA members in 1957 or later after Wakmann became the American agents for Breitling. This,
currently the only known copy of the brochure, surfaced in Japan in the early 2000's and
was kindly made available to the wider watch collecting fraternity by a Japanese collector.
The inside of the AOPA brochure. Although not dated, the Manhattan postal code of 36 does show the brochure pre-dates July 1963 when ZIP codes were introduced.
The 24-hour Navitimer ref 806
In 1961 a 24-hour version of the Navitimer 806 was released. Shortly after this (most likely during 1962) the 24-hour version was given a new model reference "809" and was named the "Navitimer Cosmonaute". Confusingly many ref 809's had the word "NAVITIMER" on the dial but not "COSMONAUTE" but it is the generally accepted convention amongst watch collectors that all ref 809's are Cosmonautes and all ref 806's are Navitimers.
Navitimer 24-hour, ref 806 introduced in 1961 and replaced by the ref 809 soon afterwards.
Advertisement for the Navitimer Cosmonaute from circa 1963.
For detailed information and more images of the 24-hour Navitimer and the Cosmonaute, please follow this link:
History of the Breitling Cosmonaute
The last of the all-black dial Navitimers
Navitimers with all black dials continued to be made until the early 1960's. There were several variations in dials and bezels up until they were completely superseded by the silvered subdials variations.
1962 Navitimer ref 806
Close up of the 1962 Navitimer dial shows the gilded applied AOPA wings logo. Note the hands have been re-luminised with Luminova which has a slight sheen.
1963 Navitimer ref 806 in gold
By circa 1963/64 Navitimers were no longer fitted with all-black dials.
Navitimer ref 806, silvered sub-dials - circa 1959 onwards.
It appears that the all-black dials were gradually replaced from possibly as early as 1959 with dials with silvered subdials and that the hands and the bezel were also replaced with later designs from ca 1960 onwards. A further complication is that hands from the AVI model may have been used on the ref 806 during this period.
Without reliable documentation it is difficult to be absolutely sure of the facts but most collectors and experts agree that there was a transition period between about 1959 and the early 1960's when Navitimers were released with a mixture of old and new features. However it is always possible that earlier watches have had later dials and/or hands fitted during a service, or even that later watches had earlier parts fitted, so great caution is needed by the serious collector who is concerned with 100% originality when purchasing an 806 from this transition period.
After the move to the new versions the model reference remained 806 and as before the Navitimer was available in steel, gold-filled or 18K gold.
An early silvered subdials Navitimer 806 with beaded bezel dating from ca 1959 to the early 60's.
This watch has the old-style hour and minute hands. It is not known whether the later-style
centre seconds hand is original or was fitted during a service.
The early silvered subdials Navitimer 806 with its box and manual. Photographed in 2004,
this watch still appears to have its original lizard strap.
Very soon the bezel and hands were updated although either of the two versions of the manual, both depicting the all-black dial version on the cover, continued to be supplied.
1964 Navitimer ref 806, AOPA dial, with its box and manual. Although unclear in this picture, the manual cover depicts an all-black dial ref 806. (later strap)
1969 Navitimer ref 806 in 18K
1969 Navitimer ref 806 in 18K
1969 Navitimer ref 806 in 18K
This AOPA brochure from 1969 or 1970 shows the Navitimer with other products on offer to members.
Navitimer ref 806 and monogrammed wallet in the AOPA brochure.
1970 advertisement from the American jewelry trade press. This is the
non-AOPA version of the Navitimer available to the general public.
Dial Variations of the Silvered Subdials Navitimer
As with the previous all-black dial Navitimers, there were several variations in the silvered subdial Navitimers. The most noticeable was the increase in size of the subdials. The exact date when this was first done is not known but is thought to have been in the mid-1960's. The earliest example seen by the author dates from 1964 but as always, without definitive documentation one cannot be absolutely sure that the dial was not changed from the smaller subdials version at a later date. After about 1970, there are less and less Navitimers with the smaller subdials and ca. 1970 is generally thought of as the time when the smaller size began to be rapidly phased out.
1964 Navitimer with large subdials.
It is rare to see Navitimers dating from earlier than the late 1960's with this dial design,
and so it is not definitely known if this dial is original to this watch.
1970 Navitimer with large subdials.
Navitimers from 1970 onwards usually have this design of dial. It is rare to see
the smaller subdials on a Navitimer manufactured after around 1971
1970 Navitimer ref 806 case back.
Serial numbers of later ref 806's like this one are on the outside of the back.
Other variations ocurred in the red-coloured printing on the dial and outer slide rule. Some watches had no red at all and those that did have some red markings varied. Ref 806's are seen today that have red only on the inner dial or only on the outer dial; again, it is not known if they were originally like this or whether a non-matching inner or outer dial has been fitted later.
Some Navitimers were fitted with the Valjoux 7736 movement from about 1967. These watches are usually stamped on the case back with the reference "806-36" but some later examples are stamped "806 E". All 806-36's and 806 E's seen by the author have large silvered subdials.
