A short history to aid identification
Part 2: The Pilot's Chronomats - 1984 to the present day
The life of the Breitling Chronomat began in 1940 with the application for a Swiss government patent for an innovative circular slide rule to be used in conjunction with a wrist chronograph. The first Chronomats were then manufactured and sold in 1941/42. Later, in the 1950's, the outstanding success of the Chronomat inspired the birth of the Navitimer, a chronograph with its slide rule modelled after the E6B circular slide rule used by pilots.
The Chronomat went on to be produced in many forms including a version of the first-ever automatic chronograph watch in the late 1960's and even a quartz non-chronograph during the 1970's.
In 1978 all watch production ceased at Breitling. The company was put up for sale and bought by Mr Ernest Schneider in 1979. From 1980 new Breitling models began to be released but it was not until 1984 that the Chronomat reappeared - as a completely different watch, now designed for pilots. This was the forerunner of all modern Chronomats up to the present day.
The Chronomat has remained one of Breitling's most successful watches for over sixty years and has in recent years proved to be Breitling's biggest seller.
(Note: during the 1980's Breitling model references were written in a variety of ways; the Chronomat was referred to as ref 81950, 81 950 or 81.950. For convenience the form 81950 will be used in this article).
Chronomat ref 81950 - 1984 to 1990
Athough the advent of electronic watches played a large part in the demise of many Swiss watch firms including the old Breitling company, by the early to mid-1980's it is becoming apparent that there is a growing market again for mechanical watches. Many owners do not want LED, LCD or quartz watches which in their eyes lack the appeal and technical attraction of watches with a traditional movement. They prefer mechanical movements and are prepared to pay a premium for them. While continuing their strong presence in the evolution of quartz watches, Breitling have also begun developing innovative mechanical models one of which is an automatic pilot's watch, completely new in design in every aspect. The now famous "rider tab" was invented by the head of the company in 1982 and he also made the decision to use the mechanical Valjoux 7750 movement for the first time by Breitling. Both of these features are still in use today in many Breitlings although the movement has undergone enormous improvements since then.
Original rider tab design by Ernest Schneider, 23/10/82. Photo Breitling S.A.
This new watch is modified with the advice and comments of the elite Italian air force aerobatic team, the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori (National Aerobatic Patrol Tricolour Arrows).
The PAN Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team. Photo PAN Frecce Tricolori
The most important design change made to the new watch is that the pushers and crown are made more prominent and therefore easier to use while wearing gloves in the cockpit. While this detracts from the smooth outline of the case design it does make the watch more functional. There is also a small redesign of the bezel and of the rider tab at 0/60 minutes. This new watch is named the Navitimer Chronomat and is very different from earlier Chronomats.
1984 Navitimer Chronomat, reference 81950
In the place of the old type 42 slide rule it has a rotating timing bezel with four projecting "rider tabs", easy to grip while wearing gloves in the cockpit. They also provide a measure of protection for the crystal. The 15 and 45 minute rider tabs can easily be changed over to create a countdown bezel if that is preferred. The large white hour indices and wide hands provide easy visibility at a glance. There is a 0-100 scale for the decimal minutes so useful in computations, and a tachymetre scale for various timing uses involving speed and distance.
The wings logo on the dial of the Chronomat is the same as that already found on early 1980's quartz Navitimers. It consists of a design derived from (but not associated with) the wings motif of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) but in the centre, instead of the initials "AOPA", is the letter "B" for Breitling. Below the wings a wavy line signifies water to show Breitling's continuing strong interest in designing and marketing watches for yachtsmen and divers. On the case back a motif of the Aermacchi MB-339A aircraft used by the Frecce Tricolori team echoes the shape of the old 1960's B/BREITLING logo below it while reinforcing the idea that the Chronomat is indeed now a pilot's watch.
Case back of the ref 81950, the first modern Chronomat
The visual design of the new Chronomat is an interesting blend of ultra-modern and traditional, perhaps an early form of "post-modern" design that became so popular in architecture during the 1980's and 90's. The "onion" style of the crown and pushers harks back to the crowns of pilot's watches of the 1930's and 40's designed to be easy to grip while wearing gloves. Unusually, the case lugs are straight and it is the ends of the bracelet or strap that provide for the curve of the wearer's wrist.
