A very rare, extremely well-preserved, and historically important stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with slide rule bezel and 24-hour black gilt dial

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  • Manufacturer: Breitling
    Year: 1962
    Reference No: 809
    Case No: 955’608
    Model Name: Navitimer Cosmonaute
    Material: Stainless steel
    Calibre: Manual, cal. 178, 17 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Leather
    Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel
    Dimensions: 42mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial, and movement signed; movement additionally stamped “WOG”
    Accessories: Accompanied by estate document.
    Provenance: Purchased by the consignor directly from the estate sale of Senator John H. Glenn, Jr.

  • Provenance

    Purchased by the consignor directly from the estate sale of Senator John H. Glenn, Jr.

  • Catalogue Essay

    No stranger to pioneering feats of horology, Breitling was amongst the earliest brands to launch a wristwatch chronograph in 1915 It was in 1923 that the manufacture patented a two-pusher chronograph, allowing for the first time a chronograph to time separate, successive intervals without having to reset to zero between each interval. Breitling’s innovative experience with chronographs resulted in one of the most iconic wristwatches of the 20th century: the Navitimer. Over the years, the Navitimer has undergone a variety of cosmetic and mechanical changes, yet it has always remained a measuring instrument rooted in strong traditions.

    One of these changes was at the behest of an American astronaut, and later aquanaut, Commander Malcolm Scott Carpenter, one of the first seven US astronauts famously known as the “Mercury Seven” and the fourth American in space. In charge of navigation equipment for the Mercury spacecraft and already a fan of Breitling watches, he contacted the Swiss manufacture to produce a Navitimer with a few alterations that would make it suitable for use in spaceflight. Breitling was up to the task and in the early 1960s, released what would later be dubbed the “Cosmonaute” – an updated version of the Navitimer with, most notably, a 24-hour dial. Breitling produced this earliest version of the Cosmonaute, still bearing “Navitimer” on the dial with the special reference 809 (the first Navitimer reference was 806), as well as the AOPA wings instead of the Breitling logo.

    Scott Carpenter wore this configuration of the Cosmonaute to space on his Mercury-Atlas 7 mission on May 24th, 1962 – the first Swiss chronograph ever worn in space. Unfortunately, due to difficulties on the re-entry, Commander Carpenter missed the planned splashdown point and evacuated the spacecraft to his inflatable life raft. The wristwatch was damaged by seawater, and consequently lost when Carpenter sent it back to Breitling for repair. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

    Differences between the special reference 809 and more common reference 806 include slightly wider bezel with fewer beads. Later Cosmonautes would have wider, fat divisions on the bezel. This was done by Breitling specifically to make manipulation of the bezel easier while wearing gloves. To simplify the slide rule, the hour:minute scale was removed. Most obviously, the 12-hour dial of the Navitimer was replaced by a 24-hour dial to assist astronauts completing multiple orbits of the Earth in allowing them to track their “home” time more easily. Thus, the Venus 178 movement was modified to allow for the 24-hour dial.

    The present watch was manufactured in June of 1962 as part of the first batch of reference 809 cases, and Breitling confirms that this variation of the Cosmonaute was only in production for a few months in 1962. Featuring an all black dial without contrasting white subdials as would be later used, it also is fitted with slender syringe-style luminous hands with a longer hour hand.

    It is known that other Mercury Seven astronauts, including Gus Grissom and possibly Wally Schirra wore the identical model and configuration as the Navitimer Cosmonaute worn by Carpenter. The present example was owned and worn by a fourth Mercury Seven astronaut, as documented by the bill of sale when it was purchased directly from the Astronaut’s estate by the consignor. Preserved in outstanding condition with minimal signs of wear, retaining even its original strap, the present watch likely bore witness to the planning and execution of the United States’ first forays into space, a unique and astonishing part of American history. This Navitimer Cosmonaute is therefore, without a doubt, amongst the most important Breitling watches to ever appear at an international auction and a true trophy watch for the collector.

    Phillips would like to thank the Breitling Heritage Department for their assistance researching this watch.

    A portion of the proceeds of the sale this watch will be donated to The John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University.

  • Maker Bio

    Breitling

    Swiss • 1884

    The firm started by Leon Breitling in 1884 is best known for its technical aviation and oceanic watches. Today, all models are outfitted with certified chronometer movements, used for accurate timing. Early aviation pioneers in specialized chronograph timepieces, Breitling introduced the circular slide rule to watches in the 1940s for use by pilots. The firm’s most iconic chronograph, the Navitimer, was introduced in 1954 and continues to be manufactured today. Another key model is the Duograph, a split-seconds chronograph that was Breitling's most prestigious wristwatch during the 1940s through '60s. Their watches are built on their reputation for precision and sturdiness.

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Breitling

Ref. 809
A very rare, extremely well-preserved, and historically important stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with slide rule bezel and 24-hour black gilt dial

1962
42mm Diameter
Case, dial, and movement signed; movement additionally stamped “WOG”

Estimate
$40,000 - 80,000 
CHF39,800-79,700
€36,300-72,600
HK$313,000-626,000

sold for $156,250

Contact Specialist
Paul Boutros
Head of Watches, Americas & International Strategy Advisor
Senior Vice President
+1 212 940 1293
pboutros@phillips.com

GAME CHANGERS

New York Auction 10 December 2019