When Andrew Michaels asked me to review the Navitimer 01 Limited Edition I was guilty of being no more excited about getting my hands on this very rare and collectable watch than any other high end wrist watch. That is to say that I was, of course, excited but not to the extent that I would have been if I had realised what I was actually being lent to produce this review. I confess I was a little naive when the Navitimer 01 was announced.
I was incredibly interested at the news, last year, that a Limited Edition Navitimer was going to be released with Breitling’s new in-house movement, the Calibre 01, but was, ultimately, a little disappointed when I first saw the press photos of the Navitimer 01 and heard the recommended retail price of £6000. I was left thinking “Is that it?”. The most important movement in Breitling’s long and illustrious history and they take a standard Navitimer and change the seconds hand and date display colours. However, I now sit here with this extraordinary wrist watch and I realise I was totally wrong and, as usual, Breitling were absolutely spot on with the design of this Limited Edition timepiece. I do actually now feel a little bit of pressure as I realise I may not be able to convey just how special the Navitimer 01 is.
The immediate realisation is that this is something special. A sense of something that has been designed for the type of person who is aware of their achievements in life. Someone who takes great inner pride in their successful choices. No need to shout about it. No need to have everyone else know about it. Their satisfaction comes from finally arriving at this privileged and deserved destination. A position that few encounter and that the big decisions in life have lead them to. Now, safe in this well versed knowledge and armed with confidence and wisdom, they are able to revel in one of the true timeless luxury items this position allows.
The Navitimer 01 is a fairly discrete watch. Given a brief glimpse most watch fans could guess it was the iconic Navitimer you were wearing and you would receive admiring glances, maybe the odd complementary comment, for that reason alone. Not many would realise that you are the fortunate owner of the much covetable and collectable Navitimer 01, with the class leading Calibre 01 ticking away beneath. What are the chances of them spotting the applied Breitling logo and the red chronograph seconds hand? The only two barely visible design elements that give away the fact that this is something to cherish. Something very unique. This is the kind of watch that would gain you incredible respect when that rare occasion of a fellow watch fanatic spots what you are actually wearing. They’ll respect you for your taste and, no doubt, will be in awe of the fact that you possess the knowledge and understanding of high quality, technologically advanced and iconic timepieces.
Even as professional and fantastic as they were the original press release pictures (see below) didn’t capture the true beauty and class of the Navitimer 01, so my amateur pictures have got no chance.
What you do miss on simply viewing the press pictures is the amazing contrast between the hour markers and hands against the stark black dial. As these highly polished elements reflect the light they jump right out of the dial in some pseudo three dimensional effect that is quite simply stunning and a true reflection of the quality of finish on the components. Even this amazing press picture doesn’t come close.
So, just why were we expecting so much after the announcement of the Navitimer 01? The perfect marriage of brand new in-house chronograph movement with the oldest mechanical chronograph still in production. The Navitimer remains a part of Breitling’s catalogue not because they are in any way lazy and cannot be bothered to design a replacement but because the Navitimer, justifiably, continues to sell and can easily be considered as their flagship, representative wrist watch. An icon in the true sense of the word. The Navitimer carries with it tremendous heritage. I really like the fact that the Navitimer 01 represents Breitlings illustrious history and their manufacture status future. A representation of two major milestones and a true reflection of their past and present aspirations:
There is very little doubt in my mind that when Leon Breitling introduced the Navitimer in 1952 he had no idea that he was on the verge of creating an iconic classic. Indeed it took Breitling three years, until 1955, to officially register the Navitimer. Up to this point it had received no official publicity. However, word of mouth soon created a demand for this incredibly useful timepiece. A timepiece that would represent and reflect Breitlings aspirations to this very day, nearly 60 years later. However, all he was trying to do was simply provide a wrist instrument that performed a specific set of functions for pilots and aviation fanatics around the world. These functions are no more prominent than the slide rule bezel. A tool that, using the bezel of the Navitimer, allowed the user, in the early 1950s, to perform all calculations required for airborne navigation. A wrist worn computer, if you like.
