Buying Guide: The Best Breitling Watches From The 1960s
We like to talk about vintage watches a lot within the Fratello team. While the daily routine is largely focused on the most recent developments in the world of watches, the most fun for many of us lies in the world of vintage watches. It’s a world full of history, remarkable watches, incredible stories, and quirky details. This week we will be looking at some of the best Breitling watches from the 1960s.
In the 1960s, we witnessed developments that challenged the status quo of watch design forever. While the 1950s introduced the sports watches next to the dressier timepieces people were used to, the 1960s took that trope to the extreme. The sheer amount of watches that pushed the visual boundaries of what was known and accepted was enormous. On top of that, we also saw great technical developments with the race to produce the first automatic chronograph as the most significant of the decade.
Breitling in the 1960s
Breitling was very much part of that race to develop the first automatic chronograph movement. The brand teamed up in 1965 with Büren, Dubois-Depraz, and Heuer to form The Chronomatic/Project 99 Consortium that released its Calibre 11 to the world in 1969. But that happened just before the end of the decade, and it would be too easy to focus on that solely because there is so much more to enjoy.
Some models have become as iconic as the originals from the 1950s.
I have to give our own resident Breitling expert Mike credit because he wrote a great article on vintage Breitling watches back in 2015 interviewing two vintage Breitling experts. In it, they cover a lot more vintage pieces than I could even do in this article. So please check out Mike’s article and find out about some of the world’s most iconic chronographs and some iconic diving watches. In the article, you will find the best Breitling models from over the decades — and find out how much prices have increased in a little over five years.
What stands out is that Breitling continued putting out great watches that were successors to some of the great pieces from the 1950s. As I said in my article about the best Breitling watches from the 1950s, the brand introduced some of the greats in the fifties that defined how we look at watches today. In the 1960s, Breitling capitalized on that by updating some of the models introduced a decade earlier. So you will still see the Navitimer, the AVI ref. 765 and updated Superocean models. But as we will find out, some of them have become as iconic as the originals. So let’s dive in.
The entry-point — Breitling Navitimer Chrono-matic ref. 1806
Let’s start this list with something extravagant. The Breitling Navitimer Chrono-matic ref. 1806 is not a watch for people looking for something elegant that slides easily under your cuff. When you wear this watch, people will notice. It’s most likely also the reason why prices have not skyrocketed like for some of the other watches on this list. This 48mm(!) Navitimer Chrono-Matic ref. 1806 combines all the functionalities of the Navitimer that was introduced in 1954 with the convenience of the automatic Calibre 11 movement that was introduced in 1969.
It features the iconic six-sided case known as the “pizza” case.
The Navitimer Chrono-Matic ref. 1806 was the first self-winding Navitimer that Breitling released. It features the iconic six-sided case known as the “pizza” case or the “fried egg.” Breitling used that specific case for a series of different models like the Navitimer, Chronomat, and the Cosmonaute. As soon as Breitling knew the dimensions of the Caliber 11 movement in 1966, the brand had different shaped cases produced that were used for both the hand-wound and automatic models. The first time we saw the “pizza” case was in 1967 for the hand-winding versions with the Venus 178 movement. So the case was already in use two years before the models with the Calibre 11 movement were released.
When the Navitimer Chrono-Matic ref. 1806 came out it was powered by the automatic Calibre 11 movement that had an operating frequency of 19,800vph with a power reserve of 42 hours. For the later models, Breitling switched to the Calibre 12 that as the main difference, had a changed frequency of 21,600vph. One of the most remarkable features of the movement — and Breitling had to keep in mind in the development of the case — is the position of the crown at 9 o’clock. It’s something that definitely helps with the wearability of the 48mm case size.
The SuperOcean Chrono-Matic ref. 2105 is pure vintage gold.
Speaking of the hexagonal “Pizza” case, I have to mention the SuperOcean Chrono-Matic ref. 2105 you see in the second picture. Breitling released it around the same time as the Navitimer Chrono-Matic ref. 1806. Both are similar in that they use the same case and same movement. Obviously, the dial of the SuperOcean is a little more colorful. Personally, I like it a bit more than the Navitimer. Add the mesh bracelet, and this is pure vintage gold. But the watch is tough to find, and if you do, it’s going for big money.
