#TBT My Breitling Grail Ref. 765 AVI “Lucy Digital”
There is something to any vintage watch, but the Breitling AVI ref. 765 “Lucy Digital” has it all. And I mean it. The size, the design, the movement, the twist, the originality, the legibility… and I could go on. It’s the ultimate vintage watch to own.
The analog Breitling AVI ref. 765 is quite a popular watch and not so easy to come by. No wonder it became the role model for a re-edition three years ago. Equally, it was no surprise that the release was quite a success. The 15-minute totalizer with lumed indexes is so unique, and the super-cute, tiny syringe hand is a detail that will make you melt.
Staying cool and waiting for a 765 AVI “Lucy Digital”
Despite everything I just said, I never wanted to pull the trigger on either the original or the reissue. The reason was pretty prosaic: I knew another ref. 765 was out there but with a major twist — a date window that is not a date window at all. To explain, 10 out of 10 people and maybe 99 out of 100 people think it is a blurry date hiding in the square window. Only after you press the chronograph’s start pusher and wait for 60 seconds do you realize it’s actually a 15-minute counter.
Let’s start with Lucy
There used to be petty disputes about which brand was the first to present a watch of this style to the French Air Force, with Breguet Type 20 fans fighting for primacy. While Breguet ultimately won the contract thanks to a flyback function, history is not only about fables and rumors, and there are dates to rely on. Breguet presented the Type 20 prototype in 1954 but didn’t start delivering it until 1959. Breitling not only presented the 765 AVI six years earlier in 1953 but also put it into production in April of that year. To end all the pointless discussions, the 765 AVI was nicknamed “Lucy,” like the remains of the earliest-known woman, the australopithecine dated to about 3.2 million years ago. To learn more about why Lucy was called Lucy, you can read my article on the Top 5 Unusual Watch Nicknames.
Analog vs. Digital
Since I learned that there was a Breitling 765 AVI Lucy Digital, the analog version always left me stone cold. I have seen it listed and offered online so many times, but not a single time did I even bother to look at the details. It seemed way too boring to me in comparison to the Lucy Digital. To catch the latter, however, is not so easy. There were only a couple of them that resurfaced in the last few years, and you want to be well educated on them before you decide to pull the trigger. You don’t want to end up with an incorrect bezel or hands.
Understanding Breitling 765 AVI Lucy Digital variations
Thanks to the precise archive work by Fred Mandelbaum, we know that there are four different Mks. Each one has a very specific setup, differing only in small details that might slip past the untrained eye.
Breitling 765 AVI Lucy Digital Mk1.1
In March 1953, the first 50 cases were assembled. This was just before Breitling moved its headquarters to Geneva, so the dials are “pre-Geneve.” The fully lumed chrono seconds hand is unique to this execution, and it is combined with the slim, lumed syringe hands that we also see on the Mk1.2.
Breitling 765 AVI Lucy Digital Mk1.2
This was manufactured between late 1953 and 1956 after Breitling had moved its headquarters to Geneva, so dials have the “Geneve” stamp. The richly lumed central chrono seconds hand was changed to a white hand with a teardrop-shaped lumed tip. As mentioned before, a correct Mk1.2 should have slim, lumed syringe-style hands for hours and minutes. The movements are marked “BOW” for US exports or carry no import code.
Breitling 765 AVI Lucy Digital Mk1.3 and Mk1.4
Mk1.3 was manufactured between 1956 and 1959, and its dials are marked “Geneve” too. The teardrop-shaped lumed chronograph seconds hand is combined with wider lumed syringe hands with a shorter “needle” on the hour hand. The movements are marked “WOG” for US exports, or they carry no import code.
And here comes Fred again, who helped me understand why my 765 Lucy Digital is a Mk1.4. The bezel on the Mk1.3 has 126 small beads, as do the Mk1.1 and Mk1.2. In 1960, Breitling fitted the 765 Lucy Digital with a similarly configured Mk1.4 bezel, but it “only” has 96 larger beads. There is a Lucy Digital listed on Chrono24 at the moment for a beefy €23K tag, but it’s fitted with a 765 Mk2 bezel. From the top, it might appear to be correct, but upon closer inspection of its coin edge, we see that it doesn’t belong to Lucy Digital at all. Be careful.
In love with the digital 15
Back to the design. Honestly, the idea of the digital minute counter blew my mind. I’ve always wondered why there weren’t more watches like that. I find reading a chronograph minute counter a bit tricky sometimes, especially if I don’t have much time or my attention needs to be somewhere else. For example, think of trying to read the elapsed time quickly while driving and keeping full attention on the traffic ahead. In such a situation, you will hardly find a more legible solution to ensure quick and precise time reading.
Best in class
Let’s dig deeper into why I claimed that the 765 Lucy Digital is the ultimate grail material. First of all, it’s the epic 40mm diameter for a watch from the mid-’50s. If you are used to strapping on decent 36mm vintage chronographs, you will see and feel the difference instantly. The sharp, beveled lugs give the watch a pretty contemporary and sporty look. The airy dial provides a lot of space for oversized Arabic numerals for the hours. Especially when aged into sandy yellow tones, the dial makes for spectacular visuals. It’s only the orange-brown rust that biting into the tips of the snow-white hands that reminds you that this is a 60-something-year-old watch.
If you’ve never worn a 765 AVI before, the bezel might come as a surprise too. Besides the individualistic font to mark the 12 hours, it is quite sensational to use. When you rotate it with your fingers, you can feel how it always jumps off the secured position and clicks into another one when it reaches the next hour. This is a small but important detail that you won’t find on your Heuer Autavia. Details that matter would also include tiny screws on the side of the bezel, which you want to be original. The same applies to the specific crown with an angled inner side to glide freely around the beaded bezel.
Successful strap exercise
I hate thick leather straps, and that’s what you often get when you order a strap that’s 22mm wide. Straps of that size also don’t taper much, and they often bother me on the wrist. After instantly falling in love with the smooth and thin strap that I got for my Gallet Filmeter, I approached Jan from Watchstrapheaven again. I asked if he still had that soft leather, but this time, I asked to add boxed stitching and make it a hair thicker.
At first, I was a bit surprised by the contrasting lining that Jan put on the inside, but very soon, I found it to be an amazing detail. Notice also that dramatic tapering is down to 15mm. I was unsure what it would look like, but I decided to go for it anyway. I feared it might look comical with the watch’s diameter and lug spacing, but the result is just perfect, both visually and practically. This strap is light and soft. It looks vintage, but apparently, the leather is fresh, and it looks original.
It took me five years to find the right Breitling 765 AVI Lucy Digital. It’s strange to say it aloud, but it kind of ended the vintage Breitling pursuit for me. I got a calming and satisfying feeling that the search came to an end. Now I feel that I got the best of the vintage Breitling watches out there, but we shall see how long that lasts… For now, I am so overwhelmed by this unique take on a chronograph, its majestic looks, and perfect wearability. Happy hunting!