Léon Breitling (1860 – 1914) was a Swiss watchmaker whose initial innovations in time-keeping have kept his name, the company he founded in 1884, Breitling SA, and the watches it produces among the most sought after of all timepieces. As early as his apprenticeship, Breitling was obsessed with the idea of measuring short periods of time using special watches. The chronograph he developed shortly after he completed his training began his and his company’s trademark designs.
By adding special and significant elements to its watches like miniature emergency transmitters, stop-watch enhancements, navigational tools for pilots, and other surprising features, a succession of Breitling family generations have played a crucial role in the development of the wrist chronograph that, to this day, maintain their leadership status in the field.
The firm has been part of aeronautical achievements including space exploration because their instruments demonstrate high reliability and performance. The styling of Breitling watches is characterized by polished cases, bracelets and large watch faces designed to improve readability. Many models have an automatic winding mechanism that is purely mechanical (i.e. using no electronic components) and frequently incorporate additional enhancements.
Breitling produces its own mechanical chronograph movement developed and manufactured in its own workshops. This family business is also one of the last remaining independent Swiss watch brands.
In 1979, the third generation Breitling, Willy (1913 – 1979) sold the company to Ernest Schneider who owned the Sicura watch company. This sale included an agreement to permit Schneider to continue to market the name Breitling and another well-known name, “Navitmer,” which came to prominence when worn in space by Scott Carpenter one of the early American astronauts.
In 1982, the firm moved to a new location and officially registered the name, “Breitling Montres, S.A.” Schneider who was both an engineer and amateur pilot used his experience in microelectronics to apply modern quartz technology to Breitling watches. Breitling continues to supply watches to the aeronautics industry under the ownership of Ernest’s son, Theodore and CEO, Jean-Paul Girardin.
In 1984, Breitling introduced the Chronomat, a mechanical chronograph that quickly became the best-selling Breitling line, a position it has held ever since.