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. Before I settled on this piece, I can’t tell you how many times I contacted @watchfred to ask about the originality of a model that I’d proudly found, only to be told “uh, no”. 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.
This logo definitely stands out but not in a bad way. No, it tonally fits in with the aged lume on the hour markers and the rest of the font. The hands on the Navi are interesting because they’re rather dainty. I suppose that’s not unusual in comparison to other similarly aged chronographs, but they certainly differ from the bold hands of the 765. You’ll also note that they’re a nicely aged cream color with lume inside. The central chrono hand is distinctive with its arrow-shaped tip.
I mentioned that the Breitling Navitimer 806 has a large expanse for a dial. So, how is this dial protected from the elements? Of course, the watch has a crystal, but is it a big, domed affair? Actually, it’s a rather flat element that rises towards the middle. At its edges, it’s not quite flush with the bezel, but it’s close. I was really looking forward to seeing this in person and it is very different from anything else that I own. Most watches I own have thick domed crystals that are extremely rigid. This is not the case with the Navi and the crystal actually has a little give to it when pushing down on it. It actually squeaks a little like an old wooden floor. Character? Yes, in spades. Would I take it anywhere near water? Absolutely not!
The other thing I haven’t mentioned is the bezel. Look, the straight cut or ridged bezels are legendary on their own, but the opportunity to own a beaded bezel was just too irresistible to excuse. Look at this bezel: it’s gorgeous! The detail is so fine and well done that it truly doesn’t look 50 years old.
The rest of the case has some very traditional Breitling details. The lugs, for example, feature triangular chamfers that are still found on Navitimers today.
The snap-close case back on the Breitling Navitimer 806 has nice detail and shows the “script B” as well as the model number. When it comes to pushers, they’re of a purposeful size if not a bit small, but the brand came through in great style with a nice, big, signed winding crown.
Look, I have a nice group of chronographs and I truly try to rotate my pieces, but there are definitely a handful of watches that get more wrist-time than others. The Breitling Navitimer 806 is one of those lucky watches. It has such commanding presence, looks so good on the wrist, and is highly recognizable. The ultra slim bezel makes this watch look big – not cartoon big – but big in a very purposeful way. So far, I’ve yet to take this watch off of any one of a number of high quality leather NATO straps, but I do know that it would look amazing on everything from reptile to normal leather. It’s a watch that can be worn with any level of dress (the gold versions are ace dress watches in my view…kind of a calm decision to not fit in) but I love it with casual clothing. Oh, and despite its diameter, the watch is surprisingly slim in terms of thickness, so there are no issues of it fitting under a shirt cuff. Sorry to be blunt, but this watch is awesome.
So, as I said, finding a good vintage Breitling Navitimer 806 can be a bear. The positive is that there are usually several listed on eBay at any given time and some are actually decent. The most common issue I find is that the slide rule inserts are incorrect. You can imagine that water entry and general wear generally doesn’t help the aging process of these inserts, so many have been replaced. If they haven’t been replaced, they’re often heavily worn or look moldy like that 10-day old bread sitting on your countertop. Correct hands are another typical problem and then there’s the issue of relume of the hour markers. So, yes, it’s complex stuff, so ask on a Breitling forum before buying! A real positive is that things like crystals and movement parts are available and the Venus 178 is relatively easy to service. Regarding market value, Navitimers are waking up like the rest of the vintage chronograph market after a long, undeserved sleep. Prices are truly all over the map, but I’ll focus on the reverse panda models. The piece I own is pretty uncommon so it’s difficult to put a figure on it, but most 1965+ models seem to sell in the $4,000 – 5,000 range with rare deals still available below those figures. Like most good pieces, I expect that these will continue to climb.
There’s no question that the Navitimer is one of those watches that should be owned if one is trying to build a classic vintage chronograph collection. Despite what you may think of today’s Breitling offerings (a bit big, eh?), the Navitimer is deemed to be significant enough to the brand’s heritage that it still soldiers on and at least looks familiar to the pieces of yesterday. That incredible longevity, similar to that of the Speedmaster and Daytona, makes it a legendary watch worth noticing. The Breitling Navitimer 806 models are definitely my favorite “era” of this great piece combining big, bold size with a wealth of details. I really do think that if you’re the kind of person who likes older Speedmasters, this is a watch you’d love owning and wearing. Let us know if you agree! Until next week…
Thanks to @watchfred for his help on the history of the Navitimer.