Hands-On Review: Breitling Navitimer B01

The Skinny

  • Dimensions: 43 x 14.2 x 49.1mm
  • Material: Stainless Steel
  • Water Resistance: 30m
  • Movement: B01, In-house Self-winding Mechanical Chronograph
  • Strap: Bracelet or Leather Strap 22/20mm
  • Price: $9,350 (Bracelet) / $8,650 (Strap folding clasp) / $8,350 (Strap Tang-style)

It’s iconic. It’s complicated. It’s the Breitling Navitimer. Without a doubt, the Navitimer is Breitling’s flagship model. When you think of Breitling, an image of the circular slide rule bezel surrounding three subdials is the first thing likely to pop into your head.

My dad and I always talk about space and aviation. It’s been a staple topic of conversation since I was a little kid. Aerospace has been my dad’s passion since he was a child. Over many decades he’s passed that same interest on to me. Whenever I mention the Omega Speedmaster to him, my dad quickly reminds me (in the way dads do), “…you know? The Navitimer is the real space watch.”

Breitling Navitimer Vintage Advertisement Scott Carpenter Ad
A Vintage Navitimer Print Advertisement featuring Scott Carpenter. Photo: Courtesy of Breitling

There is an element of truth in that statement. Dads are usually right and modern marketing is not always consistent with history. Omega wasn’t the first to market watches with astronauts just as the United States space program didn’t start with a Moon landing. A vintage Breitling advertising campaign depicts the (at the time) larger-than-life NASA Astronaut Scott Carpenter. Scott Carpenter famously wore the Breitling Cosmonaut-Navitimer (24hr dial) on the NASA mission Mercury-Atlas 7 (May 24th, 1962). This took place seven years before the Moon landing.

Throughout many iterations since its commercial release in 1952, the Breitling Navitimer continues to retain most of its original design and functional elements. Is there a modern place for yesterday’s analog pilot’s tool in today’s upscale modern life? As a fashion item, sure, but what about as a useful tool? To assess the Navitimer B01 we will look at the watch with a critical eye, but we will also provide instructions for operating the watch’s slide rule bezel in order to focus on its often overlooked functionality as a tool.

Impressions

Unlike most watches that I have the opportunity to review, I wore this one for almost a month straight to make sure that I got the full experience. I had this weird preconceived notion that I could never be a Navitimer Person, whatever the hell that is. After about two weeks, the Breitling Navitimer B01 felt fully integrated into my daily kit. I missed my Rolexes and Speedmasters, but it was clear to me why the Navitimer has remained a popular watch for decades.

Within the entire Breitling Navitimer line, my personal money would be on the “806” 1959 Re-Edition ($8,600), because of the vintage characteristics such as painted indices, hand-wound movement, beaded bezel, etc. If it’s someone else’s money to play with, the 1959 Edition in Platinum and blue ($39,900) would be superlative, because nothing defies constitution like a precious metal tool watch. But the B01 in hand for review was really a fantastic introduction into the Navitimer experience because there is a genuine connection that bridges modern watchmaking with an iconic representation of the past.

The Case

Any watch over 40mm sends my guard up. Will it feel too big? Are the proportions going to be OK? I’m pleased to say that the 43mm Navitimer that Breitling loaned me put my anxiety to rest. I’ll save you the “wears smaller” lines and simply point out that I have a 6.75” wrist that’s relatively flat across the top. It’s hard to imagine the larger 46mm version working for me, but the 43mm Navitimer fits great.

Breitling Navitimer B01 Wrist
Photo: Greg Bedrosian

The Navitimer bezel sticks out like jagged teeth overhanging the case. The 43mm width is measured by the diameter of the bezel, not the case beneath it, and that’s key in understanding why this watch wears smaller. The action of the friction bezel is remarkably smooth compared to a dive watch, which tend to provide greater resistance in the bezel’s ratchet mechanism. The teeth on the Navitimer bezel are so pronounced that I actually scratched my son as he slid out of my arms while setting him down. Maybe this is not the best watch for child handling, but with aviation gloves on the bezel is easy to grip.

I’m a sucker for exposed pump pushers and crowns on chronographs. The pump pushers reinforce the nostalgic feeling of the Navitimer.

The entire Navitimer case is polished. After all, most traditional Breitling designs were quite shiny, and that continues to be a signature look of the brand. Luckily the black dial ate up a lot of the light, so it wasn’t overly shiny on wrist. Moving to the flanks of the Navitimer’s case, the lugs retain that high polish while sloping down at just the right angle for a comfortable fit. 

Breitling Navitimer B01 Case
Note the slight case overhang of the bezel. Photo: Greg Bedrosian

The Navitimer’s caseback displays the Breitling B01 movement and reminds you that 3 Bars of water resistance means that the Navitimer is not a great choice for the pool. It’s actually a poor choice for any water activity. The crown does not screw down, and the rating just isn’t there. However, this watch was designed for use in thin atmospheres at very high altitudes, so pressurizing the case would have been pointless, difficult, and would likely have enlarged the watch to ridiculous proportions.