That’s not the case with the Navitimer. You can find the Navitimer Chrono-Matic ref. 1806 fairly easy. And prices are relatively affordable, starting at roughly 2,5K, moving up to around 5K for one in better condition. The coolest, in my opinion, is the version with a black PVD case. Although more difficult to wear because it will scratch easily, it looks amazing and visually doesn’t look like the 48mm watch it actually is. Either way, the Navitimer Chrono-Matic ref. 1806 is an iconic Breitling and the perfect vintage watch if you can wear a 48mm watch.
My choice — Breitling Top Time ref. 810
The Breitling Top Time ref. 810 with the reversed panda dial is my favorite vintage Breitling. It is one of the cleanest and nice-looking chronographs that have ever been made. The watch was released in 1964 and is very nicely sized at just under 38mm, which was rather big on those days. But now, it’s the perfect size for a vintage chronograph to fit the wrists of many. The Top Time ref. 810 was powered by the famous hand-wound Venus 178 column-wheel chronograph movement. This movement is legendary and much loved by vintage Breitling collectors. It also powered the Navitimer, the AVI ref. 765 and the Premier ref. 765 amongst many other Breitling models.
The watch lost its characteristic chamfered lugs.
As Mike explained in his in-depth article about the Top Time ref. 810, Breitling produced different versions of the watch. It started with the Mark 1.1 and the Mark 1.2 that featured the same case design with a different case back. The Mark 1.1 came with either a black dial with a reverse panda layout or a silver dial. The Mark 1.2 only came with a reverse panda dial. In 1967 Breitling introduced the Top Time ref. 810 Mark 2 that featured a different case. This case had the same round shape but was slightly bigger at 38.5mm and a bit flatter. The main difference, however, was the shape of the lugs. The watch lost its characteristic chamfered lugs, and the lug width also changed from 21mm to 19mm. On top of that, there are also slight dial variations, and Breitling changed the hands.
The Mark 1 has all the charm
With the release of the Mark 2, Breitling also introduced a true panda dial, and in the late 1960s, the brand introduced the Top Time re. 810 with red central seconds hand. Although the later models’ presence slightly changed, they are very much recognizable as the Top Time ref. 810. It’s always that really clean and incredibly well-designed chronograph that almost looks like the blueprint of the perfect chronograph. My personal favorite is, without a doubt, the Mark 1 with the reversed panda dial. The contrast of the black and white colors, that careful placement of the three subregisters, the beautiful chamfered lugs with their bigger lug width that makes room for a nice leather strap. It’s simply a stunningly designed and executed watch.
Hopefully, we will see a re-issue of the legendary ref. 810 soon.
Finding a Top Time ref. 810 is not really that difficult. There are always some on offer. Having said that, finding the one you want in good condition might take some time. So be prepared to invest time and money to be able to get your hands on one of Breitling’s finest watches ever made. Prices start at roughly 4K, but as you can imagine, the much sought-after Mark 1’s in good condition go for 5K and over.
Recently, Breitling re-introduced the Top Time name to the collection with the Top Time “Bow-Tie release.” As Ben and I mentioned in our Sunday Morning Showdown, hopefully, we will see a re-issue of the legendary ref. 810 soon. The start is there, now give the people what they really want!
Money is no object #1 — Breitling SuperOcean ref. 2005
This Breitling SuperOcean ref. 2005 needs to be on this list of remarkable Breitling watches from the 1960s. Over the years, I have connected with this watch because of its looks and its quirky character. Because of this rare combination of characteristics, the watch has become a vintage Breitling collectors’ favorite. What is it about this SuperOcean? I adore the black and white aesthetic of the SuperOcean ref. 2005. In every picture and every line-up, I keep coming back to its striking looks.
This chronograph diver is anything but a normal watch.
Breitling introduced the SuperOcean ref. 2005 in 1964 for the ever-growing group of diving enthusiasts. This chronograph diver, however, is anything but a normal watch. At 42mm, this watch was huge at the time of introduction. Was it space the designers at Breitling needed? Because as you can see, this is a chronograph without subregisters. On top of that, the central chronograph second hand was replaced with a single minute hand to measure time under the water. A rather clever move because who needs the often very slim chronograph seconds hand underwater? To make sure that was enough contrast when you were diving, the brand came up with the black and white dial and fat hands to make sure using the watch underwater was actually useful.