Side view of the ref 81950 case
As well as being water resistant to a depth of 100 M the Navitimer Chronomat has been tested to accelerative forces of 20G, far in excess of what any pilot could endure. It is powered by the 17-jewel Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph movement. Although when first used by Breitling, this movement is unmodified and unadorned, it is robust and has excellent reliability and accuracy.
Valjoux cal. 7750 17-jewel movement used in the first ref 81950's
During 1984 a special version of the Chronomat with the Frecce Tricolori logo on the dial is issued to members of the aerobatic team.
Navitimer Chronomat, Frecce Tricolori version. (This example dates from the 1990's) Photo Breitling S.A.
Within a short time the Breitling wings logo is revised and the marine influence of the wave is now more clearly depicted as an anchor. This becomes the new Breitling logo for all models.
Chronomat ref 81950 with revised dial incorporating the new Breitling wings
Little did Breitling realise it then, but this watch was to become the company's biggest seller and the most important watch in the astonishing success enjoyed by Breitling ever since. There is something wonderfully refreshing and honest about this early version of the elegant tool-watch that aesthetically, in spite of all the more recent developments and enhancements, has perhaps never been surpassed. (However, the movement does undergo many improvements.)
Initially the existing Aermacchi MB-339A case back is used on watches with the new dial. Later higher serial number watches have the letter "A" stamped after "81950". Still later a case back incorporating the new Breitling wings logo is used for the ref 81950.
Redesigned case back on an early Chronomat with the new dial
1985 - Chronomat Moon Phase
Breitling quickly realise that the new Navitimer Chronomat is proving popular with many buyers who are not pilots and they begin widening the model with further emphasis on the appeal of mechanical movements; and what better than a reference to the top-of the-range of the very first Chronomat in the 1940s, the Chronomat Moon Phase?
In 1985 a special version is prepared where the elapsed-hours register of the Valjoux 7750 movement is replaced by a 29-day moon-phase complication (not a 'simplified' moon-phase locked to the date as found in some lesser watches). However, the Chronomat Moon Phase was not manufactureed in large numbers and consequently is quite rare and sought-after today.
Chronomat Moon Phase, ref 81950
Case back of the Moon Phase (shown here) is identical
to that of the standard Chronomat
Within two years of the introduction of the modern Chronomat, the variations of the dial and case materials are beginning to multiply. (Eventually, in the 1990s, the number of options will mean that there are well over a thousand different Chronomats available!).
1986 was the last year the Chronomat was a member of the Navitimer family and so the last year the watch could be called the "Navitimer Chronomat".
The Navitimer Chronomat in the 1986 Breitling catalogue
The available dial colours for 1986 are: black, white/gold borders on subs, black with gold subs, white with gold subs. The case is available in "bi-colour" or plain steel. Padded/stitched leather strap or roulleaux bracelet.
Navitimer Chronomat ref 81950, bi-colour
The bi-colour has gold plated and gold filled details.
Throughout the 1980s Breitling have taken a strong interest in manufacturing watches for yachtsmen but since the new Breitling company was formed in 1979 they have all been quartz. A complication is developed that enables the Valjoux 7750 movement to be modified to include a yachting timer which will allow Breitling to cater for the demand from yacht owners for a mechanical rather than quartz watch.
Like the previous Chronomat with the moon phase complication, the Chronomat Yachting retains the same model reference, 81950.
The Chronomat Yachting has a modified Valjoux 7750 movement with a special countdown timer in the place of the usual minutes counter at 12 o'clock. Breitling describe this as "a 10 minute countdown aperture and double indication of the final minute before the start of the race".
