Breitling watchesLéon Breitling was a skilled watchmaker who began crafting timepieces and measuring tools from his workshop in St-Imier in Switzerland in the 19th century.
He was succeeded by his son, Gaston, who was followed by his own son, Willy. They further enhanced the Breitling name before the firm was sold to entrepreneur Ernest Schneider in 1979.
The Breitling brand has long been associated with aviation. Building on Léon’s skills with measuring tools, it fulfilled a large order from the Royal Air Force for its chronometer watches as the Second World War loomed and then it issued the famous Navitimer watch in the 1952.
The name was an amalgam of ‘navigation’ and ‘timer’. Equipped with a slide rule, it became a firm favourite among pilots.
The Breitling Navitimer 806 became the official timepiece of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association as its internal rotating bezel enables pilots to make complex calculations (at a time before computer equipment was installed into cockpits). Watches supplied to the association do not have the Breitling name on them, just the AOPA wings logo. Other Navitimers, supplied to the commercial markets, do feature the Breitling name.
The firm also issued watches for divers – the SuperOcean was water resistant to 200 metres and was followed in 1958 by the TransOcean, a shockproof, anti-magnetic automatic chronometer.
Then Breitling went into space. Astronaut Scott Carpenter took the Breitling Cosmonaute with him on his mission aboard the Aurora 7 spacecraft in 1962.
The watch’s special feature was its 24-hour dial; in space it was impossible to distinguish between day and night so this timepiece was more useful than a watch with a usual 12-hour face.
Breitling Top Time
The Breitling Top Time watch featured in the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball. Equipped with a Geiger counter it enabled Bond, played by actor Sean Connery, to avert a nuclear disaster by locating stolen missiles hidden underwater.
This history makes the watches from those periods desirable among collectors but you will find Breitling watches at auction to be more affordable than most Rolexes or Omegas. And, crucially, you won’t be sacrificing quality if you opt for a Breitling.
Today Breitling is raising the profile of its brand further through its marketing activities. Actors Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron and Adam Driver (who plays Kylo Ren in the Star Wars movies) are among its ambassadors as are a number of surfers, explorers, aviators and even teenager Luke Bannister who has won a World Drone Championship.
Such efforts often push up the price of brand new watches, making the second hand market particularly attractive.
Condition, age and rarity determine the prices that second-hand Breitling watches will sell for at auction.
The price for a good example at auction is typically high-three figures.
At the higher end, you will see Breitlings selling for low to mid four-figures, with particular models that are the most desired by collectors fetching more. A vintage watch’s value is further enhanced if it also has its original box and papers.
What to look out for
Check the auction house’s lot description. It will typically state whether the Breitling you are considering bidding on is in working order or needs repair. Some watches may have been repaired in the past in which case some of the parts, for example, may not be the originals. That would make it less desirable for a specialist collector and thus more affordable for you.
The lot description will also usually detail condition issues such as any scratches. These may often be typical wear and tear for a watch that was worn every day by its previous owner or they may be more severe.
A second-hand Breitling in excellent condition might cost two to three times the price of one showing significant wear and tear so always look closely at auction catalogue photos. You can request a condition report from the auctioneer if it is not already in the lot description. Attending a viewing in person will also enable you to try on the watch you are considering bidding for and inspect it for yourself close up.
Auction houses with a watches department will employ a specialist you can contact to discuss your requirements and answer your questions.
Many auction houses hold regular specialist watch sales or watches and jewellery sales, while others include a selection of watches within a bigger auction, making it easy to find plenty of Breitling watches at any time of year.
What to do next
Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on thesaleroom.com to find Breitling watches coming up for sale.
You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.
To research recent prices at auction to see how much different Breitlings sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.
If you are new to bidding check out our guides to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.