We all have our watches that got away. Mine was a Breitling Navitimer.

We all have our watches that got away. Mine was a Breitling Navitimer.

8 min read
Richard Brown





Richard Brown





When I say "got away", I mean watches we've all had the opportunity to buy but foolishly didn't.

I'll come clean; mine was a Breitling Navitimer Datora with a white dial and, unusually, a Breitling black rubber strap. The watch was for sale in a highly respected pre-owned dealer in Abu Dhabi, and I instantly fell in love with it. The problem was that the watch had been taken in a part exchange deal without any paperwork, and whilst there was never any question in my mind that this dealer would not sell a counterfeit, something made me hold back.

Breitling NavitimerBreitling Navitimer Datora - Credit WatchGecko

In the morning, I came to my senses and called him, asking him to keep the Breitling aside as I was going to come by later in the day to buy it. To which he replied, ", Sorry Richard, I sold it last night just after you left". I promptly then went out and bought a new Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch.

The purpose of this tale is just to illustrate that this is the closest I have come to acquiring a Navitimer; indeed, I have not handled one again until last week when we borrowed a beautiful example from our friends at Watches of Lancashire.

As soon as we unpacked the pristine 2015 model, every emotion of the loss of the Datora came flooding back, and I immediately wanted one again. It is such a classic watch, dare I say icon, and you forget just how immense its presence is if you don't handle one for years.

A Brief Navitimer History

This very first Navitimer, ironically, never had the Breitling brand on it and was simply designated the AOPA, which stands for Aircraft Owners and Pilots, a professional US flying organisation that still exists today. We know the watch now as the reference 806. It was not until the late 1950s that the Navitimer, as we recognise it today, was released with the famous winged-B logo and the company name.

The purpose of the watch, other than a split time chronograph, was to allow pilots to do complex mathematical calculations involving distance, time and use of aviation fuel, all within the confines of a mechanical wristwatch. The Navitimer was not intended to stand in as an emergency unit in the event of complete instrumentation failure but more to be a handy tool pilots could turn to at a moment's notice.

Breitling Navitimer DatoraBreitling Navitimer Datora - Credit WatchGecko

Those of us of a certain age have no doubt had the opportunity to play with a slide rule at school, although I hasten to add in my case, it was just playing with one for historical interest; we didn't actually use them. However, when you watch amazing movies like Apollo 13 and see Mission Control staff doing complex calculations on a slide rule, you can't help but wonder if we've lost a skill. What Breitling did with the Navitimer was very clever because they took a conventional slide rule which has three moving pieces, and made it circular, and placed it as the bezel on the watch. By revolving the slide rule in different directions, you can do simple computations such as convert KM to Miles or Nautical Miles, gallons to litres and all forms of arithmetic.

Early Navitimers were powered by a hand-wound column wheel chronograph movement provided by Venus, the 178, and this would be utilised in parallel with a Valjoux 72. As the watch began to evolve, all models swapped over to a Valjoux 7740 calibre, which, although less accurate, was much easier to maintain.

The early 60s saw the advent of possibly the greatest Navitimer, the Cosmonaut. This watch was developed in the early days of the American space programme as part of the personal equipment for Scott Carpenter for his Earth orbit Mercury mission. The Cosmonaut had all of the same functions as the Navitimer, but instead of a 12-hour dial, it had a 24-hour dial which allowed the astronaut to differentiate between AM and PM. Although it becomes intuitive eventually, even today, this watch takes a bit of practice to read the time correctly. It is still made today and will cost you just shy of £10K.

Life progressed well for the Navitimer through the 1960s. It established itself as one of the premier chronographs available, head to head with the Omega Speedmaster, and in an attempt to ward off the quartz crisis Breitling even introduced a battery-powered variant. However, as we enter the 1970s, this truly became the doldrums for Breitling with some very "iffy" designs. Things went from bad to worse until, in 1979, the brand was effectively sold off lock stock and main springs.

However, the Navitimer did not die because some parts, and the right to manufacture, were sold to the German company Sinn and up until very recently, the Sinn 903 was in their portfolio. This watch was an identical clone to the

Navitimer is made fully officially and is a gem to own (at half the price). In fact, we actually had some in stock at WatchGecko and wrote a feature about the model in 2022.

