Huit Aviation Department: How the Breitling Navitimer became an Icon

Nothing shouts aviation watch more than a Breitling Navitimer – a portmanteau of navigation and timer, first introduced in 1952 as an evolution of the 1942 Breitling Chronomat. Famed for its slide rule bezel, a tool used to calculate complicated operations – it quickly became the go to timepiece for Air Forces and commercial pilots alike. The chronograph with an integrated ‘flight computer’ boasts STAT for standard mileage, KM for kilometres and NAUT for nautical miles allowing pilots to calculate fuel consumption, average speeds and climbing speeds.


The first Breitling Navitimer from 1952

Calculating these complex logarithmic calculations was obviously a challenge and required the assistance of mathematician Marcel Robert – lead by Willy Breitling, grandson of Léon Breitling who founded the brand in 1884. Breitling by this time had already established a close affiliation with the aviation industry – feeding the demand for dashboard clocks in planes and for military chronographs. In 1915 for instance, Breitling had introduced its first wrist chronograph with central seconds and a 30-minute counter, allowing pilots to achieve basic calculations. The introduction of the more complicated Navitimer 37 years later was a natural evolution and one with which the aviation world no doubt awaited with bated breath.


Late 1950’s Breitling advertisement, for the plane, for the pilot, featuring the iconic Navitimer

In part, to get the Navitimer off the ground, Willy Breitling established the Huit Aviation Department in 1938 – named after the French word for “eight” -it reflected the eight-day power reserve offered by many dashboard clocks and other dedicated chronometric instruments, including wrist chronographs, which the department was developing for professional aviators. Aware of the strict requirements for military and civil aviation the Huit Aviation Department were crafted with impressive power reserves, easy readability and lightweight cases. These creations immediately attracted the attention of military aviators and, as World War II loomed, the Huit Aviation Department received a large order for chronographs from the Royal Air Force. This popularity of the Huit Aviation Department’s creations teed up the arrival of the Navitimer beautifully – which as expected became Breitling’s most iconic creation.


A 1957 Boeing 707, equipped with Breitling dashboard instruments – operated by Pan Am

During the late 1950s, the Navitimer was marketed as the watch of choice for pilots, this combined with being the official supplier of board instruments for all the major aircraft companies propelled the brand further into watchmaking legend. And it wasn’t until the 1970s that Breitling’s dominance showed signs of waning – when the Swiss watch industry had to face the Quartz Crisis – affordable and accurate quartz watches from Japan flooded the market. And Breitling also had to react, with its own quartz or LCD editions of the Navitimer but even these couldn’t help that dramatic decrease of sales with the late 1970s signalling the end for Breitling as a family business. Willy Breitling, in 1978 sold the company to Ernest Schneider, an avid pilot and owner of Sicura watches who breathed new life into the brand from 1982.


Navitimer Quartz from 1977

By the 1990s mechanical watches were back in appreciation and the re-worked but reliable Valjoux 7750 driven Navitimer’s were back with a bang. It wasn’t until 2009 when the next notable moment in the Navitimer’s history arose with the the inclusion of a fully in-house movement, the Breitling 01.


Today’s Breitling Navitimer 01

Today, the Navitimer 01 is Breitling’s flagship model – built with that in-house Breitling 01 caliber, self-winding mechanical movement and a minimum seventy hours power reserve the Breitling Navitimer 01 is masterpiece of technical and original design combined with reliability and performance. This legendary model is distinguished by its steel case and its black dial with a red seconds hands, silver chronograph counters and applied hour-markers or numerals. And as history demands – its bidirectional ratcheted rotating bezel ensures smooth and easy handling of the famous circular aviation slide rule.

The Navitimer 8 Collection

Fast-forward to 2018 and the Navitimer boasts various iterations including a 46mm version (the original is 43mm), Rattrapante, GMT, World, QP, Cosmonaute and Heritage versions. This alongside a storied and sometimes troubled past makes for iconic status in the watch and aviation worlds. 2018 also sees the introduction of the Navitimer 8 collection – new pilot’s watch collection named with a nod to the Huit (eight, remember) Aviation Department and a reference to the eight-day power reserve offered by its storied cockpit instruments.


Navitimer 8 B01 in 18 k red gold with bronze dial and brown alligator leather strap

Bridging the past with the future, the The Navitimer 8 family introduces five distinct models that are worthy heirs to watchmaking’s richest aviation tradition, drawing heavily on Breitling’s design DNA and the technical features of the first board clocks and pilot’s wristwatches as well as on the Huit Aviation Department’s commitment.


