Breitling has a deep-seated one hundred plus year relationship connection to aviation and the manufacture of timepieces and specialist instruments. In 1915, they introduced the 16’’’ Montbrillant 41mm enamel dial chrono, most likely the very first to feature an independent pusher at 2 o’clock.
The timing of its delivery coincided with exploding aviator interest in the wrist chronograph.
Almost 60 years past this remarkable milestone the Breitling UAE Air force ref 8806 Navitimer continues to showcase the Swiss maker’s rich military aviation history.
Aside from their technical horological prowess, this in part is secured because of the famous Swiss neutrality that ensured military orders for aviation instruments and watches continue to flow from all countries.
Its rich and incredible aviation history lies in the entrepreneurial skills of Willy Breitling who first recognized and seized a business opportunity establishing the Huit Aviation Company in 1938. The word Huit – eight in French, was a reference to the 8 day, 192hour power reserve of their famous aviation clocks.
The new company’s aviation department which specialized in supplying aviation instruments and timepieces secured military orders and became a preferred supplier to a number of nations, including the British Royal Air Force.
Their success continued post war and in October 1947, Wakmann and Breitling teamed up to distribute Breitling watches in the US market under the new name – Breitling Watch Corporation of America.
This enabled the sale of Aircraft clocks to civilian airlines, the US military, and the sale of wrist watches through the American military’s retail (PX) stores. The popular 1940’s Breitling Chronomat introduced a series of scales for mathematical and scientific calculations on the dial, registered with Swiss patent 217012.
This model would soon morph into the larger 1950’s Navitimer using the prefix navi from navigation, and the word timer. The ‘flight computer’ watch was marketed as a chronograph fitted with a navigation computer.
The popular and now iconic model was an instant sales success, and it was promoted and sold by the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) to its members for close to 15 years.
Breitling enjoyed an ongoing commercial relationship with multiple nation’s militaries. From the mid 1960’s it began supplying watches to the army and air force of a number of Middle Eastern nations.
All vintage Breitling watches supplied to the Jordanian, Iraqi and UAE carry the country crest on the dial and the case back with the exception of one model.
This rare iteration is the Chrono-matic reference 8806 all steel Breitling Navitimer supplied to the Air Wing of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force (ADDF).
Archives note delivery of known examples in October 1973. It only carries the UAE crest on the dial with a normal case back complete with a serial number and Breitling logo.
The 40mm steel Navitimer auto chrono featured its trademark slide rule and a spectacular silvered UAE crest was located at 12 o’clock and it was the very first year the model was introduced.
This necessitated moving the silver Breitling text and aligning it with two other lines of silver text – Navitimer and Chrono-matic in the lower half of the dial.
The Navitimer ref 8806 used a new higher frequency calibre 12 automatic micro-rotor with 21600 beats. This movement evolution replaced their famous 1969 calibre 11, which had arrived three plus years earlier as part of the Project 99 joint-venture consortium – a tie up of the specialist chronograph maker Dépraz & Co along with Hamilton-Büren, Heuer-Léonidas SA, Léon Breitling SA.
Whilst Breitling exact production records for the number of 8806 UAE logo pieces that made their way to the UAE desert climes remains a mystery, only a handful of pieces were ever supplied. Availability in the secondary market and the complete absence of known pieces lying with collectors confirms the limited production and the absence of surviving examples today. A closer analysis of those remaining indicate the serial number of known pieces is in a tight band around 14258XX.
We can gain some understanding of their rarity given the country’s history at this time.
Today, their air force is known as the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) with its roots going back to May, 1968 when it existed only as an Air Wing of The Adu Dhabi Defence Force (ADDF).
At this time, their primary responsibility was operating as a transport service and as ground attack support capability for ADDF land forces. However, whilst that might be the official description, the small population at inception and the small number of military planes limited capacity to act.
The UAE – originally seven Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharja, Umm al-Qaiwain, were originally separate sheikdoms. They were independent states each with a ruling family and government and operating under a British protectorate.
On December 2, 1971, they gained independence from the UK after the completion of treaties leading to the formation of a unified UAE country. It was instantly recognized by America the next day and an American embassy was established in 1974.At the time of its formation in 1971, UAE population estimates ranged from 200,000 – 400,000 and this was largely comprised of Bedouin nomads, pearl divers, a few merchants and fisherman.
Their Air wing was renamed the ADDF Air Force in 1972 and trained by the Pakistani Air force. One of their first official and known assignments was the operation of ambulance Caribous out of Jordan during the month long Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war of October 1973.
It is important to note that the Dubai Emirate continued to maintain its own Air support, the Dubai Air force wing right up until 1999, before it merged to form The United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF).
Today, the force of approximately 4000 has 552 fixed wing and helicopters giving it a diverse and comprehensive fleet of military-specific aircraft including fighter jets, transport aircraft, and helicopter gunships. In contrast, the planes under the Air Wing command at inception consisted of light non-military aircraft, including the Beechcraft King Air and the Cessna 208 Caravan with no specific fighter jets or helicopters at this time.
The discovery of oil in the regions nearby and the UAE desire to be a commercial aviation hub have led to rapid and extreme development. Today, the UAE’s population is 25-50 times the number at the time of formation and now has approximately 10million people.
The 8806 reference was also supplied in a small number to the Iraqi Air Force with the dial featuring the special Iraqi Air Force eagle wings that replaces the twin-jet tail logos.
Similarly, the exact number supplied remains unknown, however, serious multi-year conflicts limit survivors. Iraq was engaged in an eight-year war with Iran that started on the 22nd of September 1980 and considered one of the most protracted and damaging in its history.
Further, the two bloody and destructive multi-year Gulf Wars led to the complete destruction of its military, country, and a wholesale loss of life and property damage. Whilst the UAE has not been involved in any war or confrontation beyond serving as an air ambulance service in 1973, the size of its population fifty years ago limited the nature and scope of its air force especially at the time of delivery of their very first ADDF Air Wing watch.
This ensured a single delivery of just a handful of automatic ref 8806 UAE Navitimer pieces making them a very rare breed and creed.
Breitling, the specialist chrono maker still has their foot in the door supplying the UAE military with a new range of collectable limited-edition watches including the Endurance Pro, Aerospace, Colt and Avenger Blackbird that are all feature the UAE logo crest on the dial, made in batches of approximately 50 pieces.
The spectacular UAE crest of the 8806 automatic Navitimer and the placement of the Breitling logo in the lower part of the dial makes the watch instantly recognizable.
In 1973, watch production volumes were much smaller and Breitling like others needed all the business they could get. Consequently, the Grenchen maker allowed smaller customized watch orders that included this special order for the UAE military air force.
Its military pedigree, the watch proportions and balance, the silvered UAE crest and its incredible rarity all ensure that it flies high with Breitling and pilot watch collectors. It is one remarkable, scarce and high altitude Flightbird that comes with Breitling’s colourful and unique military pedigree.