Breitling‘s involvement with the AOPA dates back over 70 years when Willy Breitling created a novel chronograph concept for the association’s members. The AOPA was (and still is) the world’s largest pilots’ club, with practically every US aviator among its membership.
Willy Breitling invented a wristwatch in 1952 that allowed pilots to conduct all necessary flying calculations. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) chose his design as its official timepiece two years later. Their collaboration resulted in the production of one of the most iconic watches of all time, the Navitimer, which included the AOPA emblem at 12 o’clock in its original form.
His concept was for a cutting-edge wrist-worn gadget that would allow pilots to make forward-thinking flying calculations including average speed, distance flown, fuel consumption, and rate of ascent. This early response to the onboard computer was made possible by including Breitling’s patented circular slide rule included into the revolving bezel of the watch. The term “Navitimer” was brilliantly concocted from the words “navigation” and “timer.” The watch was an instant hit when it was introduced to AOPA members in 1954.
The historic partnership
Breitling’s name or emblem were nowhere to be found on the dial of this first Navitimer, which was “fully conceived and constructed to AOPA criteria.” Instead, the AOPA logo was prominently displayed at 12 o’clock.
The Navitimer would remain the watch of choice for military and civilian pilots throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962, astronaut Scott Carpenter wore a specially adapted Navitimer in space. The Navitimer’s uncompromising appearance and functionality drew in more than just aviators.
The watch, which featured an unsigned version of the AOPA emblem, was popular among celebrities of the time, including Miles Davis, Serge Gainsbourg, and Formula One winners Jim Clark and Graham Hill, when it was released on the open market in 1955.
Vintage variants and limited-edition tributes that use the association’s logo are among the most sought-after collectors’ artifacts today. The former “official watch of the AOPA” has evolved into a cultural phenomenon, and the Navitimer’s history will continue to shape its destiny.
Breitling and the pilots’ group have remained close partners over the years, collaborating on aviation events and programmes to assist budding pilots. The Breitling Aviation Scholarship is the first of several planned collaborations to commemorate the watch’s 70th anniversary, which will be celebrated in 2022.
Stay tuned for important news on how these two historic organisations will once again come together to honour their shared legacy in the renowned pilots’ watch as that date approaches!