My great Breitling search

Old Dec 30, 16, 9:22 am
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2016
Posts: 1
My great Breitling search

For as long as I can remember, Breitling timepieces and aviation have been synonymous. While my flying capacity maxed out at 200 hours, all in a Cessna 172, I like many others, still have the aviation bug.

In the years since my aviation activities went from left seat to economy row, Breitling has advertised in countless aviation periodicals. From Aviation International News, Business & Commercial Aviation, Business Week to Flying and more, you can’t miss the glossy Breitling advertisements with the perception that Breitling and pilots are synonymous.

First off, you don’t have to be a pilot to know that Breitling watches are cool, very cool. The latest iteration of its iconic Navitimer 01 is a staggering 46 mm in diameter and nearly 15 mm thick. Its presence on the wrist of the wearer is a showstopper.

Never one to take marketing claims at face value, a number of years ago, during my waiting times at airports and in hotels frequented by flight crews, I started a Breitling search. I wanted to see if commercial pilots really do wear Breitling watches.

My research method was rather simple - observe the timepieces of pilots and flight engineers to ascertain the model of the timepieces they are wearing.

Over the past decade, this search has taken me as west as LAX, SEA and SFO, as far east as TLV and DXB, and in the middle at MAN, CDG and LHR. From the shuttles of Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt and more, with all that, save for the duty free counters; I never once came across a Breitling on the wrist of a pilot.

Wanting to correlate my findings, I asked Jayson Agagnier, a man with over 3,000,000 miles in his docket, who spends much of his time above FL35. As to his experience in Breitling spotting, he noted, that I cannot recall ever seeing a Breitling being worn by any commercial aviator. To date I have seen three different individuals sporting a Breitling, one was a first-class passenger on Singapore Airlines, one was a Global Express pilot and the other was an aviation “brand ambassador”. My feeling is that the Breitling is trying to sell the “aura” or “feeling” of being a part of the select and elite club (everyone wants to be a pilot – especially a pilot of a private jet) to those who can only dream of ever being part of this (mostly imaginary) club that does not really exist.

According to the Unofficial Breitling FAQ, only about 5% of Breitling customers are actual pilots. So right there, we see that pilots are only a marginal amount of Breitling customers.

The truth is that the concept of an aviator watch is a product of a bygone era. Long ago, navigators carried separate watches for their navigational duties. Today’s navigators are named Rockwell Collins and Honeywell. There once was a time for an aviator watches; but there was also a time when the 707 had 5 seats in the cockpit.

A lot of what aviator watches provide is the aura, and nothing else. If you look at their advertising, one sees dashing pilots and other aviation fixtures. All nice, but not reflective of the current real world of aviation.

If you are looking for a classic timepiece, then these aviator watches are objects of beauty, and most impressive.

While the Breitling Chronospace has a circular slide rule for all calculations relating to airborne navigation, why bother? Isn’t there an app for that? One of the features of the Chronospace is that it’s water-resistant to 20 ATM. But if you really do need that feature, then you have much bigger problems.

Perhaps the biggest reason why only 5% of Breitling customers are pilots is the cost of the watch itself. With a Chronospace having a price in the area of $5,000 and the Navitimer nearly $9,000, very few pilots can afford such a timepiece. In fact, the average regional pilot would have to give up about 1/3 of their annual salary for a Chronospace.

With that, I asked pilots from airlines such as UA, AF, BA, LY, G4 and EK if they ever wore a Breitling. Some of the responses were:
  • What is Breitling?
  • I don’t really need a watch as there is a clock in the cockpit and one in the hotel room to wake me up
  • My Timex works fine
  • Who can afford such a watch?
  • Who the hell is going to do a calculation on a watch in the first place?!
  • I haven’t worn a watch in years
  • Never seen one

My exploration shows that if you are looking for Brietling in an airport, go to the duty free store. So-called aviator watches are nice, but you’re unlikely to every see one on a pilot. If you really want to feel like a real aviator, spending a few thousand dollars would be better spent on attending ground school than on an aviator watch.

