We’ve featured a lot of iconic timepieces on Fratello Watches, both new and old, including divers, dress watches, chronographs, and others. We obviously go into great depth on a near weekly basis on Omega’s legendary chronograph, the Speedmaster and since I’ve joined the fray, I’ve tried to touch upon most of the key chronographs. So, the other day, while I was playing around in our archives, it came as a surprise to me that we had yet to cover one of the most epic chronographs created: the Breitling Navitimer 806. Today, on #TBT, we’ll endeavor to right that error, though, as I’m going to talk about such a watch.
We certainly mentioned the Breitling Navitimer 806 in this Summer’s “Breitling Experts” article, but I really felt that it deserved a chapter in our #TBT series of articles. The Navitimer, introduced in 1954, is still with us today, albeit in an automatic form. It predates legendary chronographs such as the aforementioned Speedmaster, the Rolex Daytona, and the (TAG) Heuer Carrera. It’s not older than Universal Geneve’s Compax, but it has most certainly outlived this collectible piece. So, yes, the Navitimer deserves an article, but today I’ll discuss a rather specific and unusual “Navi”: the rare 1964/1965 transitional model.
To put this Breitling Navitimer 806 into perspective, first a little history is in order. The Navitimer was introduced in 1954 and aside from some very rare early Valjoux 72 models, the piece was normally equipped with the equally excellent 17-jewel Venus 178 until the 806 rode off into the sunset in 1972-1973. This is interesting as the Venus 178 ceased production in 1966; Breitling had clearly stockpiled a lot of movements! The Navi was produced in stainless steel, gold, and gold plated editions. It received its name, famously, due to its incorporation of a working slide rule bezel (taken from the earlier Chronomat) for use by pilots. In some examples, many were adorned with the wings of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) as they were offered to members. This model contains what looks like an AOPA logo, but it’s not because there’s no writing inside and “Breitling” is on the dial. Interestingly, this applied logo was replaced by the “twin plane” logo in 1965.
The thing to realize when it comes to the Breitling Navitimer 806, is that there were a lot of variations. I can only say that Speedmasters come close in the difficulty of finding an unmolested one, but they are out there! More on that later… In general, the safe thing to assume with Navis is that prior to 1965, they were “all black” dials and contained “beaded” bezels. Post 1965, the Navi moved to a reverse panda configuration and also a bezel with straight cut or serrated ridges. I won’t even attempt to get into the differences in slide rules throughout the years, sub register diameters, or dial variations, but there were loads…and all are specific to the right year, etc. An interesting “blip” occurred in the late 1964/early 1965 timeframe when Breitling was switching from the “all blacks” with beaded bezels to reverse pandas with straight cut bezels; Breitling produced a transitional piece with a reverse panda dial and a beaded bezel. This is what you’re looking at on this page.
Well, why did I want a Navitimer? As I mentioned early on, it’s a cornerstone piece and one that I lacked, but I really had no idea of where to focus due to the vast number of variations. Well, I did some searching and I found my answer – or so I had thought. I actually started out looking for a nice 1965 Navitimer with the straight cut bezel, as it was famously worn by Jim Clark and likely by Miles Davis. I like my motorsports-related pieces, so this appealed to me. But after a couple months of relentless searching, all was in vain because everything I found had something wrong with it or was in rough shape. Then, in a chat with @rene_jk, he let me know that he had a very interesting piece for sale that could be of interest. So, I scrapped the idea of the “Clark” and this is how I ended up with this Breitling Navitimer 806. (As an aside, if you check out Rene’s site, you’ll see that he has some pieces for sale – my transaction was fantastic.) I only had to wait for the watch’s arrival.
I still remember receiving the watch and I was really amazed by the size! The Breitling Navitimer 806 comes in at a whopping ~41mm in diameter and has a 22mm lug width; it’s a big one! Aside from the size, the other thing that hit me immediately was all the dial detail. If you’ve read my other articles, then you know that I preach, almost incessantly, about my attraction to simplicity. Well, the Navi is anti-simple. There’s a lot going on, but in a strange way, it’s so complicated looking that it’s cool. No, I’ll strike that; it’s nerdy cool! I mean seriously, an old school slide rule built into a watch? Yes, somehow, in the same way that Breitling managed to produce a perfect, in my opinion, simple chronograph in the 765 CP, they managed to do the same in an extremely complicated form on the 806. And while I have no idea how to use a slide rule, I don’t really care because I really like looking at it.
Dial details really abound. Aside from the outer slide rule ring in white, there are two concentric black slide rule rings inside. It’s not until you get past these three rings that one actually gets to the normal timekeeping area. The Breitling Navitimer 806 is laid out with three registers and they provide some great topographical balance to the large, flat remainder of the dial. In a macro I took, you can see the depth and detail of these sub registers. Plus, you have great dial font all around – font that still lives on in some modern Breitlings – and a very sharp applied gold Navitimer logo.