Breitling first started manufacturing chronographs as early as the 1930s. Perhaps the most iconic of these is the Breitling Navitimer, ref. 806. First and foremost a pilot's watch, designed for pilots and with pilots' needs in mind, it remains near the top of virtually every vintage watch collector's wish list.
In classic "form follows function" style, the Navitimer was designed to be a tool watch, with a slide-rule navigation computer operated by an internally-rotatable bezel. Breitling first used this feature on the Chronomat, which debuted in the early 50s. Though the Chronomat was the first watch Breitling released with a slide rule, it was preceded by a watch designed by Mimo: the Loga. However, the Loga only ran for a short time and did not enjoy the success of the Chronomat, which in turn inspired Breitling to develop yet another watch with this feature. This would of course be the Navitimer, which would go on to inspire countless imitations and set the standard for pilot's watches to follow.
While the origin of the Navitimer is somewhat ambiguous (due to incomplete records at Breitling's headquarters), it's generally agreed that the Navitimer might have been developed in conjunction with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots' Association (AOPA). Indeed, the earliest Navitimers bore AOPA's logo, either alongside Breitling's logo or by itself on the dial, which in these early incarnations was black-on-black with white or gold printing (being replaced with the now-classic silver-on-black appearance in 1959). AOPA certainly took that association and ran with it, claiming that the Navitimer was "completely designed and engineered to AOPA specifications."
Whether that's true or not, the Navitimer has undoubtedly entered the pantheon of classic pilot's watches, distinctive from all of them due to the slide rule. While the true functionality of the Navitimer is lost on most of us, there's no question that serious pilots (and astronauts) depended on their Navitimers as serious navigation tool. It's been said that the 806 spawned an entirely new category of timepieces--wrist instruments--and it would be hard to deny that.
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