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Breitling and the RAF: A Historic Partnership

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Breitling have a rich heritage as a pioneer of pilots’ watches and a long-standing partnership with the Royal Air Force. The watchmaker is one of the only watch brands in the world to equip all of its models with chronometer-certified movements developed in their workshops. Known for being precise, durable and reliable, Breitling watches are at the forefront of chronograph complications, making them perfect for aircraft pilots.

Their association with the RAF couldn’t be more well-suited; Breitling’s technical expertise is designed for sky-high conquests and has led to the creation of many iconic pieces that celebrate the present whilst simultaneously commemorating the past.

The Royal Air Force

In August 1908, American aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright gave a series of flight demonstrations in Le Mans that changed the way the world looked at the aeroplane. While hot air balloons and airships were already common, the aeroplane filled an existing void in military strategy.

On 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps merged to form the RAF. The Royal Air Force has since played a very important part in British military history, mainly in World War II with the Battle of Britain.

During the Cold War, the RAF defended Europe against a potential attack by the Soviet Union, which included maintaining the British nuclear deterrence for decades. When the Cold War ended, the Royal Air Force participated in other major operations, such as the Gulf War, the Kosovo War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Breitling and Aviation

Precision timing has always been crucial in aviation, and Breitling have risen to the occasion.

The luxury watch brand was founded in 1884 in the Swiss Jura by Léon Breitling and eventually became popular among pilots. This was due to the varied breakthroughs Breitling made early on, such as creating the first chronograph that separated the stop, start and reset functions, which was useful in adding up flight times.

The watches crafted by Breitling are usually influenced by diving or aviation, and their styling is typically embodied in polished cases and large watch faces to facilitate readability – ideal for divers and pilots.

Breitling added a circular slide rule to the bezel of their chronograph models in the 1940s, which then became the first Navitimer model. In 1961, astronaut Scott Carpenter asked the Swiss brand to incorporate a 24-hour dial instead of 12-hour, as there is no day and night in space. The resulting watch was worn by Carpenter during his 1962 space flight.

The Breitling brand was bought by Ernst Schneider in 1979 and was owned by the Schneider family until 2017, when Ernst’s son, Theodore Schneider, sold the majority stake of the company to CVC Capital Partners.

In 2009, Breitling developed the first in-house self-winding, column wheel chronograph movement, the B01, used in models such as the Chronomat 01 and the Navitimer 01. Among several other complications, most models possess an automatic winding mechanism with no electronic components.

Breitling and the RAF

2018 marks 100 years since the inception of the RAF – the world’s oldest independent air force – and Breitling could not let this milestone pass without celebrating it in style. The watchmaker released a collection of limited-edition RAF timepieces, marking the first time that such a range was made available to the public. Part of the proceedings was dedicated to reaching the goals of the RAF100 Appeal, a venture that aims to commemorate the achievements of the RAF family and create a lasting legacy.

But how did this fantastic partnership start?

As flights became longer and accurate calculations of distance and fuel became necessary, Breitling’s precision became crucial for aeroplanes.

In the 1930s, Breitling began to produce onboard chronographs for aeroplanes and one of their main customers was the Royal Air Force. The chronographs were added to many of the bombers that later played a significant role in securing allied victory in WWII. As a result, the relationship between Breitling and the Royal Air Force grew stronger, and the Swiss watchmaker has since become a preferred supplier to the RAF.

US-based Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association – the world’s largest aviation community – chose the Navitimer as their preferred watch for pilots, which led Breitling to be called the ‘official supplier to the world of aviation’.

Watchmaking was crucial to the development of the aircraft, and aviation has helped horology evolve. This relationship sparked unique creations and historic pieces that heavily influenced both industries this past century.

In the words of Gavin Murphy, MD at Breitling UK, “aviation and Breitling go hand in hand; for over 130 years, creating the world’s most precise chronographs and pioneering aviation firsts have been our passion”.

Strong Values

The RAF and Breitling also share commendable values. Both believe in striving for excellence, in doing what’s right and in being respectful of others. In the Royal Air Force, these values shine through everything they do, be it at training or on a real mission where lives are at stake.

For Breitling, these values lie in manufacturing practical high-quality timepieces as well as in doing their part for the planet. After all, Breitling’s connection to the ocean doesn’t lie only in its watches for divers. On the contrary, the brand also firmly believes in helping the planet, especially the oceans.

Georges Kern, Breitling’s CEO, applauds Ocean Conservancy and the work the organisation has done since its inception in 1972. According to Kern, “our ocean is at risk. Everyone knows it, but the problem sometimes seems so overwhelming that we feel powerless to do anything. Breitling, together with Ocean Conservancy, wants to make it clear that each one of us can play a part – not only for ourselves but for future generations.”

Breitling at Banks Lyon

Breitling have become synonymous with aviation, and their timepieces are associated with precision, reliability, durability and technical achievement. Their dedication to high-performance timepieces, from their chronograph complications to their innovative movements, have allowed them to stand out in the horology world with stunning ranges such as the Navitimer and the Superocean.

We stock Breitling watches at our Lancaster store if you’re interested in having a closer look at one of these timeless pieces. With a Breitling watch, you can be confident that you are investing in a timepiece that you’ll treasure for many years to come.