2019 has been a big year for Breitling. With the Swiss luxury watchmaker, most renowned for its pilots’ watches, releasing new models in the Avenger, Aviator 8, SuperOcean, and Premier collections, the brand has undergone a refreshing year across all its collections, in a manner incredibly uncommon among manufacturers of its size. One of the most unexpected releases has been in the flagship Navitimer collection, with the release of the non-chronograph Automatic 41.
The original Navitimer was released in 1952 as an evolution of the 1942 Chronomat. This was the Navitimer 806 and it quickly became an icon in the pilot-watch category for its fascinating dial and slide-rule bezel. Since then, and especially in the modern era, the Navitimer has become a symbol of Breitling’s historical prestige in aviation. This newest model, the Automatic 41, works to carry on this legacy in a new and transformative format by moving the series away from its intense connection to the chronograph.
The new watch, as its name implies, is a 41-mm watch with an automatic caliber. The watch is available in two case variations, one in all steel with a choice of black, blue, or silver dials, and the other with a steel case and rose-gold bezel, which is available with either a silver or anthracite dial. The case style will be familiar to fans of the Navitimer, with its elongated lugs, sturdy signed crown, and, most importantly, a beaded bidirectional bezel controlling the famous slide-rule scale. This scale operates in a somewhat complicated fashion, but ultimately it’s purpose is to assist pilots in determining metric-to-standard conversions in order to measure fuel consumption, air speed, distance traveled, and other variables.
Deeper within the dial we find the rectangular applied hour markers tipped with Super-LumiNova, with a double marker at the 12 o’clock position and a date window at 6 o’clock. Toward the top of the face is the iconic Breitling logo, and toward the bottom is the script for “Chronometer” and “Navitimer” clearly announcing the model’s affiliation with the series. Sweeping over the dial are two sword hands for the hour and minute, complimented by a red arrow-tipped seconds hand with a Breitling “B” counterweight on all the color variations.
Inside this 2019 release is the Breitling Caliber 17, which is based on the automatic ETA 2824-2 and is capable of a 38-hour power reserve. Like all Breitling watches, this movement is calibrated and finished by the brand to achieve COSC chronometer certification. It is also protected by a simple Breitling engraved caseback. Depending on the specific model and material, the brand is currently marketing this new watch from $4,310 to $6,750 to be sold at Breitling boutiques worldwide.
While this modern watch has clear inspirations from the original Navitimer 806, the brand also echoes another vintage model, the Reference 66, which was a three-handed Navitimer released (and presumably discontinued) in the 1950s. Nonetheless, the Automatic 41 maintains recognizable elements of the series, including the beaded bi-directional bezel, the slide-rule scale, the general case shape, and the sword style of hands with the arrow tipped seconds hand.
Ultimately, the Automatic 41 is clearly a modern creation, and seems to be more of a modern riff on a contemporary Navitimer, rather than a directly inspired neo-vintage piece. This is, of course, evident in the fact that it is a three-hand piece rather than the more complicated chronograph, but also in more subtle ways, as in its use of applied hour markers rather than the vintage printed Arabic numerals. It is also seen in the obvious high-quality finishing and development for the piece, which are up to modern Breitling luxury standards rather than the more utilitarian format used in the past.
This newest model comes on the heels of last year’s 38-mm Navitimer, and demonstrates a continued commitment by Breitling to diversify its offerings in one of its most historically important series. Next year could very well yield a further diversification in this series, perhaps with a non-chronograph Navitimer GMT model, or with an even further turn toward the luxurious with an all-gold variation of the 41-mm or 38-mm three-hand watches. Breitling in recent years has demonstrated a willingness for evolution and change, and I’m excited to see where its collection is headed next.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first discovering horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.