Breitling was established in 1884 by Leon Breitling in St-Imier in Switzerland. Breitling initially worked on making chronographs and counting instruments for the science and industry sectors. However in 1892 Breitling moved his company to the then centre of Swiss watch making - Le Chaux-de-Fonds.
Breitling died in 1914 and the company passed on to his son Gaston - a year later he was to manufacture the first chronograph wrist watch which the company adapted for use by pilots. In 1923 he was able to market what is held to be the first independently operated push piece chronograph - this replaced the need to use the winding crown of a watch to reset functions.
In 1932 Willy Breitling, Gaston's son, took over the company and, in 1934, they adapted their push piece model further. By 1936 Breitling were the official supplier of the RAF (Royal Air Force) in Britain.
In the 1940s Breitling produced the Chronomat model which had a circular slide rule fitted to it. The company also started supplying the US armed forces. In the 1950s they launched the Navitimer. This watch came with a navigational computer mechanism that could do flight plan calculations for pilots. Breitling were, in fact, closely tied with the aviation industry - for example, they produced cockpit counters for many airlines as well as watches that were designed for and favoured by pilots.
In the 1960s Breitling made the Cosmonaute watch that was worn by one of the astronauts on the Aurora 7 mission. The company also worked as part of a consortium that brought to market chronographic movement that was self-winding.
The 1970s saw leadership of Breitling from outside the family for the first time when Ernest Schneider took over from Willy Breitling. The 1980s saw a re-launch of a Chronomat model - this has been the best selling Breitling watch since then. Pilots in the 1980s were also taken with the Aerospace which was an electronic chronograph.
The 1990s saw Breitling develop the Emergency. This instrument based watch also had a broadcasting transmitter which could be used on the emergency channel for aircraft. And in 1998 the company put the B-1 to market. This is considered to be the most effective multi-purpose chronograph.
In 2000 Breitling moved its headquarters to Grenchen and in 2001 announced the launch of SuperQuartz - this technology allows Breitling to produce watches with movements that are ten times more accurate than those that use standard quartz technology. And, in 2002, Breitling once again opened an operation (Breitling Chronometrie) in Le Chaux-de-Fonds to make mechanical chronograph movements.