It’s iconic. It’s complicated. It’s the Breitling Navitimer. Without a doubt, the Navitimer is Breitling’s flagship model. When you think of Breitling, an image of the circular slide rule bezel surrounding three subdials is the first thing likely to pop into your head.
My dad and I always talk about space and aviation. It’s been a staple topic of conversation since I was a little kid. Aerospace has been my dad’s passion since he was a child. Over many decades he’s passed that same interest on to me. Whenever I mention the Omega Speedmaster to him, my dad quickly reminds me (in the way dads do), “…you know? The Navitimer is the real space watch.”
There is an element of truth in that statement. Dads are usually right and modern marketing is not always consistent with history. Omega wasn’t the first to market watches with astronauts just as the United States space program didn’t start with a Moon landing. A vintage Breitling advertising campaign depicts the (at the time) larger-than-life NASA Astronaut Scott Carpenter. Scott Carpenter famously wore the Breitling Cosmonaut-Navitimer (24hr dial) on the NASA mission Mercury-Atlas 7 (May 24th, 1962). This took place seven years before the Moon landing.
Throughout many iterations since its commercial release in 1952, the Breitling Navitimer continues to retain most of its original design and functional elements. Is there a modern place for yesterday’s analog pilot’s tool in today’s upscale modern life? As a fashion item, sure, but what about as a useful tool? To assess the Navitimer B01 we will look at the watch with a critical eye, but we will also provide instructions for operating the watch’s slide rule bezel in order to focus on its often overlooked functionality as a tool.
Unlike most watches that I have the opportunity to review, I wore this one for almost a month straight to make sure that I got the full experience. I had this weird preconceived notion that I could never be a Navitimer Person, whatever the hell that is. After about two weeks, the Breitling Navitimer B01 felt fully integrated into my daily kit. I missed my Rolexes and Speedmasters, but it was clear to me why the Navitimer has remained a popular watch for decades.
Within the entire Breitling Navitimer line, my personal money would be on the “806” 1959 Re-Edition ($8,600), because of the vintage characteristics such as painted indices, hand-wound movement, beaded bezel, etc. If it’s someone else’s money to play with, the 1959 Edition in Platinum and blue ($39,900) would be superlative, because nothing defies constitution like a precious metal tool watch. But the B01 in hand for review was really a fantastic introduction into the Navitimer experience because there is a genuine connection that bridges modern watchmaking with an iconic representation of the past.
Any watch over 40mm sends my guard up. Will it feel too big? Are the proportions going to be OK? I’m pleased to say that the 43mm Navitimer that Breitling loaned me put my anxiety to rest. I’ll save you the “wears smaller” lines and simply point out that I have a 6.75” wrist that’s relatively flat across the top. It’s hard to imagine the larger 46mm version working for me, but the 43mm Navitimer fits great.
The Navitimer bezel sticks out like jagged teeth overhanging the case. The 43mm width is measured by the diameter of the bezel, not the case beneath it, and that’s key in understanding why this watch wears smaller. The action of the friction bezel is remarkably smooth compared to a dive watch, which tend to provide greater resistance in the bezel’s ratchet mechanism. The teeth on the Navitimer bezel are so pronounced that I actually scratched my son as he slid out of my arms while setting him down. Maybe this is not the best watch for child handling, but with aviation gloves on the bezel is easy to grip.
I’m a sucker for exposed pump pushers and crowns on chronographs. The pump pushers reinforce the nostalgic feeling of the Navitimer.
The entire Navitimer case is polished. After all, most traditional Breitling designs were quite shiny, and that continues to be a signature look of the brand. Luckily the black dial ate up a lot of the light, so it wasn’t overly shiny on wrist. Moving to the flanks of the Navitimer’s case, the lugs retain that high polish while sloping down at just the right angle for a comfortable fit.
The Navitimer’s caseback displays the Breitling B01 movement and reminds you that 3 Bars of water resistance means that the Navitimer is not a great choice for the pool. It’s actually a poor choice for any water activity. The crown does not screw down, and the rating just isn’t there. However, this watch was designed for use in thin atmospheres at very high altitudes, so pressurizing the case would have been pointless, difficult, and would likely have enlarged the watch to ridiculous proportions.
The Breitling Navitimer B01 features a domed (Breitling calls it cambered) sapphire crystal. I would describe the amount of camber as just enough to be visually interesting without causing too much distortion. The Navitimer crystal has anti-glare treatment on both sides. Breitling’s anti-glare treatment gives the glass a quick flash of magenta at a certain angle. Photographers love to show that little bit of color off on social media posts (I’m guilty). You won’t see a lot of lume photos due to the sparing amount Super-LumiNova on the Navitimer B01 dial, however. This is a watch intended to be used in bright light and with perfect eyesight.
The Navitimer that Breitling lent me for review came on a black calfskin leather strap with a tang-type buckle. The leather strap felt substantial between the Navitimer’s 22mm wide lugs. Breitling wisely chose a thick leather to back up the proportions of the 43mm Navitimer. The calfskin strap tapered from 22mm to 18mm at the buckle and was slightly padded. In the interest of full disclosure, I swapped the Breitling strap for a Barton Silicone Elite because I don’t care for leather. That is just a personal preference and does not take away from the high-quality Breitling leather strap. With the five options listed above, you can find something you’ll like, for sure.