Chronomat Yachting ref 81950
The back of the Yachting is stamped with model ref 81950
Documentation supplied with the Yachting
An advertisement for the Yachting from circa 1989-1993 shows the white dial variant
The yachting version will continue to be made until the mid-1990's:
81950 1989 Chronomat Yachting
B13047, previous ref 81.950 also stamped on back 1990
A13047 ca 1991 Chronomat Yachting
A13048 1993/94 Chronomat Yachting
A13050 1995 Chronomat Yachting
Chronomat ref 13047 - 1990 to 1993
In 1990/91 the model references of all Breitling watches are updated to a new system. The Chronomat changes from 81950 to 13047 with a prefix for the case metal. "A" stands for "acier", french for steel; B for "bi-colour" ie steel with gold details. The 18K version becomes the K13047.
Initially watches are produced with both the old and the new model references stamped into the case back.
Early ref 13047 Chronomat has both refs 81950 and B13047 on the case back
The case back of an early ref 13047 with both model references
(the number below the wings and "BREITLING" is the serial number of the individual watch)
Chronomat ref 13048 - ca. 1993 to 1994
Revised hour and minute hands.
"B" on short end of sweep seconds hand.
"1884" on dial.
The Chronomat ref D13048 has an 18K bezel
Chronomat ref 13050 - ca. 1994 to 1999
"TACHYMETER" on dial flange.
18K yellow or white gold Breitling wings.
Arabics or batons hour markers.
Guilloche (textured) dial option available.
Wider date aperture with border.
Chronomat ref B13050, guilloche dial with baton hour markers and
18K yellow gold Breitling wings,
Chronomat ref A13050 with arabics hour markers and 18K white gold Breitling wings
A limited edition of 1994 watches is released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the modern Chronomat. It has an 18K yellow gold Breitling wings logo on the dial although it does not have the other later dial updates. It has a special engraved back with a relief image of the Aermacchi MB-339A used by the Frecce Tricolori that appeared on the case back in 1984.
1994 Chronomat 10th Anniversary, ref A13050
Case back of the 1994 Chronomat 10th Anniversary
A special edition of the ref 13050 is released to mark the 40th anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori, 1955-1995. However a search on the Italian Air Force's website reveals that the Frecce Ticolori was formed in 1961, so for the moment this "40th Anniversary" model remains a mystery!
1995 Chronomat ref 13050 Frecce Tricolori 40th Anniversary
Back of the Frecce Tricolori 40th Anniversary
A special edition of the ref 13050 with BREITLING FOR AMERICA on the yellow dial and "NOT FOR SALE" on the case back is given to chosen American dealers. It is believed these were handed out between ca. 1995 and 2000 but available information is sketchy.
Chronomat Breitling for America ref A13050
Breitling for America case back
Breitling for America case back
As the Chronomat continues to proliferate with over 1000 different possibilities (in combinations of case metals, dials, straps/bracelet etc) Breitling create a special version, the Blackbird, that is true to the original Navitimer Chronomat of 1984. This is a watch which is unashamedly a tool watch, a watch for pilots. It is named after the aeronautical designer Kelly Johnson's aircraft, the Blackbird SR-71.
The Blackbird SR-71 high-altitude reconnaisance aircraft - this
particular one is involved in research for NASA. Photo NASA.
The Breitling Blackbird with its matt case has some similarities to the first modern Chronomats from 1984. Although named Blackbird on the dial it is a Chronomat with the usual Chronomat model reference. Later a blue-dialled limited edition version of 250 watches called the Bluebird is produced. Then after this, the Blackbird is available with either a black or a blue dial.
Chronomat Blackbird ref A13050
Blackbird ref A13050 case back
The brushed case of the Blackbird ref A13050 minimises unwanted reflection
Some differences from the standard Chronomat are:
Completely brushed matt finish includes all metal parts; case, crown, pushers, bracelet.
"SERIE SPECIALE" in red over the 12-hour sub-dial.
"BLACKBIRD" on the dial instead of "CHRONOMAT".
A limited series of 500 watches is released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the US Air Force (USAF) in 1947. Before that date it was known as the US Army Air Force (USAAF).
1997 ref A13050, USAF 50th anniversary
During 1997 updated dials and hands as well as new names are announced for the standard versions of the Chronomat although the model reference remains 13050. The sweep seconds hand now has a luminised arrow-head tip and the hour and minute hands are straighter and more pointed. The numerals within the subdials are now italic.