Breitling Reference 768

Each of the five new models posses large luminescent Arabic numerals while small triangles and the long minute markers in the so-called railway minute tracks also recall those from some of Breitling’s early wristwatch models inspired by the historical ref. 768., as do the luminescent skeletonised hour and minute hands, the latter’s length being matched precisely to the dial’s indexing.


Navitimer 8 Automatic with blue dial and stainless steel bracelet


Navitimer 8 Chronograph with blue dial and stainless steel bracelet

Each Navitimer 8 watch is water-resistant to 10 bar (100 meters), with their dials are all visible through sapphire crystals with anti-reflective coating on both sides. The chronographs in the family offer power reserves ranging from 40 to more than 70 hours, depending on the model and movement. And of course a Navitimer wouldn’t be a Navitimer without that bidirectional rotating bezel, to easily measure short time intervals by positioning the pointer at the appropriate distance before or after the hands.

The Navitimer 8 B01 is really the stand out piece in the collection, powered by the in-house Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01. The self-winding, 43-millimeter watch has a ratchet-wheel chronograph with vertical coupling and a power reserve of more than 70 hours.


Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01

Navitimer 8 B01 with black dial and black alligator strap

The display features 30-minute and 12-hour counters and a date window. Available in stainless steel with a black (pictured in the three image gallery above) or blue dial, or in 18k red gold with a bronze dial, on a stainless steel bracelet or an alligator leather strap with a pin buckle. The COSC-certified chronometer has a transparent sapphire case back.

The Navitimer 8 Unitime was apparently designed with international travelers in mind. The automatic wristwatch offers world-time indication through an independent hour hand that can be adjusted with the crown. At the heart of the COSC-certified chronometer is the Breitling Manufacture Caliber B35, a self-winding movement, which, with its bidirectional ball-bearing rotor and two spring barrels, delivers a power reserve of more than 70 hours.


Breitling Navitimer 8 Unitime with black dial and black alligator leather strap

Available in black or silver. The Navitimer 8 Unitime has a transparent sapphire case back. The 43-millimeter stainless-steel case with a rotating bezel comes with an alligator leather strap with a pin buckle.

The Navitimer 8 Chronograph offers 30-minute and 12-hour counters at 12 and 6 o’clock, respectively, along with a small seconds hand at 9 o’clock. It is accurate to a quarter of a second. The COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 13 chronometer movement is at the heart of this watch. It is wound automatically with the use of a unilateral ball-bearing rotor, delivering an autonomous running time of more than 42 hours.


Breitling Navitimer 8 Chronograph with black dial and black leather strap

The 43-millimeter case is available in stainless steel with a leather strap or a stainless-steel bracelet, or in DLC-coated steel paired with a leather strap with a pin buckle. The Navitimer 8 Chronograph has a solid, screwed case back.

The Navitimer 8 Day & Date prominently displays the day of the week and the date along with the time. The day of the week is indicated at the 12 o’clock position while the date is ideally placed at 6 o’clock. The automatic wristwatch is powered by the Breitling Caliber 45, whose bidirectional rotor winding offers over 40 hours of power reserve.


Breitling Navitimer 8 Day & Date with blue dial and black strap

The dial, in black or blue, is revealed through a double anti-reflective sapphire glass. The 41-millimeter stainless-steel case has a solid screwed back. It comes with a leather strap with a pin buckle.

The Navitimer 8 Automatic makes a style statement. It is clearly a direct descendent of Breitling’s legendary watches from the 1930s and 1940s. Inside the stainless-steel case with its rotating bezel and pointer is the Breitling Caliber 17, which, with its bidirectional rotor winder, delivers more than 40 hours of power reserve.


Breitling Navitimer 8 Automatic with black dial and black leather strap

The eye-catching dial is available in black or blue. The 41-millimeter COSC-certified chronometer has a solid screwed case back and is offered with a choice of a stainless-steel bracelet or a leather strap with a pin buckle.


While the new Navitimer 08 collection clearly draws inspiration from the legendary Navitimer 01, the pieces are each individual and a wise evolution or step into the future of Breitling. Watches for today’s modern man, updated silhouettes and stylish designs. Each iteration is sublimely handsome, with the Navitimer 8 B01 with blue dial and black alligator strap being our favourite. The Navitimer 01 however, sits in a category all of its own – legendary status, an icon of the aviation watch world. The simple answer – start collecting them all, right now. Seriously though, whether it’s a timepiece from the Navitimer 08 collection or the Navitimer 01, you can’t go wrong.

Visit for more information. Prices to be confirmed but we expect prices from £5,500 upwards.

Chris Beastall

Chris is the Founder and Editor of Ape to Gentleman. His interests lie in men's style, male grooming and leading a better lifestyle - through minimalist, basic and clean design.