If you really do want to look like a pilot, a cheap Timex or Casio are the most likely brands you should purchase. And if you want to ensure the complete the look of a commercial pilot; make sure you have a hotel pen in your pocket. Real pilots take the pens from the hotel. Just like their watches, nothing fancy.
brothke is offline  
Old Feb 8, 17, 6:24 am
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: KEWR
Programs: Marriott Platinum
Posts: 593
I think your assessment is a bit off. I'm an airline pilot and own two Breitlings; a 46mm Navitimer and a 48mm Super Avenger II. I never, ever wear them at work or out on the road. Aside from the GMT function, there is little use for them in my job aside from show.

I'm not risking these items "walking off" as I am forced to remove jewelry prior to comply with security protocols when flying internationally. Additionally, there are plenty of instances of things disappearing from crew member hotel rooms. It's just not worth it IMO.

I use jomashop domestically for my watch purchases and also look at stores internationally as I travel to take advantage of the VAT tax return when a favorable exchange rate is present with the US Dollar.
clubord is offline  
Old Feb 8, 17, 3:36 pm
Join Date: May 2015
Location: AMS-LHR
Programs: BA Gold, KL/AF Gold
Posts: 367
You only focussed on airline pilots / ATPL but in the general aviation community (which are also very 'real' pilots by all means, despite lacking an uniform) Breitling is quite popular. At least in Europe, where I fly. From aerobatic pilots to banner towing C172 drivers and from flying instructors to their students. Wether this is the direct result of Breitlings advertising and image or not, it's popular.
At our flying club it's 50% Breitling I would say, including the instructors. I remember doing my PPL exam and the examiner had a navitimer and he was a 777 left-seater as his regular job.
And regarding the circular slide rule, we all bring the good old EB6 computer and paper charts with us as an Ipad might fail as I experienced crossing the English Channel when it was in direct sunlight for too long.

Last edited by Great_circle; Feb 8, 17 at 7:39 pm
Great_circle is offline  
Old Feb 8, 17, 6:30 pm
FlyerTalk Evangelist
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: IAD/DCA
Posts: 31,522

Originally Posted by brothke View Post
Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt

Originally Posted by clubord View Post
I'm an airline pilot and own two Breitlings...I never, ever wear them at work or out on the road.

I am forced to remove jewelry prior to comply with security protocols when flying internationally. Additionally, there are plenty of instances of things disappearing from crew member hotel rooms.
whereas not really an issue for >

Originally Posted by Great_circle View Post
in the general aviation community...Breitling is quite popular. At least in Europe
and travolta is a pilot who owns some large planes, not just a gimmick
John Travolta -- an experienced private pilot -- has agreed to fly his Boeing 707 around the world in eight weeks
at 19 I got my solo. At 23 I got my licence and at 25 I got my jet licence.

Last edited by Kagehitokiri; Feb 8, 17 at 7:10 pm
Kagehitokiri is offline  
Old Apr 27, 17, 12:35 pm
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: LGW.
Programs: Cunard WorldClub-Gold,Silverseas Venetian society,Alitalia Mille miglia,SPG,Fairmont,IHG.
Posts: 705
My husband is a retired BA 747 skipper. He owns a Breitling Navtimer and a Rolex GMT Master. The Breitling didn't prove tough enough for everyday use, whereas the Rolex has proved to be almost indestructible.
no longer atc is offline  
Old May 4, 17, 3:43 pm
Join Date: Mar 2017
Posts: 2
Just get a smartwatch and you can have just about any make of watch you desire. I know, not the real thing, but still, quite affordable to be able to change your watch face everyday.
Kenai Cruiser is offline  
Old Jun 5, 17, 9:53 pm
FlyerTalk Evangelist
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: New York, NY
Programs: BAEC Gold, Hilton Diamond, Marriott Gold, AMEX Platinum (US)
Posts: 18,294
My kind of topic! I'm a Breitling fan! I've a Colt, Navitimer and Emergency.

I've known quite a few pilots; private, GA, military (I learned to fly with the RAF whilst at University) and commercial. The only ones I saw with regularity were military pilots when I was in the RAF.

My ex-girlfriend was a GA pilot and I was considering buying her a Breitling for a milestone birthday. She thought it was pointless and stupid idea (along with those ugly aluminium Rimowa cases )

Most of the US based pilots I've chatted to about Breitlings thought the actual pilot functions were pretty useless as they had enough computer power in the cockpit to not have to bother about them.

Personally I think they're timeless and classy watches that never got out of fashion*

*With the exception of some of the Breitling for Bentley range etc.
Fraser is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search Engine: