Manual wind dress chronographs from the 1940s and 1950s are a special breed of class – like this 1940s Breitling two register chrono here – and bring a special charm to any formal occasion. Chronographs of this era don’t always age well, given most are base metal with stainless steel plating, and often the plating wears has worn off in the intervening seven or eight decades. But not on this Breitling, with its flawless case with zero plate loss.
During this era, chronographs were quite popular with aviators, as they allowed them to make rapid calculations and conduct precise timing. The demand for chronographs only grew along with the aviation industry in the early part of the 20th century. As the U.S. exploration of space initially involved solely test pilots, by order of President Dwight Eisenhower, chronographs were on the wrists of many early astronauts.
In the 1940s, Breitling added a circular slide rule to the bezel of their chronograph models – similar to the one on this Breitling – for use by aircraft pilots, which would go on to evolve into its famous Navitimer. In 1961, Scott Carpenter, one of the original astronauts in the Mercury Space Program, approached Breitling with the idea of incorporating a 24-hour dial instead of the normal 12-hour dial. This was needed because of the lack of day and night during space travel. Breitling complied, and produced the 24-hour Navitimer which Carpenter wore on his 1962 space flight.
Usage of these watches followed a similar trajectory for many fields that involved precise and repeated timing around increasingly more complicated high-performance machinery – automobile racing and naval submarine navigation being two prime examples, separate from space exploration. Accordingly, Breitling watches were, and remain, usually marketed towards either diving (SuperOcean) or aviation (Navitimer). Aviation models such as the Navitimer offer aviation functions largely as complications, since their function in aviation has largely been replaced by modern electronic instruments.
Breitling was founded in 1884, and was passed down through the Breitling family until the late 1970’s; historically, Breitling sourced its movements from outside supplies rather than make them in-house, to include Valjoux, ETA, and Venus, at least until 2009, when it developed its flagship B01.
The Breitling dial is set with metallic blue lume filled hands, lume filled Arabic numerals and droplets, and metallic blue chronograph and subdial hands; subdial feature a constantly running seconds complication at the six o'clock and a 30-minute chronograph complication at the 12. The dial shows a trace amount of patina that only contributes to the vintage beauty of this watch.
This Breitling comes with a leather strap, nylon NATO strap, Pelican travel case, and springbar tool.
1940's Breitling Manual Wind Chronograph
DIAL: Beautiful original silver Breitling dial, with original hour, minute, and chronograph hands.
CASE: Original 33mm (34.5mm w/crown) x 38mm case; as noted, plating remains flawless, with no wear evident anywhere on the case.
CRYSTAL: Domed acrylic crystal is scratch-free.
BAND: Light brown leather strap, with cream-colored accent stitching and stainless-steel hardware. This Breitling comes with a blue nylon NATO strap, also with premium stainless-steel hardware.
MOVEMENT: Manual wind 17-jewel mechanical movement.
CROWN: Original unsigned crown.
CHRONOGRAPH PUSHERS: Pushers depress with satisfying click. Chronograph hands snap back and reset to zero with no issue.