Three Iconic Vintage Chronographs: Today we are taking a look back at our first ever instalment of our It’s Complicated Series, which feature three heavyweight iconic chrongraphs
There are many vintage chronographs out there but I’d hazard a guess that if you had to think about the most iconic Chronographs, the ones that would more than likely come to mind are: a Breitling Navitimer, an Omega Speedmaster and a Rolex Daytona? Yes, there are others that you could throw into the mix but if you think about the three I’ve just mentioned, over their lifespan they’re more or less (some less than others) unchanged in appearance and as mentioned – Iconic! I think above all in regards to timepieces with complications chronographs are right up there with the likes of perpetual calendars and minute repeaters. However, chronographs have a more useful day-to-day function (not to say the other complications don’t) and let’s be honest, they do look downright cool. Today on BEXSONN we’ll be looking at how the Navitimer, Speedmaster and Daytona became iconic and also look into whether they are still worthy of their statuses?
The story of the first Navitimers are shrouded in mystery and even a bit of controversy. You see the problem is, no-one quite knows for certain the full story, or if they do they have not yet spoken about it. The records held by Breitling SA in Grenchen, Switzerland are incomplete, so to tell the story of the most famous Breitling in itself involves detective work and to a certain extent speculation; even the foremost world experts on vintage Breitling cannot agree on all details. What is certain is that following the great success of the Chronomat, the world’s first slide rule chronograph released in the early 1940’s, proved to be invaluable as it enabled the pilot to make speed, distance and fuel-consumption calculations.
The name ‘Navitimer’ is actually a combination of the words Navigation & Timer, since the watch was originally developed as a navigation watch for pilots, who could use the slide rule to calculate remaining distances, fuel consumption etc. So Breitling in association with AOPA (Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association) made a second slide rule chronograph and released it at some point between 1952 (which is claimed by Breitling) and 1954 (which is believed to be the correct period of release according to Breitling experts). And in that way the first Navitimer was born with AOPA’s official wing logo displayed on the dial. The thing is, the real start of production of the Navitimer will remain a mystery as many of Breitling’s early records were lost.
The model we are looking at here is in fact a 1955 806 Navitimer which like the Daytona we have for you below comes equipped with the critically acclaimed chronograph work horse Valjoux 72. But what is quite interesting, is that depending on how you are looking at it, the Navitimers that came with a Valjoux 72 movement – by experts are actually considered to be the first Navitimers which date between 1954 – 1955 but they also believe the 1953 Navitimers actually date from circa 1960. So, in essence, here you could actually say we are looking at one of the first Navitimers and it is for this very reason that the Valjoux 72 806’s are indeed more sought after by collectors around the world.
Generally it can be said that the Navitimer with 3 sub dials was made in four editions/generations cased in a small watch case. But I guess the thing you could conclude from this, is that the Navitimer really got its fame because of how useful it was to pilots during their hour(s) of need and probably to a lesser extent the Navitimer Cosomonaute that accompanied Scott Carpenter on the 1962 Aurora 7 spaceflight. The Navitimer seriously put Breitling on the world map and it is until today the most famous watch Breitling have ever produced and it’s highly unlikely that it will ever be eclipsed by any other timepiece from their range. What would said timepiece cost now? For an example of the Breitling Navitimer ref. 806 ‘AOPA’ like the one shown above anything from £10,000 – £12,000.
The history of the Omega Speedmaster out of the three watches we are talking about here probably has the most interesting story of the lot. The Original Speedmaster ref. CK2915 was actually meant to be a watch for racing car drivers, sports people and engineers who needed a chronograph, which is rather ironic in itself as it became famous for reasons that have nothing to do with tarmac, sports or even for that matter nothing to do with Earth. When designed by Claude Bailod at Omega and developed by Pierre Moinat and his team, Im pretty sure they would never have guessed the impact this wristwatch would have and it’s cult following.
As you may be aware the Speedmaster was given the nickname ‘Moonwatch’ but this wasn’t until some feats had been achieved first. I guess the thing you have to look at first is what actually happened in 1962, when Walter Schirra wore his Speedmaster CK2998 during the Sigma 7 flight – which in fact is the 2nd generation Speedmaster – before it became the official choice by NASA. Now, it has been said that NASA tested several wristwatches but the fact is they only really tested 5: a Bulova, a Longines-Wittnauer, a Rolex, and a Waltham and of course an Omega. At this point you don’t need to be a genius to work out which watch NASA chose to accompany the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon. It was at this point that the Speedmaster would be known to many as the ‘Moonwatch’. It was actually the reference 105.012 and 145.012 which were used by the Apollo 11 astronauts and these references are considered to be the true ‘Moonwatches’ and had the word ‘Professional’ printed on the dial. However, in small numbers the reference 105.003 also had the word ‘Professional’ printed on the dial making it quite a rare find.
