The Navitimer story is nearly unparalleled in its historic depth. But even the most arduous journeys begin with a single step. The Navitimer’s baby steps into the world of aviation chronographs began here. There is, to this very day, fierce debate surrounding the precise year the Navitimer was borne. Most cite the public debut of the pre-806 in 1954, but evidence suggests earlier watches exist. Whatever the case, these very earliest Navitimers all share one thing: the dependable heartbeat of a Valjoux 72.
Just a few years after prototypes and early production, Breitling shifted all 806 Navitimers to a Venus calibre 178. The pusher spacing differences meant an entirely new case design was required for the Venus. Yet, no one seems quite certain why the sudden change after the first few production years. Some speculate the V72 was not available in great enough volume to meet demand. Others have said that Breitling intended to use the Venus all along but accidentally produced cases which only fit a Valjoux calibre. There is mystery, intrigue, rarity, and a beloved calibre all coalescing here . . .which is to say these early V72 806s and pre-806s (some had ref. 806 on the caseback and some did not, the only distinction) are highly collected as the genesis of a chronograph icon. This is all not even to mention the space connection, which these predate.
These earliest Navitimers were developed for and in collaboration with the AOPA (Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association) and bear that organization’s signature rather than Breitling’s at 12. Interestingly (and use that word advisedly, with this audience only), one can spot a Valjoux 72 Navitimer by the shape of this AOPA signature alone. Compared to later AOPA signatures, the wingtips point downward and have a more voluptuous overall wing profile (see here for comparison). These AOPA pieces also featured a greater number of beads in the textured bezel, which Breitling later reduced to aid grip. While hard numbers remain unknown, many have estimated total production of these early V72 Navitimers around 1200 examples, a mere fraction of all 806s.
This example is in a lovely state. Original and strong case, untouched dial, clean movement. One must remember that this is a 70 year old watch and should look as such. Often the more pristine and glowing dials one sees on early Navitimers have been retouched. Radium application can burn slightly over time and do not turn cream in age like a tritium. This example bears an 806 engraving on its caseback, marking it out as toward the latter stages of Valjoux 72 production. It comes as a naked watch from a well-regarded German retailer.
Find this Valjoux 72 806 Navitimer here from Brevet Watches for 16800 EUR.