In today’s installment of #TBT, we’ll talk about what I think is, hands down, one of the most perfect chronographs ever created, the Breitling 765 AOPA. In case you’re in denial, have been reading elsewhere or are blinded by the fact that the brand’s current offerings are far different (read: much larger) than its historic lineup, vintage Breitling offers a true treasure trove of goodies for the vintage chronograph collector. Well over a year ago, I compiled a lengthy interview with a couple Breitling experts and it ultimately covered but a fraction of the incredible models once offered by the aerospace-focused maker. Since that time, the brand has gained more and more respect amongst hardcore collectors, but the reality is that Breitlings still lag their counterparts – especially the very similar Heuer. Well, folks, wake up, clear the funk from your eyes and shake the water from your ears, the watch I’ll detail today is special – truly. Oh, and to provide a little of that jet setting, swingin’ 60’s style, I’ve thrown in some backgrounds of some classic spirits…enjoy – in moderation.
The Breitling 765 AOPA – Last of the Premiers
The Breitling 765 AOPA was produced from roughly 1964-1966 as part of the Premier line. In fact, this model – along with a white-dialed version and a similar dial but with “Breitling” in lieu of “AOPA” – marked the end of the Premier line. In Breitling Lexicon, Premiers were the top of the line and predated the famous navigational instruments, such as the Chronomat and Navitimer, by debuting in the late 1930’s. The name “Premier”, itself, found its way to the dial by the early 40’s. A view back to our Experts article will show you just some of the many, many models Breitling made under this moniker during the approximately 30 years that the Premiers were marketed. Previously overlooked by collectors because there were so many different models and perhaps because so many featured traditional dials, the Premiers have become quite popular. Why is that? As mentioned, Premiers were top rung pieces from Breitling and, therefore, featured spectacular casework, high-end movements and were often made in solid gold. Plus, when viewing early 40’s versions, you’re often duped into thinking that you’re viewing watches from a much later period. Credit case sizes often above the magic 36mm mark, high quality dial printing, and sporty features like tachymeter scales.
The Premiers Ahead of Their Time and Then Behind the Times
By the time the mid 1960’s came around, the watch world was in a state of flux. While this is pure hearsay, one could imagine that Breitling was forced to embrace a sportier, likely more budget conscious, culture and they were clearly looking ahead to quartz and, in the case of chronographs, automatic movements. Therefore, the more formal Premier, including the Breitling 765 AOPA, line was likely a slow seller due to higher costs (we’ll detail one source of expense, the amazing case, in a bit) and the fact that the brand offered some relatively similar, but more affordable, watches.
The Breitling 765 AOPA – Just One of Many Amazing 1960’s Chronographs by the Brand
Step outside the subject of this article, the Breitling 765 AOPA, for a moment and gaze at the picture above you. Consider the fact that one could have walked into a jeweler in 1965 and had their choice of the 765CP, the Top Time 810, and the 765 AOPA (well, maybe that was only available via mail order, but you get my drift). By the way, that doesn’t even take into account the Navitimer, Super Ocean and on and on. Back on task! Continue to look above and you can see the familial similarities in all three watches. The granddaddy of them all, the Premier, shares some traits with the other two watches that extends beyond the mutual employment of the Venus 178.
Let’s start with the more affordable newcomer line, the Top Time. The 765 Premier used a 38mm case and a bold 21mm lug width. The 810 followed through with a similar footprint. We recently featured a #TBT on the 810 and it is definitely a magical watch, but hear me out, it absolutely pales in comparison to the Breitling 765 AOPA. One look at this watch’s case finishing – its crazy chamfers and the machined in bezel ring around the crystal – tells you that the AOPA is simply made of a different style of sauce. Stylistically, reverse pandas are found on both as well as identical handsets, so there’s definitely a link.
There’s less of a visual relationship between the Breitling 765 AOPA and the big 765CP, but the fact that both are numerically related speaks to their pilot-use intentions. Still, both feature screw down casebacks, chevron-shaped lug chamfers and triangular lume plots at 3/6/9:00. A massive signed “B” crown not only looks great, but also makes gloved use feasible.
When Simple is Beautiful
Relationships aside, what makes the Breitling 765 AOPA so attractive to me is its striking simplicity. The lack of the Breitling name on the dial and the use of the winged AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) gives the watch an almost military look. The big, lumed Arabic numerals are additive to the theme and contrasted against a matte black dial, make for one seriously legible chronograph. White main hands and sub registers also help to brighten the overall look.
We’ve mentioned the case quality already on the Breitling 765 AOPA, but some details are worth repeating. Take a close look at the transition from the lugs to the perfectly domed acrylic crystal. That matte finished flat channel seen prior to the polished bezel ring really “breaks up” the watch visually. It’s an elegant move that was likely axed by the bean counters when the Top Time came along. The side view is nearly as interesting where brushed sides interplay with polished lug chamfers and a similarly mirrored case underside.
Even the case back is wonderfully detailed with the model number and the only evidence that, in fact, what we are viewing is actually a Breitling.
Seeing Before Buying
I first set eyes on the Breitling 765 AOPA at a dinner with @watchfred in December of 2016. This was a week or so after I’d taken delivery of one of his 810’s – a watch that I had desired for roughly a year – and so I was feeling pretty darn satisfied going into the meeting. Well, all bets were off when Fred pulled out this watch on its original tapered fine mesh steel bracelet. I was hooked, but it was also one of those watches that I really had no expectations of ever owning because they rarely show themselves for sale. Fast forward to a couple weeks ago and Fred shot me a note from @watchcontext, who was actually someone I’d chatted with in the past. Apparently, he was putting his AOPA up for sale, as it just wasn’t getting enough wrist time – the first world problems we all deal with in this game. 😉
I still wasn’t convinced though, as I knew that @watchcontext focuses only on pristine examples of whatever he buys and, therefore, the pricing on this Breitling 765 AOPA was likely to scare me away. As is often the case when two watch collectors speak though, a fair deal is reached. And so the Breitling made its way to me, via Robert-Jan as a courier, and I’ve spent a relatively odd amount of time staring at its details. The condition, as you can see, is absolutely magnificent and it looks nearly unworn.
You’ll also note that my “new” Breitling 765 AOPA sits on a mesh bracelet. Despite it being of the generic persuasion, the seller was kind enough to include it in the sale. Short of spending 4 figures on the original Breitling hardware, this provides about 95% of the desired effect. The polished straight bars and the matte-like finish of the fine mesh work so well with the watch’s case that a strap just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Plus, it allows the watch to go with about everything – except when I’m rocking a bright gold Hermes “H” belt (oh wait, no, I don’t own one of those).
Respect from the Market for Vintage Breitling
Market wise, it’s tough to say what a Breitling 765 AOPA should cost. There’s relatively little transactional history out there, but I’d say that $5,000 – 7,000 should land you a nice one for now. There’s likely not a big difference value-wise between the AOPA and Breitling signed versions, but I’d guess that the white-dialed versions fetch less. The positive with Breitlings is that the movement parts are out there – lots of Venus 178’s were made – and things like sub register hands, crowns, and pushers can be sourced with patience. The main hands are more problematic. Oh, and you do owe it to yourself to finding an example with a nice, sharp case. Finally, servicing shouldn’t be an issue.
So, now with the 765 CP occupying the top spot in my “rotating bezel” vintage chronograph collection, it’s funny that this Breitling 765 AOPA is at or near the top for the bezel-less species. Yes, it’s simply that good. As I stated before, if you’ve overlooked vintage Breitling, it’s a bit late in the game, but still more of a bargain than many other brands. Breitling made some epic vintage stuff and this piece is but just one of the many…