Beating away in all the above mentioned references was the famous Lemania 2310, or as Omega called it the calibre 321, which utilised a much sought after column wheel chronograph mechanism. The Omega you see in the images is actually a reference 145.022-69 ST and this utilises the calibre 861 movement, which uses a shuttle cam chronograph mechanism that is a little less sought after but for Omega this allowed them to produce the Speedmaster in much larger and economic numbers. Out of the three chronographs we have here today, the Speedmaster is probably the most affordable, unless you start to delve into the world of pre-moon Speedies. A reference 145.022, will vary in price a bit depending on year but expect to pay anywhere in between £1,800 and £3,000
Probably the most famous of the three chronographs in this article, or on equal par with the Speedmaster, the Rolex Daytona is adored by many for reasons unknown but also loved by many for very good reasons. It was launched in 1963 as the plain Cosmograph Ref. 6239, though some people tend to dismiss that fact and actually group it into the Rolex chronograph section. Like the Speedmaster the Daytona was also inspired by motor racing and the original name of the Daytona was actually ‘Le Mans’ but obviously this name didn’t stick. When the Cosmograph made its way across the pond, Rolex USA requested that Daytona be inscribed on the dial for the American-market models as Rolex was the official sponsor of the 24-hour race at Daytona. However, this name change didn’t fully take place until 1964. Each winner of the gruelling 24-hour race has since then been presented with one of the watches as part of the prize.
Now, the Rolex Daytona is undoubtedly the most collectible sports watch in existence and is still the most popular chronograph in the world (confirmed by my friends over at Chronolytics.ch) but when it comes to vintage Daytonas there is something just that extra bit special about them. As mentioned the 6239 was the first Daytona that was introduced and like the Speedmaster, it too sported a Tachymetre bezel. Though through the early years small adjustments were made to these and there were a couple of dial variations too. Beating away at the heart of these early Daytonas, was the infamous Valjoux 72 (the same movement which we mentioned above that was used in the Navitimer) – which Rolex named the 72B.
The next significant change came just a year later in 1965. You see, Rolex have prided themselves on having water-resistant watch cases, so to have a wristwatch that wasn’t fully deserving of their ‘Oyster’ inscription on the dial just wasn’t quite right, so gone were the pump chronograph pushers and in came the new screws-down pushers – this reference would be known as the 6240 and now bared the ‘Oyster’ inscription.
But I think where Daytonas start to get interesting and also quite silly at the same time (in regards to price) are in the so called ‘Exotic Dial’ a.k.a ‘Paul Newman’ era. You see, these Daytonas are what you’d call “iconic” and this is simply because when Paul Newman was pictured on the front of an Italian magazine wearing a 6239 exotic dial Daytona, that was it; an iconic figure wearing this timepiece meant you had to have one. The Daytona you see in these pictures is a 1980’s reference 6263 ‘Big Red’ with Bakelite bezel and all though it may not carry the same significance or value of the exotic dial (pictured below) or early 6239’s it is by no means a lesser Daytona, still commanding quite a hefty price tag between £20,000 – £25,000.
ARE THEY STILL ICONIC?
I could just use one word to answer that question; Yes! But that would be too easy. Of course these three watches are still iconic and will remain so forever but I think the real question here is are they still worthy? For me personally they still are and as mentioned they may have grown in size but this is due to constant refinement: the Breitling went from manual wound to automatic and so too did the Daytona (for more obvious reasons), the Daytona design was updated in 1988 to what it looks like currently and for the first time in 2000 received an in-house movement. The Speedmaster Professional however, has still retained a manual wound movement (which I’m sure most would agree is more in-keeping with the original Moonwatch), the Speedmaster ref. 145.022 was actually recertified in 1978 for the Shuttle Mission, so it’s still considered the watch for EVA. But you see, some may argue that these brands keep harping on about these past events that made them iconic but I say why not? They’ve cemented their place in the watch market for a reason and you know what, every now and then when a new watch collector comes along, I think it’s only right they know why these iconic three, are, well – iconic.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Dean Harding and Chris Youe of The Watch Club for allowing us to photograph the Daytona and Navitimer, and also if you are interested in purchasing such high quality vintage pieces like these make sure you visit their website and if in the London area book an appointment to check out their wide range of timepieces.
I’d also like to extend a personal thank you to my friend and fellow watch blogger Robert-Jan Broer of Fratellowatches too!
We’ll be having more of these types of ‘It’s Complicated’ articles soon, so stay tuned!