For many aviators, a watch made by Breitling is an indispensable piece of gear. In fact, the manufacture from St. Imier can be said to have created the genre of aviators’ chronographs—even the chronograph as we know it. The brand made its name early on for the production of chronograph pocket watches, introduced the first wrist chronograph in 1915, and changed the face of horology forever by adding a second pusher to a wrist chronograph in 1934.
That move was an absolute game-changer, and before long air forces such as the RAF were commissioning Breitling chronographs for their pilots.
While the Navitimer—with its slide rule and its association with astronaut Scott Carpenter—is perhaps the best-known of Breitling’s aviator’s chronographs, the Reference 765 and its successor, the Reference 1765, is in our opinion the most wearable.
Simply put, it’s just plain sexy, in the way that only military or military-inspired chronographs can be.
Like the Breguet Type 20 or the Zenith A. Cairelli, the Reference 765 or AVI was designed for helicopter pilots. Eager to secure a contract with the French army, Breitling rolled out the AVI in 1953. Unlike the dial of the Navitimer, which is jam-packed with information, the dial of the AVI is uncluttered, with only the information that you absolutely need—hours, minutes, and counters for running seconds, hours, and 30 minutes.
All evenly-spaced, the hour markers and the hands coated in luminescent material, the chronograph registers a stark white against the black of the dial, and all surmounted by a rotating steel bezel.
Unfortunately, the AVI’s lack of a flyback function meant that it was passed over in favor of the Type 20, which is now ranked as perhaps one of the finest military chronographs in existence.
However, the spartan dial of the AVI lent itself well to different interpretations, even some unlikely ones like a regatta timer.
Breitling adapted it for civilian use as the Co-Pilot, and it was worn to perfection by Raquel Welch in the 1967 film Fathom. Breitling ads promoted the watch’s appearance on film, stating that someone or something—either the watch or the woman—“[steals] the scenes, in film and real life.” (Nina who?)
Sometime in the late 1960s, the Reference 1765 was introduced, larger than the Reference 765 and without the catchy name.
And around the same time, Breitling introduced this watch—the Reference 1765 Unitime.
When it was released, 24-hour dials were a relatively new invention conceived by Glycine for their Airman. However, unlike the Airman, the Unitime has the addition of a chronograph complication. It’s a rare bird, with production numbers only around 1000.
Though not a bestseller, the Unitime gets points in our book for being unusual and just plain cool, the perfect watch for the collector who wants to channel his inner Huey pilot whenever he straps it on (we do too).
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