Robust, precise and designed for maximum performance: Breitling stands for the epitome of pilot watches. In the world of watches, there are things we thought would never change - the Breitling Navitimer is not one of them. What happened to the epitome of the pilot's watch?
The first Navitimer took wing in 1952, an evolution of the Chronomat that came before it. The Navitimer improved the groundbreaking slide rule, creating a pioneering tool watch for aviators and navigators that would cement Breitling's reputation as a leader in the field. For more than 65 years, the Navitimer has been a best seller in the brand's stable of practical and awesome luxury watches for pilots, and while there have been many new additions and upgrades over the years, the overall design has changed very little.
So it was big news in March when Breitling unveiled new models in two different Navitimer collections that seemed to signal a relatively major change of direction, at least by the standards of the watch's long history. These Baselworld releases, the Navitimer 1 38mm and the Navitimer 8, feature highly noticeable differences compared to the look and design that most fans know. Yet while some were put off by the new watches, many more have been quick to praise Breitling for the courageous innovation. What exactly are we talking about? Let's take a closer look.
The Breitling Navitimer 8 was initially released in five different models with five different movements. One thing that was immediately striking was that only two of the five were chronographs. Of these, the flagship model boasts Breitling's acclaimed in-house automatic, the B01, a gorgeous column-wheel vertical clutch with 70 hours of power. The other is based on the classic Valjoux 7750, and there are two non-chronograph models that are also adapted from ETA bases. The final Navitimer 8, the Unitime, is in-house, using the B35 world-timer calibre, introducing a welcome new complication for a aviation watch.
A sixth model, the Super 8, was added to the Navitimer 8 collection at Baselworld. This watch is larger and stands apart from the original quintet, including when it comes to the inner workings. Here we find the remarkable B20, a movement traded to Breitling from Rolex sister-brand Tudor in return for the B01.
The Breitling Navitimer 1, meanwhile, emerged from Baselworld with two B01-fitted models (the 46mm and the 43mm), alongside two smaller versions, including the headline-grabbing 38mm, which use outsourced movements. But then it was never going to be the movement that was the most remarkable part of this timepiece...
Case and Dial
The most remarkable part of the Navitimer 1 is the case - specifically, the case of the 38mm model. It's smaller than any Navitimer the brand has made in a long time, and in fact when news first broke, many assumed it had been created exclusively for women. Breitling was quick to clarify it's intended for both genders, and that makes sense - this is a classic Navitimer with the full technical look and feel, thanks to the rotating bezel and slide rule. The design has been lovingly modernised with touches like the contrasting "panda" subdials (not on the 38mm model, which is a three-hander). The sizing change both looks back to an era when watches were smaller, and forward to current trends towards elegance.
The Navitimer 8 sticks to 41 and 43mm cases. The big news here is that the new collection has done away with the famous slide rule, a huge aesthetic and technical change that has led many to question whether this is "really" a Navitimer at all. Instead, the brand says that the watches were inspired by the historic "Huit Aviation Department”, founded in 1938 by Willy Breitling to make aircraft instruments. The vintage influence is clear in the utilitarian look, complete with notched bezel and railroad minute track. Much less cluttered than classic Navitimers, the modern influences here are equally clear.
If the new look and technical credentials of these two collections wasn't enough, Breitling made its declaration of direction change even clearer with its new logo, which appears on both watches. The brand's stylised "B" now comes without the wings that previously accompanied it. Breitling's new leadership, headed by Georges Kern, wants to show that the company is not just about aviation. Kern has said that he wants to introduce both more modernised watches alongside faithful re-editions from Breitling's past, all while drastically reducing and rationalising the total number of models offered.
When it comes to the Breitling Navitimer 1 vs Navitimer 8, both watches will undoubtedly have their admirers and detractors. Traditionalists and long-time fans may be more attracted to the Navitimer 1, which is more immediately recognisable, while perhaps the Navitimer 8 might bring in those who are looking to buy Breitling for the first time. The prices of each collection are fairly comparable, ranging from about CHF 3,600 for a smaller three-hander to CHF 7,500 for an in-house chrono (more for gold case models). At the end of the day, if we have to pick a favourite it would be the Navitimer 8 - simply for the sense of bold new directions it represents.
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