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Breitling: Pioneer of the Skies

The right stuff! On March 21, 1999, Switzerland's Bertrand Piccard- the latest in a long line of explorers-and British pilot Brian Jones completed the first nonstop flight around the world in a balloon. This nod to Jules Verne, the last adventure of the century, took 19 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes to complete in a silver balloon bearing the Breitling name. Its two heroes, Piccard and Jones, were wearing the Emergency watch, one of the brand's star products whose new slogan is Thank you for flying Breitling. A saga unfolds...

From the birth of aviation to the jet age and the conquest of space, Breitling has been a constant partner in the fabulous adventure of human flight. Indeed, Breitling has worked on its own conquest of space, developing revolutionary new techniques. Leon Breitling founded the company in 1884 and died thirty years later, just after the introduction of the bracelet chronograph. His son Gaston and later his grandson Willy took up the torch, turning the La Chaux-de-Fonds family firm into an international brand.

Hire this Breitling Navitimer from WatchVIP
Hire this Breitling Navitimer from WatchVIP

In 1934, the brand invented an essential feature of modern chronographs: the second function button, which enabled more complex measurement operations and allowed the user to return to a timing operation that had been interrupted without necessarily having to go back to the start as before. In 1936, airlines equipped their planes with the chronograph developed by Willy about ten years before. Then in 1941, Willy had the idea of fitting a circular slide rule to the chronograph. In 1952, the Navitimer model caused a minor revolution in the market.

The brand's great day of glory came on May 24, 1962, when American astronaut Scott Carpenter wore a new-generation Navitimer on board the Aurora 7. The pioneers of the sky had looped the loop in time and space. Later, after moving to Grenchen, the brand was taken over by industrialist pilot Ernest Schneider in 1970.

In 1984, its centennial year, the brand launched a new Chronomat, produced in a numbered limited edition. Breitling continued to sponsor aerobatics championships and also took an interest in sailing and soccer with the America's Cup and the World Cup in 1990. Among the latest jewels in the crown were the Duograph, the Astromat Longitude chronograph, and the Navitimer 92, not to mention the sublime platinum automatic chronometer. And how could we forget the Emergency chronograph, which saw Piccard and Jones through their great adventure? The pioneer of the skies was now a veteran of quality and achievement.

Subsequently, the brand returned to terra firma, taking to the road with Breitling for Bentley collection. It was a success. In 2006, the company came up with its iconic watch the Flying B, with a square design and cult jumping hour mechanism. Then, after the air and road, Breitling returned to the sea, marketing the Superocean Heritage, a reissue of its 1957 model. Two new worlds and two new successes for Breitling. In 2009, along with the Navitimer chronograph marking the family firm's 125th anniversary, to win back its mechanical independence exactly 40 years after the great Calibre 11, the brand presented a calibre styled the B01. Also automatic, it was developed entirely by Breitling at its manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.

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