1971 Navitimer ref 806-36 case back
Circa 1978 Navitimer ref 806 E
Valjoux 7736 movement in ca. 1978 Navitimer ref 806 E
Ca. 1978 ref 806 E case back
Circa 1978 Navitimer ref 806 E case back detail shows that the old Breitling company continued to manufacture this model right up to the end. According to Breitling SA, the last serial number used before all manufacturing ended in 1978 was 1448473, an earlier serial number than this one. Perhaps the new (present) Breitling company under Mr Schneider continued to assemble and market the ref 806 E and this watch dates from 1979 or later. Further information would be appreciated by the author if any reader can help with this.
Navitimers of various models, both mechanical and quartz, were supplied by Breitling to various air forces. Breitling supplied the Iraqi Air Force at least during the 1970's and 80's and possibly from the 60's through to the early 90's. These had the Iraqi Air Force wings on the dial and a specially engraved case back.
Iraqi Air Force Navitimer ref 806. Interestingly this watch has large subdials
combined with a beaded bezel.
Close-up of the Iraqi Air Force wings.
Versions of the ref 806 with other brands on the dial
Some Breitlings including Navitimers were distributed in France by the French watch company, Lip with their name added to the dial. The author understands that this occurred from 1968 to 1973.
Navitimer distributed in France by the Lip watch company.
Extremely rare are Navitimers branded Gruen. The author knows very little about this version and would like to hear from anyone with any information on it - thanks.
1975 "GRUEN" Navitimer
When the company was sold in 1979, certain rights to assemble and/or manufacture the ref 806 passed to Sinn and O & W. The names "Breitling" and "Navitimer" were sold to Mr Ernest Schneider who then formed a new Breitling company, Breitling SA.
Ollech & Wajs "Aviation" is based on the Breitling ref 806
ca 1990's/2000's - Replacement Dial for the ref 806
Breitling supplies a replacement dial which varies slightly from the originals. This dial is based upon the 1960's ref 806-36 design with large subdials that was used for all ref 806's by the 1970's.
1990's official Breitling replacement dial fitted to a 1966 ref 806. Replacement dials are only available with large subdials. The luminous compound is Luminova although "T SWISS MADE T" (signifying tritium) is printed below the hours subdial near 6 o'clock as on the originals. (The Breitling mesh bracelet on this watch is from the 1970's).
The Luminova on replacement dials is much smoother and the outline more controlled than the original tritium.
The 'Big Case' Navitimers, refs 816 and 1806 - 1968 to ca. 1978
A totally new design of Navitimer in both manual and automatic versions has been under development for some time and the manual Navitimer ref 816 is introduced.
Ca. 1968 Navitimer ref 816
Initially the ref 816 uses the same Venus 178 movement as the previous ref 806 and the caseback was stamped "0816". The Valjoux 72 movement was also used but in far smaller numbers and the reference on the caseback was overwritten with an obscuring pattern and a new ref "816-72" was stamped just below the Swiss patent number on these watches. There were no other external differences between the "0816" and "816-72" versions.
Venus 178 movement in a Navitimer ref 816
Valjoux 72 movement in a Navitimer ref 816-72
Later, during the 1970's, the ref 816 was fitted with the Valjoux 7736 movement which has the same subdials configuration as the Venus 178 and Valjoux 72. The 7736 version is less desirable to collectors than the other two with the Val 72 version being worth the most as the Venus is much more common.
Manufacture of the automatic version the ref 1806 began during 1968 but it was not yet on sale.
The automatic Navitimer Chrono-matic ref 1806 is released in March, the first automatic chronograph ever, beating the Zenith El Primero to the market by a few weeks. Partly because the name 'El Primero' means 'The First' a myth has grown that the Zenith El Primero was the first automatic chronograph but this is not true. (The Chrono-matic movement is modular; the El Primero was the first integrated automatic chronograph movement).
The earlier Navitimer Chrono-matics have black dates. Later they are mostly red although black date wheels do continue to be used as well.
Ca. 1970's Navitimer ref 1806 supplied to the Iraqi Air Force
Navitimer ref 7806 - the direct successor to the 806 with a date window - early to mid-1970's
While the ref 806 had been using the Valjoux 7736 movement for some time a new version using the Valjoux 7740 movement with a date between 4 and 5 o'clock was developed. This new Navitimer was given the reference number 7806.
1972 Navitimer ref 7806. The running seconds hand is different from the hours and minutes chronograph hands.
Back of a 1972 ref 7806
Valjoux 7740 movement in a ref 7806
A very rare black-cased ref 7806 from 1975
The 1950's Navitimer Automatic - a curiosity
During the mid-1950's Breitling used the Navitimer name on an automatic non-chronograph watch. It is difficult to imagine why this watch was classed as a Navitimer - perhaps it was to cash in on what was already becoming an iconic model. Presumably very few were made as today this Navitimer is seldom seen.
Circa mid-1950's Navitimer Automatic with gold-filled case
Steel case back of another Navitimer Automatic. This back has been over-polished but the
heavily stamped serial number shows clearly that this example dates from 1956
Movement of 1956 Navitimer Automatic