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The History and Evolution of the Breitling Chronomat

chronomat se brushed polished

The Breitling Chronomat is a watch that has been around since the late 1800s when Leon Breitling developed the first edition which would serve as a forerunner of the famous watch. He was a highly skilled watchmaker who was known for his innovations. His business flourished as there was a high demand for chronograph watches during this period of time. He secured a patent in 1889 for the first Breitling chronograph, which was a simple design. After Leon's death in 1914, his son Gaston Breitling took his father's place in the business, a skilled watchmaker in his own right, with an intense love for chronograph watches. The Breitling chronograph has a rich history dating back more than 100 years and since its first inception, it's evolved into one of the most highly desired watches on the market today. For you chronograph buffs who have the same passion of the Breitlings, here is the complete history and evolution of the Breitling chronomat.

The Breitling story leading up to the chronomat

The chronomat is the flagship model in fine chronograph watches. The very first chronomat model emerged in 1941. It was the production of Breitling SA, in Switzerland. It was born from a family with a love and passion for chronograph watchmaking passed down from father to son, starting with the predecessors to the chronomat in the 1880s, with Gaston taking the helm after the passing of Leon, then the unexpected death of Gaston in 1927 brought about changes for the company. The third heir to the Breitling watch company was not old enough to assume the family business and it would be managed by a team outside of the family until young Willing was of the proper age to take over. Within five years, Willy was ready to take over the family company in 1932 and the legacy continued. At the time he took over the company, there were over 40 Breitling models in the brand's line. He is responsible for the design of the first Breitling chronograph to feature two pushers instead of just a single pusher. This feat was accomplished in 1934, just two years after his joining the team and a patent was secured for the new innovation, which laid the groundwork for the first chronomat model which made its debut in 1941.

The first Breitling Chronomat

First Breitling Chronomat

Work on the first chronomat model started in 1940 with the application to obtain a patent for the design from the Swiss government. With the patent secured, the first Breitling chronomat was offered for sale in 1941 under the reference number 769. The original chronmat became a sensation offering a chronograph function and a time display in a manual winding edition and the integrated slide rule was useful for performing calculations with the rotating bezel.

It is worth noting that the first chronomat, reference 769 implemented the use of the slide rule which had already been patented just weeks earlier by MIMO, but Breitling was able to secure their own patent because the Breitling slide rule featured two scales with the outer scale featuring an anticlockwise read direction which greatly differentiated the two patented innovations which were running neck and neck with regard to the time of their development. The original chronomat was powered with a Venus 175 movement which was a manual winding style with 17 jewels, offered in steel and one in a bit more extravagant 18 karat rose gold version to give watch enthusiasts a choice between the two.

The evolution of the chronomat

Changes were made to the original chronomat in the 1950s. This decade would see the creation of the Breitling Navitimer, which was born of the chronomat. This would become on of the most highly desired pilot watches with its E6B circular slide rule. First released in 1952, the Navitimer was worn by Scott Carpenter when he made his trip into space. This is truly the oldest mechanical chronograph in the world today and it is still being produced by Breitling, although in a modernized form. Several versions of the chronomat were created through its history and during the 1960s, Breitling produced its first automatic chronograph watch, followed by a quartz model in the 1970s.


A cease in production and emergence of a new chronomat

The Breitling watch company was put up for sale in 1978 with all production halted. It was purchased in 1979 by Ernest Schneider and production of Breitling watches was back on track by 1980, however; new models of the chronomat would not be seen until 1984 and when it finally happened, the watch was completely re-imagined and designated as a pilot watch. The 1984 chronomat would be the first of a new modern line of the model which has continued to be among Breitling's best selling watches, under the model reference number 81950 from 1984 through 1990. The movement also underwent some changes. Due to the public's demand for a mechanical movement, the automatic pilot's watch featuring its new design with the "rider tab" was presented in 1982 powered with a mechanical Valjoux 7750 movement which was a first for the brand.

The modern chronomat

The chronomat styling that is currently produced has its roots in the original re-invention which was introduced in 1984. This model was a collaborative effort between the Breitling design team and the Italian Jet Team Frecce Tricolori. The original launch came a year before as the aerobatics team for the Italian Airforce had first dibs on the watch for their pilots. it was a brand new chronograph made specifically for the requirements of pilots and it was carefully designed in accordance with the squadron and made to their specifications. From the sturdy case that would hold up under the workload of these pilots with their aeronautic maneuvers to the ergonomically designed push pieces found on the crown, this was a chronomat the likes of which the world had not yet seen, with first editions going to the team and production runs from 1984 forward available for the general public.

