How Time Flies

There is much intertwining in the histories of aviation and watch making. When aviation came along in the early 1900’s there were virtually no wristwatches.  Pocket watches were the rule for men and women wore watches pinned to their blouses.  For those who couldn’t afford a watch the town clock or church bells was they way they kept track of the time of day.  The first recorded mention of a watch that was made specifically for pilots came in 1906.  Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont kept track of his time aloft as a balloon pilot with a pocket watch.  As he started to fly airplanes the pocket watch was impossible to use while manipulating the controls of the airplane in heavy clothing and gloves.  What he needed was a watch that he could attach to his arm with a face large enough that he could see easily without dividing his attention.  His watchmaker friend Louis Cartier made a watch for specifically for him and called it (of course) the Santos-Dumont.  This watch is still being made and is a center piece of the Cartier watch collection.


As aviation advanced so did the wristwatch, to include luminous dials and numbers, extra large numbers and huge crowns that protruded from the case so they could be wound up with gloves on. Charles Lindbergh made his solo trans Atlantic flight in 1927.  With his popularity still soaring, in 1931 he collaborated with Longines to make a watch capable of determining longitude by calculating the sun’s hour angle.  The watch was a huge commercial success for Longines and although few who bought the watch had a real need for determining their longitude position, it was the first time that the public bought in large number a purpose built pilot watch for fashion sake.


Prior to 1930 Breitling was a Swiss watch maker know primarily for it’s stop watches.  in 1934 Breathing developed a wrist watch with separate start/stop function specifically for pilots.  In 1942 Breathing created its Chronomat wrist watch which combined start/stop features with a circular slide rule manipulated by a rotating bezel.  Prior to that there were on panel mounted chronographs in airplanes. In 1954 Breathing debuted is Navitimer watch which added aviations E6B flight computer functions.

It refreshing to me that all of these early “aviation” watches are still around today and have sold to many over decades who will never see the inside of a cockpit.


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