I once had the misfortune of attending a Breitling-sponsored event only to realize I was the only person there not wearing one. Not mortified, but acutely and increasingly aware of my faux pas, I soon realized that, except for an Exospace or two and a Galactic, the stand-out watch on most people’s wrist was the Navitimer…in its many incarnations. A feast for the eyes, the Navitimer is Breitling’s most iconic watch. Created in 1952 as an aviator’s watch, the Navitimer’s circular slide-rule allowed pilots to calculate essential data like distance, rate and – via the chronograph – time. The 1884 celebrates a different milestone: the year commonly used to mark the company’s founding by Leon Breitling. With its densely-packed dial, chronograph complication and rotating bezel, the Navitimer lends its wearer the aura of cool competence associated with the pilots flying at the dawn of the commercial aviation era, where a good watch was essential kit. The only difficulty for admirers of the Navitimer is that, for a model with such a long and rich history, choosing one of the many variants is not at all a straightforward task. Breitling has been a vigorous issuer of special editions of its Navitimer and I lost count at 21, the number reported by Breitlingsource.com, who also stopped counting. Aviation history has no shortage of milestones to celebrate, and Breitling’s role (long before the Navitimer) is not a small one in that story. It makes sense for the company to honour the many milestones through the watch most frequently associated with aviation, the Navitimer.
But which one? The 125th Anniversary Edition; the AOPA edition; the recent Aurora Blue Limited Edition? If you are looking to add a Navitimer to your collection “spoiled for choice” is the happy predicament you’ll find yourself in. After wearing the 1884 edition for a week, I want to make a case for why this particular limited edition should be on your short list. With Navitimers, it’s all about the dial. Iconic and unmistakable, the dial has a lot of work to do and is consequently very busy. In its normal form, the Navitimer not only tells the time and date, it also contains the chronograph’s minute and hour-tracking subdials. With the slide rule functions – the watch’s original and still main attraction – the Navitimer’s dial and bezel allow for complex distance, rate, and mathematical calculations to be performed without the aid of a calculator or, in the case of the original versions, pencil and paper. The 1884 edition ups the game by adding a calendar as well as a day/night indicator. Standard-issue Navitimers usually come with a contrasting colour scheme for the subdials and outside slide rule track but the 1884 stands out by not standing out. Its subdials and outside track match the black dial in a monochromatic black and silver colour palette. Restrained and sophisticated, with contrasting and sparingly used red accents, this Navitimer feels less like a tool watch and more like a serious piece of boardroom kit than its non-limited cousins. Refinement is the goal as much as copious utility.
To make something this complex both legible and beautiful, Breitling uses a complex par epargne (literally: saved) method to produce the dial. First, a solid brass plate receives a layer of silver or gold plating. Next, the dial’s detailed indices are cut into the dial and filled with enamel. A third step adds a layer of coating in the dial’s main colour. The epargne is removed and then polished, making the indices flush with the dial surface. The results are stunning and highly legible on the 1884. Applying markings with lacquer paint would not yield the same smoothness and differentiation between the dial and the indices seen on the 1884’s dial.
Despite its 46mm size, the 1884 wears comfortably because of the case’s relatively short lugs. I had no issues wearing it on my wrist though the Navitimer bracelet it came on should be fitted snugly because there’s enough mass to the watch that it may slide around with a too-loose bracelet. At 15.2mm in height, the case is tall but well proportioned given the diameter of the watch. It may not slide easily under a dress shirt but the sophisticated-looking 1884 pairs well with a suit jacket, sliding easily under the cuff.
The automatic movement, the Breitling 21 is a modified ETA 7751 (minus the moonphase) and provides a good 42 hours of power reserve. Accuracy is guaranteed through Breitling’s COSC certification for the watch. Mine kept perfect time (better than the COSC thresholds) during the week I wore it.
It’s awkward to use “restrained” to describe this, or any other, Navitimer. The watch is meant to be a statement piece but I found the beautifully-executed black and silver scheme has a sophistication to it that tones down the celebrated utility of a standard Navitimer. If Breitling’s signature watch sings to you, but you need something that more easily makes the transition to a formal setting, the 1884 may be the perfect choice. Limited to 1884 units, the Navitimer 1884 Limited Edition retails for approximately 10k CDN on the steel bracelet.
For more information, go to www.breitling.com