Please see my description on each of these functions at
Of course, today Pilots have real computers to perform these life saving tasks for them but the Navitmer’s slide rule still remains a useful feature. In fact, I use mine for such whimsical calculations as transposing KmPH to MPH during the motorcycling TV productions to useful functions such as setting it to read off a currency conversion for any country I visit.
The Navitimer was an immediate hit and soon became the official watch of the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) the largest body of professional and amateur pilots in the world. It has been in continuous production since 1952 and is the oldest Chronograph in history. There is simply nothing out there that can compete with its unique looks and functionality and yet still possess incredible legibility and ease of use. Easily the most important timepiece Breitling has ever created and the perfect vehicle for the new in-house Calibre 01 movement. An absolute timeless and classic wrist instrument that is instantly recognised and revered across the planet. Since the original 806 model was introduced nearly 60 years ago the Navitimer has remained unchanged in design and principle, and rightly so.
The Navitimer later proved its position as the world’s leading aviation timepiece when it was worn by Scott Carpenter (albeit in 24 hour dial form, aka the Cosmonaute) on board the Aurora 7 capsule in 1962, making it, allegedly, the first wrist worn chronograph in Space.
Couple this amazing timepiece with Breitling’s first in-house movement and it seems the perfect marriage was destined.
The movement of the Navitimer is given away in its name: The brand new in-house Calibre 01. For a history and full technical review of this incredible new chronograph movement, designed, developed and constructed entirely by Breitling please see my blog at
However, as a brief introduction I will say that this movement surpassed all expectations that both Breitling themselves and fans of the brand had. Totally in-house (manufacture) chronographs rare, due to their complexity. However, Breitling had the foresight and experience to make the Calibre 01 accurate enough to pass all COSC testing (as per the entire catalogue of Breitlings), user friendly (with very well thought out features such as 70 hours power reserve, quick set date at any time of the day and column wheel chronograph) and also an industry first manufacturing and assembly process that allows them to produce large volumes of high quality movements.
I found this particular example to be very accurate and the manual winding (when required) was as smooth as I had witnessed. Then, of course, you have the amazing view of this class leading chronograph movement through the sapphire glass exhibition case back:
So, why my sudden change of heart? Why do I now believe that Breitling have managed to do both of these amazing designs proud? The perfect amalgamation of fuselage and engine. The perfect combination of watch design and movement? The most significant Breitling ever? A reflection of the heart (Calibre 01) and soul (aviation) of the brand?
As is the case with many luxury objects it wasn’t until I got to hold, wear and admire the Navitimer 01 in person that I truly appreciated it. The Navitimer 01 is exactly what a Breitling should be in my opinion. It is such an old adage “The pictures do not do it justice”. As I mentioned and highlighted above even the exceptional Breitling press pictures cannot reflect the true beauty and craftsmanship of this wonderful timepiece.
Here are a few of my humble attempts. However, do yourself a favour: If you get the chance to try on and handle the Navitimer 01 then take it.
My first impressions upon opening the Bakelite box was “That’s actually really nice”. Then when I got a chance to handle it and flip it over to reveal the exhibition caseback I thought “Now, that is what this watch is all about”. However, it wasn’t until I was lucky enough to wear the watch on my wrist did I get a true feeling for it and realised that the dimensions, weight, feel, materials, design elements and finish were all meticulously thought out and realised. I can honestly say that the Navitimer 01 is the perfect showcase for the amazing Calibre 01.
You could understand if Breitling had created some over-designed showcase for the 01 Calibre. It must have been tempting to create something that shouted to the world “Hey, look here, in-house chronograph movement, how about that then?”. Fortunately, Breitling realised that the Navitimer has remained a popular wrist watch for nearly 60 years because it is a wonderful design that seems to be able to convey so much information with so little fuss. The little design touches added to this Limited Edition Navitimer are merely there for the lucky owner to be reminded, if need be, that they own something truly special. I believe that it is the understated cool of this classic and timeless design coupled with the state-of-the-art technology that makes it such a refreshing change in this horological world of uber-designed watches that just seem to be trying too hard.
Here are a few of the features and design elements that make up the desirable whole:
Breitling timepieces with sapphire case backs are a rarity. Indeed they can be counted on one hand. The 01 Calibre is such a fantastic looking movement that it almost demands this voyeuristic feature. I also love the whole design of the caseback. The rounded edges. The classic font type. Very classy. One of the best looking case backs ever in my opinion.
