Masters of the Air: Breitling’s Latest Limited-Edition Celebrate the House's Historical Breakthroughs

Breitling’s latest limited-edition drops pay homage to the breathtaking horological innovation that has helped take their devotees to — and beyond — the skies.

Masters of the Air: Breitling’s Latest Limited-Edition Celebrate the House's Historical Breakthroughs

Grail seekers of a horological persuasion are rather more spoiled for choice than anyone doggedly holding out hope of unearthing from a Cornish allotment the chalice that once held our saviour’s blood. The Patek Philippe 2499 seen on the wrist of John Lennon months before his murder; Miles Davis’s Breitling Navitimer; the Omega Speedmaster that Buzz Aldrin wore on the moon — all of these are a life-changing auction lot waiting to happen for the propitious individual upon whom serendipity smiles. 

These missing pieces have a spellbinding effect on the watch-collecting community, so it was epic news when, in 2022, the Breitling Cosmonaute specially commissioned by Scott Carpenter for the United States’ second orbital spaceflight — the first Swiss timepiece to reach the realms of space, let alone circle the Earth three times — was found, after decades being presumed lost, in Breitling’s family archives. 

The timing of the find was happy, too: on the 60th anniversary of the Aurora 7 spacecraft’s launch, Breitling (joined on a Zurich stage by former astronaut Scott Kelly as well as members of Carpenter’s family and Gregory Breitling) unveiled not only the hitherto missing timepiece but also a new, limited- edition Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute — one that honoured Carpenter’s request to remove the scale and the tachymeter. 

The Breitling Navitimer Chronograph Cosmonaute.

Now, as part of the ‘140 Years of Firsts’ campaign that marks the Grenchen-based brand’s milestone anniversary this year, Breitling is releasing three pieces that celebrate the house’s historical breakthroughs when it comes to timekeeping in the skies — including excursions beyond the Kármán line. 

While the new piece adheres to Carpenter’s request for a 24-hour dial that would help him distinguish day from night during orbit, the new limited-edition self-winding Cosmonaute B12’s chronograph movement is designed for use on terra firma. Limited to 250 pieces, its 18k red-gold case is offset to stunning effect by a deep green dial, golden numerals, and black alligator leather strap. Flip it, and owners (and their dinner party guests) can admire, via an open caseback, a view of the contrasting oscillating weight capping the B12 movement, plus an engraving (the text of which reads, “One of 250” and “First Swiss Wristwatch in Space/Navitimer Cosmonaute May 24, 1962”). 

Elsewhere, a new Navitimer 41 celebrates the first wristwatch to combine a chronograph and a computational slide rule. Another of Breitling’s much heralded ‘firsts’, this piece’s backstory begins in 1952, when the U.S. Aircraft Owners and Pilots’ Association approached Willy Breitling to ask him to create a chronograph for protagonists in the then nascent field of civil aviation. 

The Aurora 7 Mercury-Atlas rocket launch of 1962.
Astronaut Scott Carpenter.
An advertisement for the Breitling Cosmonaute from 1964.

Calculations required during flight — average speed, distance travelled, fuel consumption, rate of climb or descent — involve roots and exponents, a problem Breitling overcame by integrating the logarithmic slide rule invented by Peter Mark Roget more than a century before into a rotating bezel studded with tiny notches to make control by human hand easier. A roaring success among pilots, it became standard equipment (in propeller planes and later in jets) and sealed Breitling’s status as the ‘official supplier to world aviation’.

The new three-hand automatic version, whose cases (in stainless steel or 18k red- gold and a two-tone variant in the case of the Automatic) come in a wearable 41mm, conducive to the burgeoning trend of watches being non-gendered. Each option on a dial palette that includes black, blue, silver, ice-blue and green does immense justice to the more balanced dial composition whose lead protagonist, the intricate slide rule, is afforded prominence by a notched bezel and alternating polished and brushed finishes. Straps come in alligator leather, bracelets with a seamless butterfly clasp. 

It wasn’t just pilots who were bowled over by the original Navitimer: Miles Davis and Serge Gainsbourg ensured that it entered the annals of popular culture folklore, which is surely partly why the manufacture has assembled what it refers to as the ‘Navitimer Squad’: a team of public endorsers, including the Greek- Nigerian professional basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo, the American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland, the explorer Bertrand Piccard, and the Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron. They’ve now been joined by Manchester City’s powerhouse striker Erling Haaland, a Breitling ambassador since 2022. 

The pieces before you are just a taste of things to come regarding modern spins on a back catalogue that is replete with horological innovations, according to Breitling’s Chief Executive, Georges Kern. “All this year we’ll be talking about our 140 Years of Firsts,” he says. “When it comes to these two watches — the Navitimer and Cosmonaute — you cannot overstate the significance they’ve had for our brand, for aviation and for watchmaking as a whole.” 

A selection of Navitimers.
Breitling ambassador Giannis Antetokounmpo wearing a Navitimer 41.
Erling Haaland, another Breitling ambassador, with a Navitimer 41.