Opinion What Makes the Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re‑Edition Such a Cool Piece?

The Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re‑Edition is arguably one of the coolest reissues we've seen from any brand in years.
calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Tom Mulraney | ic_query_builder_black_24px 6 minute read

Everyone knows the Breitling Navitimer. Like, literally everyone. That’s because it has one of the most recognisable dial/bezel configurations in the business. That doesn’t mean it’s the easiest to read but it definitely stands out in a crowd. Launched in 1952, this legendary watch – designed specifically for pilots – has seen many, many variations over the years. Some admittedly better than others. The watch we’re looking at today, however, is not so much a variation as it is a recreation. And one that is incredibly faithful to the original. This is the Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re‑Edition, one of the coolest vintage-inspired watches we’ve seen from any brand in the last few years. 

It’s no secret that vintage watches are a hot commodity at the moment. Collectors and ‘investors’ – such a dirty word in the watch business – alike are shelling out big bucks for sought-after models. In turn, this has prompted industry executives to try and capitalise on the trend by creating ‘vintage-inspired’ models, with varying degrees of success. Some, like Bell & Ross, incorporate vintage elements when creating new models. Others, like Longines and Seiko, recreate popular models with modern-day updates. There is also a third, less-populous category; that of the vintage re-issue that is 100% true (or as close to as is possible) to the original.

It is to this last category that the Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re‑Edition belongs.

The Breitling Navitimer

Considered by many to be the quintessential mechanical pilot’s watch, the Navitimer made its debut in 1952. The name comes from combining the words “navigation” and “timer.” Not especially clever perhaps, but memorable nonetheless. It was an evolution of the Chronomat, which Breitling had brought out a decade earlier. Breitling wanted to build on the usefulness of the slide rule bezel introduced in the Chronomat. Little did it know this would become a hallmark of the now legendary Navitimer model.

Breitling Navitimer 1952 first generation 806
An example of the first Navitimer, with bead-of-rice bezel – circa. 1952

The first model to be commercially available was the Ref. 806, which was brought to market in 1952. Its dial was adorned with the “Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association” (AOPA) emblem. Several variations of the Ref. 806 would follow, including the 1959 edition that has inspired the watch we are looking at today. It’s no coincidence that Breitling has chosen to recreate this specific model, particularly given that it is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

The Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re‑Edition

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 Re-Edition was one of the most talked about watches at Baselworld 2019. It was arguably also one of the most unexpected. Especially the way Breitling has chosen to do it. For most brands, a re-issue introduces the temptation to make tweaks to the original design. Perhaps the case size is increased, or an automatic movement is used instead of a manual one, or the plexiglass is switched out for sapphire crystal. All understandable updates and often ones that are welcomed by the watch community.

With the Ref. 806 Re-Edition, however, Breitling has resisted that temptation. Instead, the company worked in collaboration with watch collector Fred Mandelbaum (@watchfred), who reportedly owns one of (if not the) largest private collections of vintage Breitling watches in the world. Company CEO, Georges Kern, brought Mandelbaum into the creative process over a year ago. The goal was to create a watch that was as true to the original as possible. One that would appeal to discerning collectors and vintage enthusiasts alike. And that is exactly what they have done.

At 40.9mm – including the beaded bezel – the steel case is the same size as the original, which must have been considered positively huge for its day. Even the bezel itself has exactly the same number of beads – 94 – as the 1959 version. A minor detail perhaps but historical accuracy is important with a faithful re-edition like this, particularly because not all versions of the Ref. 806 had the same number of beads around their respective bezels. Some had as many as 125 in the early 1950s, before subsequently going down to as few as 93 in 1960.

The real showstopper here though is the dial with an integrated slide rule. It is an exact recreation of the original, right down to the colour of the lume used. According to Breitling, this is not just another case of ‘fauxtina’ – the brand actually spent a lot of time trying to get a hue as close to authentic as possible. The only concession is that they’ve used Super-LumiNova instead of radium, like on the original. To be fair though, it’s now illegal to use radioactive radium on watch dials, for somewhat obvious reasons.

The all-black dial with tone-on-tone subdials is not only attractive, but it’s also relatively easy to read. I say relatively because this is still a Navitimer and it is still displaying a lot of information on the dial. Hours and minutes are shown centrally, along with chronograph seconds. Stopped minutes and hours are tracked on the sub-dials at 3 and 6 o’clock respectively, with running seconds shown at 9 o’clock. There’s no date display. Just below 12 o’clock is a Breitling inscription in capital letters and an unsigned winged logo. This particular logo was used for the European market, while the watches sold in the US had an AOPA-signed logo.

Protecting the dial is a piece of high-domed acrylic glass fashioned in exactly the same shape as the original. No sapphire glass here. In fact, the only real concession Breitling has made with the case is improving its water resistance to 30m. That’s still relatively low by modern standards of course, but reportedly anything higher would have required more intense modifications to the case. A big no-no. Same goes for the non-screw locked crown and solid snapped caseback.

Inside is the new Breitling Manufacture Calibre B09, a manual-wound movement developed specifically for this watch – but still based on the B01 architecture. Certified as a chronometer by the COSC, it features a column-wheel chronograph with vertical clutch, offering 1/4th of a second precision. Beating at 4 Hz, the power reserve is 70 hours when the movement is fully wound. The fact that Breitling has developed a hand-wound version of its in-house calibre specifically for this model shows just how committed Kern and Breitling are to creating authentic vintage re-editions. If Breitling’s Instagram page is anything to go by, there’s more to come.

Worn on a black vintage-inspired leather strap with a pin buckle, the Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re‑Edition will be limited to 1,959 pieces worldwide. Retail will be EUR 7,700 including taxes.

You have to take your hat off to Breitling, and to Kern specifically. Not only has he been listening to the brand’s customers but he’s also pulling out all the stops to give them exactly what they’re asking for. It would have been far easier to create a homage piece that used an existing movement, dial, etc. Instead, Breitling chose to dive into its archives, work with a passionate and knowledgeable collector and recreate something genuinely cool. I have no doubt all 1,959 pieces will sell out. This is a really great watch. It’s comfortable, it looks good, it’s reasonably priced and it has genuine appeal for collectors and enthusiasts alike. I just didn’t expect to be saying that about a Breitling watch.

More information at Breitling.com.

6 responses

  1. Real vintage watch collectors will still go for the real McCoy as in those pieces issued in 1959. It just doesn’t exude the real charm of vintage. The movement inside those vintage time pieces are really original to the true form. But for those who don’t want to miss out because of the rarity of the vintage pieces, will want to buy the re-issued from Breitling.

  2. This is definitely the best watch from Baselworld 2019. Breitling have really lifted their game recently. I also love the new Breitling Premier B01 Bentley racing green dial and the Pan Am/Swiss Air Navitimers.

  3. Do we have more detail about the B09? They do have already an hand-wound one as the B02 … so surprised they are “redeveloping” one from the B01 base, unless they are making the B09 more lookalike the old Venus which I doubt?

  4. B02 was a 24h variation of the B01 with the rotor removed, done in 2012.
    B09 is a basis for (hopefully) many new projects, so it was developed with new chrono bridges supporting multiple counter variations, new fine regulation, new chrono sweep activation and many more relatively minor modifications that will over time be phased in with other B01 variations.
    No, it isn’t a “Venus lookalike” 😉

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