Léon Breitling Bio
Léon Breitling is considered by many to be the father of modern chronograph. The Breitling brand has been the de facto brand of choice in the aviation industry for almost a century. From commercial pilots to fighter jet commanders and even astronauts, the precision Breitling chronographs have captured the imagination of aviators around the world. Today, the Breitling Navitimer is one of the most iconic chronographs in the world.
Léon Breitling was born in the year 1860 to German parents. In search of employment opportunities, his family moved to Switzerland at some point in the late 19th century. It is there that Léon is reported to have fallen in love with watchmaking and short-term time measurement.
Early Apprenticeship Career
Léon worked for a brief period of time as an apprentice in a watchmaking establishment. This was the norm at that time not just for only watchmakers but most other professions. His apprenticeship career didn’t last for long though as he soon went off to create his own watchmaking company.
In 1884, at only 24 years old, Léon went into the watchmaking business proper. He established a small manufacturing center in Saint-Imiere in the Bernese Jura of Switzerland. Many ascribe the founding of the Breitling brand to this particular period in Léon’s life, as he devoted himself to what had been a lifelong passion; the creation of precision chronographs.
In his early days at the workshop in Saint-Imier, Léon delved deep into the field of chronography. In that era, competitive sports and automobiles were beginning to flourish and precision time-keeping instruments were being sought after more and more. Rapid industrialization across many cities in Europe and the United States also brought about the need for accurate timekeeping. While in the Saint-Imier factory, Léon made his first set of counter chronographs. He also manufactured numerous complicated watches as well as other types of chronometric instruments.
The G. Léon Breitling S.A., Montbrillant Watch Factory
In 1892, Léon moved his workshop to a much larger production facility located in La Chaux-de-Fonds on the Western apex of the Bernese Jura triangle in Switzerland. At that time, La Chaux-de-Fonds was the de facto capital of global watchmaking. In the late 19th and early 20th century about half of the watches produced globally were made in the town of La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Canton of Neuchâtel.
The company was then rebranded to the G. Léon Breitling S.A., Montbrillant Watch Factory. At its hay day, about 60 people were employed at the factory.
The Invention of the Modern Chronograph
Léon laid much of the groundwork for the success of the Breitling brand, especially in aviation. In 1903, the Wright brothers would make history by successfully flying the world’s first ever airplane. The aviation industry would bloom after this landmark event, leading to the creation of precision chronographs made specifically for aviation.
Sadly, in 1914 before any of this could become a reality, Léon Breitling died at the age of 54. His son, Gaston took over the reins of the company. The following year, the company invented and patented their first ever wrist chronograph. The landmark achievement was even more profound, giving that the stop/start function had been separated from the reset button. This meant that it was no longer necessary to set the hands to zero in order to record successive time measurements. By doing so, the watches found great application in sports competitions and calculating flight times.