May 14, 2019
by Bilal Khan
It’s hard to find a watch enthusiast who wasn’t taken with this Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition watch, a limited edition that is as faithful to the original as can be. The now-iconic Breitling Navitimer was introduced back in 1952, with the Ref. 806 coming shortly thereafter in 1959. Aesthetically identical, this re-edition also comes in a 41mm-wide steel case with the non-AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) winged logo on the dial. The insides are modernized, with the in-house Breitling B09 movement powering the re-edition.
The faithful recreation of the vintage Navitimer look along with the practical convenience of a modern movement and case-making techniques results in a very tempting package. That said, it’s not cheap at $8,600 but the limited edition run of 1959 pieces will go fast, no matter what (if they haven’t already). Though I wouldn’t worry too much about missing out because, when discussing the new in-house manual wind B09 movement, Breitling representatives say that it will “power many of the other hand-wound historical re-editions to come.”
This watch is another factor in figuring out how Georges Kern’s era of Breitling is shaping up. Within one year we have seen the Navitimer 8 create a whole new lane for the collection, while pieces like this re-edition are firmly staking the flag of pride in heritage — much as how the Superocean Heritage collection can exist in tandem with, and actually complement, the Superocean Automatic collection. Kern decided there’s no need to choose between relying on heritage and creating new products, and he is ushering Breitling into what could be its best era in some time.
Housed in a 41mm-wide and 12.86mm-thick steel case, the Ref. 806 1959 Re-edition faithfully sticks to some things that other brands may have been tempted to “upgrade” and, as a result, ruin the product they had in mind. Fortunately, Breitling kept its eye on the ball and retained the snapped-in steel caseback rather than fall into the temptation of an exhibition caseback. Interestingly, they also chose to use an old-school domed plexiglass crystal rather than sapphire (used on basically all modern-luxury watches).
With three chronograph sub-dials, slide-rule fixed-scale dial rings, and, of course, the slide-rule mobile scale operated by the bi-directional bezel, all make for a dial that is endearingly dense with information. A lot of people use the hackneyed term “busy” in a negative way when vaguely criticizing dials for not adhering to austere minimalism, but I think a watch that utilizes a design economy to legibly convey as much information as the Navitimer does merit praise for its design.
In fact, some years back, a collector uploaded sections of the manual for the original Breitling Navitimer 806 that’s identical to this re-edition (other than it has the AOPA logo on the wings). You can browse the manual below, but being able to calculate multiplication, division, ground speed, miles per minute, gasoline consumption, rate of descent/climb, distance of descent/climb, and nautical and statute mile conversion is remarkably ingenious.
Being able to do all that within the parameters of a watch with a 41mm-wide case is often taken for granted as just being inherent to the Navitimer but it’s doubly impressive in this modern re-edition.
Just like the original, there are 94 of those beads dotting the circumference of the bezel in the re-edition. Throughout the long history of the Breitling Navitimer, these beads have become an aesthetic staple of the watch, though the number of beads varies from 94 to something like 125. Obviously, these beads were added so as to help pilots get a solid grip on the bezel.
Hilariously, Breitling refers to the couple of differences between this re-edition and the original as “concessions to modernity.” I am glad they made these concessions, though, since they’re limited to three very useful things: water resistance increased to 30M; addition of Super-LumiNova on the hands that fortunately doesn’t mess around with the authentically old-school aesthetic; and finally, a new movement.
The old Navitimer Ref. 806 watches used a manual-wind Venus 178 chronograph movement which was replaced by the Valjoux 7740 around 1969, I believe. This re-edition is outfitted with an all-new in-house manual-wind movement referred to as the Breitling Manufacture Caliber B09, which is based on the automatic Caliber B01. Operating at 28,800 vph, the B09 has a great 70-hour power reserve. I’m excited to see the future re-editions Breitling is going to outfit with this manual-wind caliber.
In my opinion, Breitling is absolutely dominating the $10,000 and under luxury watch category right now. This Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition is an example of how a brand can walk the tightrope of doing an aesthetically faithful re-edition that also still captures the essence of the old movement while giving it modern upgrades. Limited to 1,959 pieces, the Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition is priced at $8,600 and should ship this summer. You can learn more at breitling.com.