The Navitimer B01 features a domed (Breitling calls it cambered) sapphire crystal. I would describe the amount of camber as just enough to be visually interesting without causing too much distortion. The Navitimer crystal has anti-glare treatment on both sides. Breitling’s anti-glare treatment gives the glass a quick flash of magenta at a certain angle. Photographers love to show that little bit of color off on social media posts (I’m guilty). You won’t see a lot of lume photos due to the sparing amount Super-LumiNova on the Navitimer B01 dial, however. This is a watch intended to be used in bright light and with perfect eyesight.

The Dial and Bezel

The Navitimer dial is busy. but somehow the elements synergize and for an appealing whole. There have been multiple model variations throughout the lifespan of the Navitimer. I like to think of the traditional Navitimer, similar to the B01 43 reviewed here, as the “classic Navitimer” (no matter what the generation). However, the B01 does not have the classic “winged-B” Breitling logo. Instead, you get an applied cursive “B” that is consistent with the rest of Breitling’s other recently revamped lines like the Superocean Heritage, Chronomat, and Premier product lines. I’d expect this “B” to make its way across all of Breitling’s model lines soon.

Breitling Navitimer B01
Photo: Greg Bedrosian

The classic Navitimer AB0121211B1A1 reference features the “Evil Panda” color scheme. A Panda Dial is denoted by a white dial with black-colored subdials positioned in the lower hemisphere of the dial. The Evil or “Reverse Panda” is the opposite with a black dial and white subdials. (Think Spy vs Spy.) The white circular slide rule is really part of the dial. The insert, more like a rotating chapter ring, resides underneath the bezel and does not sit on top like a traditional dive-style insert. The white outer ring works in complement to the Navitimer’s subdials. That combination gives the watch the signature Navitimer aesthetic that can be spotted across the room.

Breitling Navitimer B01
Photo: Greg Bedrosian

An easy way to tell that the modern Navitimer features the in-house B01 movement is by the color-matched date wheel at 4:30. I’m not usually a fan of date wheels positioned at 4:30, but on the Navitimer it’s just one more feature that blends in with the rest of the busy design. 

The Movement

If you do a little research, it’s easy to find ETA-based caliber movements in many Breitling watches. The modern Navitimer here, however, features Breitling’s in-house developed caliber “B01,” which is not based on a third-party caliber. Breitling first started to develop the caliber B01 movement in 2004. Starting in 2009, Breitling began to roll out the B01 movement throughout their many chronographs. The B01 mechanical chronograph movement is a self-winding chronograph with a date complication. The capable in-house manufactured B01 movement also features a 70-hour power reserve and a Kif shock absorber. Chronograph geeks will appreciate the movement’s vertical clutch and column wheel, widely lauded for removing the sometimes choppy horizontal gear actuation of the fourth wheel.

Breitling Navitimer B01 Movement
The column wheel in this image is directly above the center of the watch, and has six actuator posts around the mounting screw. Photo: Greg Bedrosian

Interestingly, a modified version of Breitling’s B01 movement can be found in the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph (caliber MT5813), a rare collaboration between competitors. The two Swiss brands partnered in 2017 to trade the three-hand Tudor MT5612 movements for Breitling’s superior B01 chronograph movements. The exchange programs played to each brand’s strengths as well as providing a solution to Tudor’s reliance on ETA movements from the Swatch Group. Publicly marketing the movement-manufacturing partnership is non-traditional for the Swiss watchmaking industry. The transparency signals what is hopefully a more progressive (and perhaps more honest) future for Swiss industrial watchmaking.

The Strap

The Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 is available on a stainless steel bracelet or on a combination of several leather straps. As my fellow contributors at Beyond The Dial know (and tease), I always opt for the bracelet. If you prefer a strap, Breitling gives you four strap options. All of the options from Breitling will impact the overall price of the Navitimer.

  • $9,350 Stainless Steel Bracelet, Seven-link
  • $8,950 Black Alligator Leather Strap, Folding Clasp
  • $8,650 Black Alligator Leather Strap, Tang-Type
  • $8,650 Black Calfskin Leather Strap, Folding Clasp
  • $8,350 Black Calfskin Leather Strap, Tang-Type
Breitling Navitimer B01
Photo: Greg Bedrosian

The Navitimer that Breitling lent me for review came on a black calfskin leather strap with a tang-type buckle. The leather strap felt substantial between the Navitimer’s 22mm wide lugs. Breitling wisely chose a thick leather to back up the proportions of the 43mm Navitimer. The calfskin strap tapered from 22mm to 18mm at the buckle and was slightly padded. In the interest of full disclosure, I swapped the Breitling strap for a Barton Silicone Elite because I don’t care for leather. That is just a personal preference and does not take away from the high-quality Breitling leather strap. With the five options listed above, you can find something you’ll like, for sure. 

Breitling Navitimer B01
Photo: Greg Bedrosian