Upping the cool factor
As Tomas perfectly explained in his article on the SuperOcean ref. 2005, the watch looks like a simple three-hander instead of a chronograph. With the absence of a chronograph seconds hand, there is just a central minute hand moving slowly, giving the watch its SuperOcean “SlowMo “nickname. Taking out the chronograph seconds hand meant that Breitling had to modify the Venus 188 movement in-house and add a chronograph “status” aperture above the 6 o’clock hour marker. This oddball feature only adds to the quirky but oh-so-cool character of the watch. And as Tomas also mentioned, supposedly the Superocean ref. 2005 was also worn in a Bond movie by a supporting character. Apart from the conclusive evidence on that, do you need more proof this is one hell of a cool watch?
Its growing popularity has caused prices to increase to serious levels.
Finding a SuperOcean ref. 2005 has become increasingly hard over the last couple of years. And I suggest that you read Tomas’s article to find out about the different versions that Breitling made over the years. On top of that, the brand also made a version with a rather colorful yachting bezel. While that is quite rare, it’s not where the magic is for me. It’s in the black and white version, as shown in the pictures. Its growing popularity has caused prices to increase to serious levels. Prices for one start at roughly 10K and move up drastically for pieces in good condition. Sometimes they go for well over 15K. It’s a serious chunk of change. But what you get in return is definitely one of the most characterful watches that Breitling ever produced.
Money is no object #2 — Breitling ref. 765 CP “Jean-Claude Killy”
In the article where I covered the best Breitling watches from the 1950s, I picked the ref. 765 AVI as one of the most remarkable models of that decade. But the legacy of the ref. 765 goes on to well in the 1960s with several iconic models. One of the most famous is, without a doubt, the 765 AVI reverse-panda was seen worn by Raquel Welch in Fathom movie from 1967. While this could also be on this list as one of the most remarkable, my choice is the Breitling ref. 765 CP “Jean-Claude Killy.”
Compared to the original ref. 765 AVI, the name changed from AVI to CP (Co-Pilot), and the design was seriously updated over time. The watch got its nickname because it was seen on Jean-Claude Killy’s wrist in 1968 at the Grenoble Winter Olympics. A remarkable fact because we all know Killy as a Rolex man. His name is nowadays mostly associated with the Rolex Dato-Compax. But as Mike explained in his article about the ref. 765 CP “Jean-Claude Killy,” the Grenoble Winter Olympics took place before Killy became part of the famous Geneva Crown team.
Cool and quirky
The Breitling ref. 765 CP “Jean-Claude Killy” was produced from 1965-1967, and the 765 CP replaced the 765 AVI. It was the first time that Breitling used an anodized aluminum inlay bezel instead of the polished stainless steel bezel of previous generations. The watch is very much up to date with today’s standards when it comes to its dimensions. With a 41.5mm diameter case, 47mm lug to lug, a 22mm lug width, and a thickness of 14mm, this is still a watch that fits today’s standards.
Buying a ref. 765 CP “Jean-Claude Killy” is not a cheap adventure.
The watch was powered by the column wheel Venus 178 that also powered the Top Time ref. 810 I discussed earlier. Breitling modified the movement, however, to keep the quirky feature of the ref. 765. At the 3 o’clock position, the watch has a 15-minute register. As I explained in the article about Breitling watches from the fifties, the story goes that this special 15-minute counter was intended for pilots to keep track of the 15 minutes needed for warming up the plane’s engine and doing the necessary technical checks before taking off. While it’s a quirky little detail, this ref. 765 still looks incredibly cool.
Buying a ref. 765 CP “Jean-Claude Killy” is not a cheap adventure. As the watches were only made for two years, there aren’t that many around. So you have to be patient and have rather deep pockets. Finding one under 10K is already a challenge, and more often, they fetch somewhere between 10-15K, which is a lot of money. But it also buys you a lot of cool.
Money is no object #3 — Breitling Navitimer ref. 806 “Reverse Panda”
While we are on the topic of cool, no one understood the essence of cool better than Miles Davis. Davis is one of my all-time favorite jazz musicians, and his album Sketches of Spain is one of those albums that comes with me to a deserted island. And Miles Davis was one of the icons from the 1960s that famously wore a Breitling Navitimer ref. 806. But he wasn’t the only icon from the sixties that famously wore the Navitimer. As most of you will know, racing drivers Jim Clark and Graham Hill also wore their iconic Navitimer ref. 806 in the 1960s. That’s why this last spot on this list is reserved for the Navitimer ref. 806 “Reverse Panda” that came in a wide variety of executions.