Breitling Frecce Tricolori

breitling chronomat frecce tricolori

The Frecce Tricolori is noted as a chronomat 44 model so far as its DNA and identification. This edition we previously discussed also ha a water resistance of up to 500 meters. A little more on the movement is necessary as it is a self-winding type with 47 jewels beating at a frequency of 4 Hz. The watch measures 44 mm in diameter with a 16.75 thickness to accommodate the complications of the chronograph. The steel cae is satin brushed on the tops with sides featuring a polished finish with a rubber strap. This watch was made in a limited edition of just 1,000 ever being made. This watch was updated to feature the colors of the Italian flag along with changes to the color of the sub-dials as well as to their positioning and a comparison of the 1984 and 2009 editions shows two different watches aesthetically with the basic DNA remaining intact, and the addition of red hands with silver counters are also nice updates as small details combine to make all the difference.

A new movement for 2009

The chronomat previously powered with the Valjoux 7750 movement was updated in 2009. It received a new in-house movement which became known as the B01 caliber. This movement is COSC certified and delivers a power reserve of 70 hours. The 2009 chronomat secured a place in the history of Breitling as their first watch that was made entirely by the Breitling company with no outside components sourced from other manufacturers.

Variants of the flagship chronomat

The Breitling chronomat became a classic chronograph in the world of horology and particularly among the aviation classification of watches. The modern stylizing of the model features a bezel that immediately catches the eye with four rider tabs which signifies a hallmark of the brand. Two new models have recently become popular and include the Breitling Avenger and the Breitling Galactic.

The Breitling Galactic 32

The Breitling Galactic 32

This lovely watch was manufactured in a variety of styles for both men and women. While it maintained the DNA of the original, its appearance varied greatly with numerous changes in the styling and the metals used in the creation of its variants.

Breitling Avenger

Breitling Avenger

The Avenger, like the Galactic 32 is also offered in multiple variations from steel to 18 karat rose gold, for both men and women. The basic features of the Avengers remains the same but there are some differences in the diameter of the dial as well as the metals used for the case and some stylistic variations.

Breitling chronomat GT

breitling chronomat b13050 blue

Chronomat Vitesse

chronomat se brushed polished

Some major differences in the styling of the Breitling chronomat GT include larger rings around the sub dials with tritium dots at the end of bigger hour markers. The Vitesse styling features hour markers in the form of block style Arabic numerals which are wonderfully luminescent thanks to the tritium filling, which is an update from its predecessor with smaller hour markers and numerals. Again, variations in color and style are notable features of these more modern editions, along with a bidirectional bezel with marked hours.

The Breitling Navitimer


The Navitimer also known as Ref. AB014012 or Ref. AB011610 is a direct descendant of the Reference 769, original chronomat from the 1940s, but it doesn't bear much resemblance aesthetically. Although it does maintain the slide rule function that fans of the Breitling aviation watches are well known for producing, it has a completely different look. The Navitimer is still connected to the original chronomat in a new collection of watches in the evolutionary process.

  • Breitling Navitimer 1
  • Breitling Navitimer GMT
  • Breitling Navitimer A41322
  • Breitling Navitimer 8 B01

The Navitimer is a descendant of the chronomat which has added to the variety of the collection. Just a simple glance at the most popular variants and editions of the Navitimer shows us that Breitling is committed to the delivery of a range of styles with slight differences in function to please a discriminating fan base for pilots/aviator watches which seems to pick up in numbers with the passage of time.

Final thoughts

The Breitling chronomat is the flagship model established by the famed watchmaking brand in the early 1940s. Through tumultuous times, Breitling has always bounced back and the chronomat has undertone a series of changes in its evolutionary process. The one constant is the DNA and the history which details the changes and adaptations made as it's seemingly had an easy time keeping up with new innovations that keep fans of the chronomat thrilled and eagerly awaiting the new selection that is forthcoming periodically. The chronomat is available in dozens of different styles and models and the top selling watch has a bright future for remaining the best chronograph with the highest number of options.

Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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