Breitling Navitimer DatoraBreitling Navitimer Datora - Credit WatchGecko

The 1980s and 1990s, thankfully, saw the revival of the Breitling name and the Navitimer. The 90s became a glory era with some of the best-looking Breitlings of all time, such as the Blackbird, Superocean and the Shark.

The brand has never really looked back from this point, and eventually, the Navitimer (like many of their chronos) ended up being powered by a superb Valjoux 7750 movement which we all know and revere. Everything we see today is, to all intents and purposes, an evolution from the 1990s watches. Some of the movements and dials and slide rule configurations, of course, changed, but it's really from this era that the Navitimer reached the level of popular appreciation that it deserved.

Fast forward to 2023, and the Navitimer has multiple options available, with or without the iconic sub-dials and Chronograph (although a few of these, I feel, stretch the name Navitimer a bit far). Gone are the days when the only dial option was black. Now there are multiple pastel colour options to suit every demographic of customers. Of perhaps more importance, Breitling is no longer using a bought-in movement as they have developed the B01, which is an outstanding heart for any chronograph. The 47-jewel B01 COSC-certified movement beats at 28,800 bph with a 70-hour power reserve and is considered one of the finest in-house movements in regular use today.

Hands on with a 2015 Breitling Navitimer AB0127

When we first unboxed the 2015 Navitimer, the immediate impression was one of exceptional build quality. The watch felt robust and well-made; frankly, it caught me off guard. My Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch felt flimsy next to it.

On the other hand, I was equally struck that the 46mm dial was a whopper and that were I to take the plunge, I would definitely have to go for a 43mm or even the new 1959 Special Edition in 41mm.

The push-button chronograph controls on the Breitling felt much more solid and reassuring than the same controls on the Omega. Considering my Omega is now £2000 more new than this mint pre-owned Breitling, it's fair to say I had a slight knot in my stomach. Apollo legacy aside, had I eventually decided on the wrong Chronograph?

The dial of the Breitling never fails to please and has a classic aesthetic which will not date. In 20 years' time, this watch will look as stunning as it does today; the white sub-dials against the black dial so iconic to the Navitimer. Widely copied but never equalled, you only truly appreciate this when you see the original watch.

Breitling Navitimer DatoraBreitling Navitimer Datora - Credit WatchGecko

First impressions of the Navitimer dial are often of preposterous complexity and difficulty in reading the time, but I genuinely feel it is the opposite given the amount of data squeezed into this dial. Legibility is exceptional, and every single facet of the circular slide rule is so clear.

There are only two sacrifices to colour on this Breitling, which are the red chronograph hand and the gold Breitling winged-B. Sadly the Breitling winged B is something the brand has recently dropped and is only retaining on certain aviation-based models like the Avenger. We think this is probably a mistake as Breitling trying to be less aviation centric seems a bit of a pointless exercise. Their whole ethos is built on it, and it's why half of us love them.

Turn the Breitling over, and we are treated to the Calibre B01 in all its glory. Thankfully, unlike Rolex, Breitling has been an aficionado of the crystal display back for some time, and the calibre B01 is so wonderfully complex it is hard not to look at it with some awe. As the branded rotor spins, we get glimpses of the multi-layer depth of the movement.

I approached writing this rather personal piece with some trepidation. So much has been written about the Navitimer that I thought just another review would be a little pointless, so I really wanted to write this more from a watch-passion perspective.

Every so often in this job, we come across watches which are more than the sum of their parts. This could be because they have been used in some incredibly historic event, such as the Omega Speedmaster, or they have hugely complicated functions which seem impossible to compress into the size of a wristwatch. The Breitling is one such creature and set standards that the rest of the industry simply followed. 70 years after its inception, we cannot undersell the impact it had on the world of popular horology.

NavitimerBreitling Navitimer Datora - Credit WatchGecko

So do I wish I had bought a Breitling Navitimer instead of my Omega?

Maybe. There is something amazing about the Apollo heritage of the Speedy but I can't get the Breitling out of my head now and I think it will be difficult to get through 2023 without adding one to the collection. Of course, had I been able to make my mind up back in 2011 I wouldn't be in this predicament but hey, that's another life lesson.

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Richard Brown

About the Author: Richard Brown

I truly believe one of the best partners in exploration and adventure is a fine watch. Over 30 years of collecting, my fascination with the technical capabilities of both vintage and modern timepieces has never abated and it is a privilege to be able to share this passion through writing.

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