This Navitimer graced the wrists of Miles Davis, Jim Clark, and Graham Hill.
Breitling famously introduced the Navitimer ref. 806 in 1954 with the “all black” dials, beaded bezels, and Valjoux 72 movements. Not long after introduction, Breitling switched to the Venus 178 movement that was the standard movement for the Navitimer until the ref. 806 was discontinued around 1972-1973. From 1965 on, the dial layout of the Navitimer changed to a reverse panda configuration. On top of that, Breitling also switched to a bezel with straight cut or serrated ridges. And it’s this Navitimer with the reverse panda dial and straight-cut bezel that graced the wrists of Miles Davis, Jim Clark, and Graham Hill.
Are you cool?
Having said that, the men did not all wear the same Navitimer ref. 806. Breitling produced a wide range of variants of the watch with differences in logos, slide rules, sub-registers diameters, and dial variations. There are way too many different variants to be able to discuss in this article. But I highly suggest that you read Mike’s article on his transitional Navitimer ref. 806, where he explains the legacy of the ref. 806 in greater detail. And even then, there is so much more to read about all the different Navitimers from that era.
Every single detail serves a purpose.
The Navitimer ref. 806 from the late 1960s is very much up to date with today’s specs. The watch features a 41mm case with a 22mm lug width. But despite its rather substantial size, the watch is very easy to wear. A big part of that comes from the fact that the crystal is rather flat and keeps the watch from becoming too thick and chunky. While the attraction of the Navitimer is a combination of things, the biggest star of the show is, without a doubt, the busy dial. But every detail on the dial serves a purpose. And that’s what makes the attraction even bigger and what makes the Navitimer the icon it is today.
If you would like to own a slice of cool, prepare to pay anywhere between roughly 5k and 10K for a steel Navitimer ref. 806 “Reverse Panda” from the late 1960s. It’s a serious amount of money, of course. But looking at what people are willing to pay for some of the icons from other brands, this iconic Navitimer is rather affordable. And the levels of cool are obviously infinite.
Breitling released an incredible number of great watches in the 1960s. We could easily make this a list of 10 or 15 watches. That’s why I will add some honorable mentions. If I left your favorite vintage Breitling from the sixties out, please understand that we have to make choices for these lists, and we can not cover all of your favorites. But feel free to comment on what your favorite Breitling from the 1960s is.
Other great vintage Breitling watches from the 1960s to check out are the Premier AOPA ref. 765, the famous cushion-shaped Top Time ref. 2111, the amazing duo of the Unitime ref. 2610 and the Unitime AVI ref. 1765.
And the list goes on, really. Who can forget the legendary Top Time “Thunderball” ref. 2002 that Sean Connery wore in the movie Thunderball with the Geiger counter as a helpful twist. And another two great vintage 1960s Breitling watches are the Cosmonaute ref. 809 and the Chronomat ref. 0818. It shows that Breitling was one of the most prominent brands in the 1960s, releasing a stunning amount of industry classics.
When it comes to Breitling, you must get familiar with the history of the different models. You will find a lot of different executions of the same watch. The most common differences are dial executions and different logos that are used. Next to that, you have to keep in mind that many of the vintage pieces were serviced over the decades, and parts have been replaced. And lastly, you have to be aware of many fake and Franken pieces out there.
A lot of this crucial historical info has been well documented by collectors and available to read. Breitling The Book by Hervé Genoud is a great source of information, as is Benno Richter’s Breitling The History of a Great Brand of Watches 1884 to the Present. On top of that, contacting vintage experts will help out greatly. It’s a great way to learn more about a watch and get to know some amazing people along the way. You will find a lot of info on breitlingsource.com, and you can visit the Timezone forum for Breitling here. On both, you will find a great number of Breitling collectors that can help you out. Another great resource on the history of the Navitimer is a Watchuseek forum thread that can be found here.
Next week, we will look at some of the best watches from King Seiko and Grand Seiko from the 1960s. In the meantime, let us know in the comment section what your favorite Breitling from the 1960s is.