Amidst the turmoil of World War II, watch manufactures across the globe halted production of civilian timepieces to manufacture military watches for the warring nations' armed forces. These watches, with spartan exteriors and no-frills movements, were designed with one purpose in mind: to withstand the shocks and strains of battle. However, while brands concerned themselves with outfitting the armies of the world, there was a brand that dared deviate from the norm.
Breitling, established in St. Imier in 1884, has long made chronographs their speciality. By the 1930s the brand was manufacturing wrist chronographs—including some for the air forces of the UK and Canada. Breitling is so well-known for these pilot's watches, that one oft forgets that the brand produced anything else.
In 1941, Breitling filed a patent for a unique watch that would herald the shape of things to come. The Chronomat, first released in 1942—at the height of the Second World War—coupled chronographs, Breitling’s speciality, with an obscure complication previously seen only once before, the slide rule, an analog "computer" used for mathematical calculations on the fly. Though the Mimo Loga was the first watch to feature a slide rule, it lacked a chronograph. Additionally, it preceded the Chronomat by one year, and perhaps due to its debut in the height of wartime, it only had a limited production run, making surviving examples hard to find today.
The Chronomat was designed as the antithesis of the World War II zeitgeist, and in many ways foreshadowed the renaissance of civilian watch production in the Post-War years. It is of course overshadowed now by its slide rule-sharing successor, the Navitimer, but unlike the Navitimer, the Chronomat (smaller than the Navitimer by one millimeter) was not initially purpose-built for pilots. Instead, advertisements for the Chronomat broadcast its intention to be employed in the fields of “science, sport, commerce, and industry.”
The Chronomat was initially released in both stainless steel and 18k gold cases. Some had the additional complications of a moon phase indicator or a third register on the dial. In the late 1950s the Reference 808—seen here—was released, and was produced until the debut of the ground-breaking Chronomatic movement in 1969. The Reference 808 underwent subtle changes from its predecessors—a thicker crown, for example, and the removal of information such as the patent number on the case back. In 1962, Breitling started to advertise the Chronomat specifically for aviation usage.
This example, with its clean white dial with red accents and matching minute-counting and bright florescent chronograph sweep hand, is a stellar expression, hallmarked by the block Breitling logo and round barrel pushers. At 36mm, it makes for a truly wearable piece for most wrists without being too bulky.
In excellent condition and running perfectly, this one is sure to make you look twice at the vintage pilots' watches on which modern-day Breitling has built itself.
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