Depending on the hour markers, Chronomats now fit into either of two catagories. The batons dial version is called the Chronomat GT (Grand Totaliser). It has raised frames around the subdials to help the eye focus on timings.
Close up of a Chronomat GT ref A13050
The arabics dial version is now called the Chronomat Vitesse. This is a name that was previously used for a specialist Breitling stopwatch designed in the early 20th century for timings associated with motor cars.
The English (miles) version of the Breitling "Vitesse" in the 1928 catalogue -
there was also a Continental (kilometres) version
The Chronomat Vitesse has italic hour numerals to give a dynamic feeling of speed ("vitesse" is french for "speed").
Chronomat Vitesse ref B13050 has applied italic numeral hour markers
with inset luminous compound
Vitesse ref B13050 case back with the plastic protector used to protect the case back from slight scratches in the showroom
Chronomat Vitesse 18K ref K13050
The Vitesse 18K case and back have small hallmarks as well as
the 18K mark on the back
Chronomat ref 13350 - ca. 1999 to 2000
This is the same as the ref 13050 but is certified as a chronometer and comes with a numbered COSC certificate that provides the serial number stamped into the redesigned caseback.
Chronomat GT ref B13350
Case back and bracelet of Chronomat GT ref B13350
Chronomat 2000 ref 13352 - ca. 2000 to 2004
The word CHRONOMAT on the dial is replaced by CHRONOMETRE. The bezel is altered with wider incised 5-minute marks and a different font for the numbers on the rider tabs.
The previous GT and Vitesse names/versions have been dropped; Chronomats have baton hour markers in a new dial design with wide flat surrounds around the subdials.
Chronomat ref A13352
Arabics dial version of the ref 13352 now available. It has thin edges around the subdials.
Chronomat ref A13352 with arabic numerals hour markers
A cross-section shows some of the complexity and precision of the ref A13352.
Breitling is noted for the high quality of its engineering and manufacturing. Photo Breitling S.A.
Blackbird ref 13353 - 2002 to 2004
For the first time the Blackbird has a different model reference than the standard Chronomat; the new Blackbird for the model year 2003 is the ref A13353. And the Blackbird is no longer listed in the catalogue as the "Chronomat Blackbird" but as a seperate model within the Windrider line (that includes the Chronomat and several other models). The Blackbird has begun to diversify from the Chronomat (a move that will in years to come see it complete the split from its parentage with a different movement from the Chronomat). For the moment, although essentially still the same watch, it has a slightly wider 39.8mm case with a different bezel from the standard Chronomat.
The Blackbird bezel is updated with rebates cut all the way across at each 5-minute mark. The Blackbird ref A13353 is available with either baton or arabic numeral hour markers.
Blackbird ref A13353 with arabics dial
Chronomat Evolution ref 13356 - 2004 onwards
The Chronomat Evolution is shown at Basel in April, 2004 but is not generally available in the shops for several months. Its first catalogue appearance is in the 2005 Breitling Chronolog issued from October 2004.
The Evolution is bigger in diameter, thickness and weight than the previous models and is quite a departure from the original 1984 Chronomat. One previously iconic feature, the straight case sides has been dropped; the Evolution has conventional lugs.
2004 Chronomat Evolution, ref B13356
Like many updates to Breitling watches that have a loyal following, initially the new watch is unpopular with some Breitling owners but this is really a reflection of the esteem that is held for the existing model. Within a year or so the Evolution is much more accepted with most potential owners now enthusiastic about this latest version of the Chronomat. One thing that was never in doubt is the quality; it is a superbly designed and built watch with an extremely accurate, reliable and sturdy movement.
Automatic, Breitling calibre 13 (based on Valjoux 7750)
Chronograph to 1/4 of a second
Steel, bi-colour; yellow or white 18K
43.7mm diameter, 17.1mm thick, 22mm between lugs
Screw-down crown and safety pushers
Unidirectional rotating ratcheted bezel
Cambered sapphire crystal with antiglare both sides
Water resistant to 300 M (previously 100 M)
Baton hour markers with big numerals on subdials angled from centre; or arabic hour markers with small conventional subdials numerals.
PILOT bracelet to match watch case metal(s)