As mentioned above the hands and indices have been beautifully polished to a mirror-like finish. This allows the dial to be as multifaceted as a disco ball.
I was a little concerned when I first saw the press pictures of the Limited Edition number engraved on the side of the case. However, in reality this is very discrete and I do appreciate that there is a lack of real estate on an exhibition case back such as this, which is the perfect size to view the Calibre 01 movement.
Another nice addition over the standard Navitimer is the applied Breitling logo in 18ct white or red gold. Just another subtle indication that this timepiece is special.
I love the art-deco influenced monochromatic dial of this Navitimer. Not only is it very aesthetically pleasing and well balanced but it aids legibility. The dial is produced using the sophisticated technique of epargne on a solid silver or gold base. The red chronograph hand adds the right amount of colour and contrasts wonderfully against the black and silver as it glides round the dial.
The burgundy date display is very classy. However, it does look black most of the time and, as mentioned below, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have preferred it in the same bright red of the seconds hand. Catch it in the right light and it is aesthetically pleasing though.
The black leather strap with white stitching on this example is just one of the strap bracelet combinations available. The others are black crocodile with white stitching, for even more class, and the outrageous Air Racer bracelet. As much as I love the Air Racer bracelet I’m not sure it fits in with the concept of this discrete classic. However, if you do wish to add a little more of an attraction to the Navitimer 01 then this is the perfect way to do it.
The lume is suitably applied. That is to say that the time is perfectly legible with the minimum amount applied to the hour and minute hands as well as the tips of the hour markers. As with all Breitlings I have witnessed after lights out it is very bright and will last throughout the night.
Other highlights include the increase in diameter to 43mm, from the standard model’s 41.8mm, the cambered sapphire crystal which has been glareproofed on both sides and the iconic rotating bezel with integrated slide rule calculator.
Given the opportunity I would have designed a few things differently, although I am not complaining because Breitling have got so much right with the Navitimer 01. First of all I would have made the seconds hand, slide rule details and date display the same colour throughout. In isolation they all work perfectly but together on the same 35mm dial I think there is a little mis-match.
Secondly, I would not have placed the Limited Edition number on the side of the case. It does not fit in with the discrete nature of this timepiece in my opinion. Next, I would have used Arabic numbers instead of the applied indices. Aesthetically, I actually prefer the indices but I think there is a great opportunity here to revert to the original dial design, which would give a historical interest and relevance to the dial. I do realise that these are purely subjective opinions.
Also, I would have swapped the buckle on the leather band to a folding clasp. I believe those people entertaining the idea of buying a Navitimer 01 would not have been put off by the extra cost over the buckle option and would have been rewarded with a much easier way to remove and re-adorn the watch after having had another admiring look at the exhibition case back and its stunning view of the in-house movement. My final point is aimed at the B01 movement itself. The 70 hour power reserve is something to be applauded and proud of. I would never add a power reserve indicator to the dial of the Navitimer 01 because it does not fit at all. I also believe this would not suit the B01 as well. However, adding an indicator to the movement itself, seen through the Sapphire case back, would be special. I do appreciate that the catalogue versions of the B01 and Navitimer 01 will not have exhibition case backs so this may not be logistically and financially viable.
Fear not, if you are not one of the lucky 2000 who get to own one of these stainless steel, or the 200 red gold, Limited Editions of the Navitimer 01 because Breitling have announced that they will be releasing a standard version into their catalogue which should be available from Spring 2011. Rumour has it that there will be no exhibition case back on the catalogue versions though, which is a crying shame in my opinion.
In conclusion, I think the Limited Edition Navitimer 01 hits all the right notes:
Sorry about that. Now you know why I felt under pressure to convey the true beauty and wonderment of this incredibly desirable, significant, understated, elegant, state-of-the-art, classy, perfectly formed and collectable timepiece.
As always I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Andrew Michaels Jewellers for lending me this Navitimer 01.
All words and pictures by Richard Atkins and Breitling (unless otherwise stated). Please ask if you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article.