On 24 May 1962, the Aurora 7 spacecraft, which was part of Project Mercury (the first human spaceflight program of the United States), took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with astronaut Scott Carpenter at the helm. What many did not know at the time was that Carpenter adorned his wrist with the first Swiss wristwatch ever to go into orbit: the Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute. Today in Zurich, Switzerland, Breitling CEO Georges Kern was joined by former astronaut Scott Kelly, members of the Carpenter family and Gregory Breitling to introduce not only the new, limited-edition Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute, but also unveil to the world the original watch Carpenter wore 60 years ago when he circled the Earth three times.
Those who know their history know that from the late 1950s — when the then-Soviet Union launched the satellite Sputnik into space — into the early 1960s, when US President John F. Kennedy began his expansion of the US space program, committing the country to the goal of landing a man on the moon, the world was deep into a competitive Space Race. But behind the scenes, there was another type of race going on, which had little to do with spacecraft, launch pads or satellites. This race reached a country not exactly known for its astronauts, but rather for its excellence in timekeeping (well, and its chocolates and cheeses, but that’s for another article), and Switzerland’s players were in this race to win.
By the time the Space Race was underway, Breitling was already known the world over as a brand that makes reliable aviation watches. But until Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth in April of 1961, watchmakers weren’t thinking about timepieces that could not only withstand intense G-forces and zero gravity, but that could also survive extended periods of time in saltwater following splashdowns. After being worn on Carpenter’s wrist for three spins (lasting roughly five hours total) around the world and then for three hours in the ocean waters off the coast of Puerto Rico, Carpenter’s Navitimer Cosmonaute had taken a bit of a beating and was replaced promptly by the brand, with the original tattered time-teller becoming a part of the Breitling family’s archives, remaining in the same condition as it was when Carpenter was pulled from the Atlantic’s waters. Today in Zurich, watch enthusiasts, collectors and members of the media were able to see that original Navitimer Cosmonaute (in all of its corroded glory) for the first time and, in the process, also be introduced to the updated version celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first Swiss wristwatch in space.
Look, it’s hard not to get on board with what Georges Kern has accomplished since being at the brand’s helm. People’s mindsets have largely changed about Breitling in the last few years, and mostly for the positive (though there will always be differing opinions). But Kern has had loads to do with that. He’s found his stride by emphasizing the brand’s history and heritage, and inviting experts such as historian and collector Fred Mandelbaum to speak on various topics.
What the new Navitimer Cosmonaute brings to the table in comparison to the original is a platinum bezel and an open sapphire crystal caseback that offers a view of the B02 movement within, as well as bridge engravings unique to this commemorative version in the form of the words ‘Carpenter’, ‘Aurora 7’, and ‘3 orbits around the Earth’. Also engraved is the name of the original group of seven astronauts chosen for NASA’s first human-crewed spaceflights, ‘Mercury 7’. While the Navitimer Cosmonaute still pays direct homage to the original version’s all-black dial and black alligator strap, it is also offered on a seven-row stainless-steel bracelet.
Limited to 362 numbered pieces, this special edition is sure to be welcomed by Breitling collectors and enthusiasts, alike.
Movement: Manual-winding Caliber B02; approximately 70 hours of power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph, date
Case: 41mm x 13mm; stainless steel with platinum bi-directional bezel; water resistant to 30m
Dial/Hands: Black with tone-on-tone chronograph counters, Super-LumiNova® luminescent indexes and hour and minute hands
Strap: Black alligator leather strap with a folding buckle, or stainless-steel seven-row Navitimer bracelet with a butterfly clasp
Price: USD 11,200 on steel bracelet; USD 10,800 on leather strap
Availability: Limited to 362 pieces