For what it was intended to do, the 1953 Breitling 765 AVI was a failure. However, it ended up spawning a series of hugely exciting chronographs used by the likes of movie stars and the bravest of pilot’s. Today, Georges Kern, the CEO of Breitling, announced the creation of a stunning reissue.
Breitling is a brand known for its aviation. Since the 1930s, Breitling have worked on military projects for particular applications including the ref. 637 stopwatch. In the past, these have created controversy as that very stopwatch inspired the 2018 Breitling Super 8 despite its original function to time the dropping of bombs.
However, a far more celebrated creation from Breitling was one which failed at its intended role: the Breitling 765 AVI. Released in 1953, this pilot’s watch was very much a product of wartime equipment. Its case was large and bold with a 41 millimetre diameter and a lug width akin to a modern watch at 22 millimetres across. Inside, this watch housed the Venus cal. 178 which, based upon the Venus cal. 175 from the 1930s, was a very reliable column wheel chronograph movement. Interestingly, this movement has been replicated in the form of the infinitely more affordable and lower quality Seagull ST19 movement with a high-leverage seven-pillar column wheel (most have eight or nine pillars).
Many will look at these watches and, unsurprisingly, see the Breguet Type XX. This is no coincidence as these watches were offered to the French and Italian Airforces with both showing interest. Ultimately, however, the Breitling did not fit the bill as both went in other directions. Whilst the exact reasons are not known, the French Airforce’s decision has been put to the French identity of Breguet and other brands producing the Type XX and the absence of the flyback function on the Breitling 765 AVI.
Following this, Breitling released the 765 in various other forms for civilian use. These largely abandoned the digital display for the 15-minute counter in favour of a conventional hand and introduced wide hands and reverse-panda dials. This watch was even worn by Raquel Welch in the film Fathom and by Jean-Claude Killy during the 1968 Winter Olympics before working with Rolex.
A Perfect Balance of New & Old?
However, the story of the original watch is a matter for a different time as Breitling has released a new reissue of the Breitling 765 AVI. Following the significant success of the Breitling 806 reissue released last year which received praise for its accuracy in relation to the original yet with modern technology, it comes as no surprise that they have come back for more.
As with last year’s ref. 806 reissue, the Breitling 765 AVI reissue is a near-perfect remake of its namesake. The case measures 41.1mm — an exact match next to the original — whilst the thickness remains sensible at 13.95mm. I suspect that this thickness is significantly contributed to by the height of the domed hesalite crystal. Made from plastic rather than sapphire, this crystal will have the same warm colouration as the original.
The design is, it must be said, stunning. The proportions of the original 765 AVI were virtually perfect and Breitling has left them well alone. When the original watch was created, it was designed to be a stripped-back tool for pilot’s and it shows. The bezel is bidirectional and has the same number of ‘beads’ on its edge as the original. Likewise, its surface is polished steel with 12-hour markings to enable a second timezone to be read. The rest of the case is similarly beautiful with brushed and polished finishes and an unguarded crown.
The dial is really what has made this watch famous thanks to a military but uncluttered approach. As a remake of the early variants of this watch, the Breitling 765 AVI reissue is given an all-black dial and the square syringe hands of the model released in 1953. Whilst some would have preferred the later dial, I find the presence of such a dial to be very refreshing. The 15-minute counter for the chronograph should be especially noted as it has the regular luminous markings around its rim as seen on the original whilst the hand is luminous. To match, all hands are painted white for irreproachable legibility. However, I’m sure that there will be debate over the aged luminova.
Steel, Red Gold or Platinum?
The other aspect to be aware of is that Breitling has released not one, but three variants of this watch. The only true reissue is the steel variant which is called the AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition and which features a black dial. Alternatively, there are the models given the name AVI 1953 Edition which are offered in a choice of rose gold with a black dial or platinum with a deep blue dial. Curiously, whilst all three have the same 3 ATM water resistance, the steel variant has a screwed caseback whilst the other have to make do with a snap-back.
An In-House Manual Column-Wheel Chronograph
Internally, these watches are furnished with the same movement as the Navitmer ref. 809 reissue from 2019: the Breitling Manufacture Calibre B09. The B09 is a product of Breitling’s recent movement program to have its own chronographs rather than using ETA-derived pieces. Whilst in line with the times and public desire, an in-house movement has given them the flexibility to create a modern movement which, in this watch, presses all the vintage buttons.
B09 has, notably, a column wheel for minimal judder when starting and stopping the chronograph but also the more modern vertical clutch. This allows it to be technically more impressive than, for one, Omega’s new cal. 321 remake. Likewise, it adheres to the modern standard 70-hour power reserve as well as a beat rate of 4Hz or 8 ticks-per-second. Crucially, these movements do away with the automatic winding of rest of the B0x family thus giving both greater user involvement but also taking advantage of the long power reserve.
Offered in a limited editions of 1,953, 253 and 153, respectively, these watches offer a surprising value package. Considering that (looking purely at the steel variant) this watch is £6,520, it is more or less half the price of the Omega cal. 321 reissue from a few months ago and is arguably more interesting than the Zenith A384 Revival. On a side note, it is nice to see Breitling using the original nomenclature for this design rather than adding it to the similar-looking Aviator 8 collection. In any case, I have every confidence that this watch will be a success amongst collectors and lovers of the brand alike.
Availability: Steel: £6,520 (CHF 7,900) in 1,953 pieces / £16,950 (CHF 21,000) in 253 pieces / £28,900 (CHF 39,000) in 153 pieces
- Dimensions: 41.1mm x 13.95mm
- Material: Stainless Steel, 18K Red Gold, or Platinum
- Crystal: Domed Hesalite
- Display: Matte blue or black dial / ‘Vintage’ Super-LumiNova on hands and hand-applied to the dial as Arabic numerals / Squared white syringe hands / Tricompax subdial arrangement with running seconds and chronograph minutes and hours / Simple Breitling ‘B’ logo / Bidirectional polished steel 12-hour bezel
- Water Resistance: 30m / 30 ATM / 100ft
- Movement: Breitling Manufacture Calibre B09: Time, chronograph seconds, minutes & hours / Manually wound / Hacking / 4Hz, 28,800 vph, 8 ticks-per-second / Column wheel & vertical clutch chronograph / COSC certified