a brief history of an excellent aviator's watch
a brief history of an excellent aviator's watch
The Aviastar is a member of the Navitimer family and the last of a line that began with the 1940s reference 765s and continued with the AVIs of the 1950s and the Co-Pilots of the 60s and 70s. A new AVI was produced in the 1980s which then developed into the Aviastar in the 1990s. Aviastars were made for only a few years in the mid to late 90s and had virtually all been sold by about 2004.
1940s ref 765
The Aviastar’s ancestors were versions of the ref 765 produced in the 1940s. The Aviastar has design features from both versions of the ref 765 as shown in the 1946 catalogue.
Ref 765 pilot's watch in the Breitling catalogue of 1946
Another ref 765 in the 1946 catalogue. Notice this version has batons hours markers (except 12) and a tachymetre scale on the outer dial.
1950s AVI ref 765
During the 1950s the ref 765 was updated and modelled on designs used by several watch manufacturers for l'Armée de l'Air (the French air force). The design was picked up by Breitling for several variations of a watch known first as the AVI and later renamed the Co-Pilot. A major change to the design of the earlier ref 765s was the addition of a turning bezel.
1950's AVI - the window at 3 o'clock on this rare version shows
chronograph minutes, not the date
This later ref 765 has revised hands and a 15-minute counter
at 3 o'clock marked at 3-minute intervals
1961 AVI with black bezel and silvered sub-dials
In the mid-sixties the name was changed from AVI to Co-Pilot. Previously the model number 765 was stamped on the back with 'AVI' stamped above it. Now the model reference was '765 CP'
Circa 1969 Co-Pilot with screw back
The AVI's and Co-Pilot's are rarer than the equivalent Navitimers and some models were originally more expensive than Navitimers of the same year.
The "big case" Co-Pilots from Circa 1968
In 1968/69 automatic and manual versions of the Co-Pilot were introduced, housed in the same cases as the "big case" Navitimers. The manual watches were refs 7651 and 7661; the automatics were refs 7652 and 7662. There were various dial/bezel/hands configurations including yachting versions.
The Breitling company was closed and sold. It re-emerged in 1979 under the ownership and control of Mr Ernest Schneider but the AVI/Co-Pilot line did not reappear for more than a decade.
A totally new AVI, the ref A13023 was released using the Breitling calibre 13 movement (based on the Valjoux 7750) as also used in the Old Navitimer and some other Breitlings. There was a choice of blue or dark grey for the dial colour.
AVI ref A13023 (bought new in 1995)
At the Basle watch show in 1995 a new Breitling model was shown, a prototype which had not yet been named but which would become the Aviastar. Note the white outlines around the sub-dials and the 'cut-off' hour numbers.
Aviastar Prototype shown at Basle in 1995
Early publicity and pictures in the 1996 catalogue showed the prototype. This differed mainly in details of the dial and the case back from the watch that actually went on sale.
Aviastar publicity shows prototype not production watch - ca. 1996
Initially, during 1996, the Aviastar was available with either a Pilot (5-links width) bracelet or a leather strap; later in 1996 there was also the option of the newly released (7-links width) Navitimer bracelet.
Released in late 1996, the new 1997 Breitling catalogue did show images of the actual production version of the Aviastar, the most noticeable difference from the prototype being the design of the dial.
Production version of the Aviastar ref A13024 on Pilot bracelet
As late as May 1997 The Aviastar was confusingly still being advertised using an image of the prototype.
Advertisement for the Aviastar in the Wall Street Journal in May, 1997.
At $2325 on a leather strap this was not a cheap watch and it was no doubt felt that readers of The Wall Street Journal had sufficient disposable income to afford one. It is interesting that the USAF 50th anniversary emblem was included in the advert (although the Breitling watch that commemorated this was the 1997 Limited Edition of the Breitling Chronomat, not the Aviastar).
Aviastar on Navitimer bracelet
During 1997 the Pilot bracelet was discontinued for the Aviastar (and the Old Navitimer and Cosmonaute). The design of the clasp of the Navitimer bracelet was updated.
In the 1998 catalogue the Aviastar was now available with a dial/bezel colour choice of blue or Havana (brown) as well as the original black.
Blue Aviastar ref A13024
The rare Havana dial/bezel colour option
A black dial Aviastar reflects the blue of the sky
And sadly 1998 is the last year the Aviastar appeared in the catalogue although as late as 2003 some of the last examples were still being sold by a few Authorised Dealers.
I have owned two Aviastars and think they are superb watches and although they were undervalued for some years, from 2006 onwards prices have been rising steeply.
The Aviastar has a Breitling calibre 13 movement (based on the Valjoux 7750 as used in many Breitlings with the sub-registers at the 6, 9 and 12 o'clock positions). This movement has a reputation for robustness and is very accurate, some watches within 1 sec per day or better which easily exceeds the requirements for COSC certification although Aviastars were not certificated. I (accidentally!) dropped one of mine about three or four feet onto a fairly hard surface with no ill effects at all.
The crystal is domed mineral glass with anti-reflective coating. It has a nice vintage look and is raised well above the bezel but can be prone to chipping on the edge/corner of the raised sides. On the other hand it does offer some protection from knocks to the surface of the bezel and no doubt it is better to have to replace a crystal than replace a damaged bezel.
1. It's a great watch IMHO! I just love the look of it. They are not common and the odds are if you buy one you will not see anyone else wearing one (unlike Chronomats and Navitimers).
2. The bi-directional bezel is useful for many timing situations in everyday life quite apart from aviation use. Personally I find it more useful than the Navitimer slide-rule although of course both do have their uses.
3. In 2004 I wrote: "These watches are IMHO undervalued and can occasionally be bought used for under $1000 and rarely cost more than say $1200-1400 for a pristine example with box and papers although prices are creeping up. If fitted with a Navitimer bracelet add say three hundred dollars to these prices. Likewise, if buying from a dealer add a similar amount."
[Edit 2006: these were the prices two years ago - they are higher than this now!]
[Edit May 2007: they have now gone up even more and at least one has sold for $3000.]
4. Quick-set date – this is a very useful feature which the Aviastar shares with the Old Navitimer (identical version of the Valjoux 7750. The latest version of the Navitimer does not have this feature).
1. Like all Valjoux 7750 watches of any brand the Aviastar is a thick watch. At 16.4mm it is 2mm thicker than the contemporaneous Old Navitimer at 14.4mm. I find the thickness a little excessive.
2. The leather strap can fold upwards when putting on or removing the watch from the wrist, causing small indentations in the leather from the serrated edge of the bezel. I have got in the habit of taking the watch off carefully and then doing up the buckle before putting the watch in its resting place.
3. The finish is shiny; I would prefer matt for a pilot's watch to avoid unwanted reflections in the cockpit.
My advice is: if you like the look of the Aviastar then find one and go for it! They are a great watch, relatively uncommon, and although going up in price that has to be better than a model that is depreciating!
In 2003 there was a poll on the WUS Breitling Forum asking for the most-favoured deleted model for Breitling to bring back. The Aviastar got more votes than any other watch!
2004 - an Aviastar doing what it was designed to do, in a
glider above the Spanish Pyrenees
Thankfully fakes of the AVI/Co-Pilots/Aviastar range are very rare.
A fake 1990's AVI
- B -
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