Historical Horology: The Overshadowed Breitling 765 AVI Co-Pilot
When it comes to aviation watches, and chronographs specifically, Breitling is a brand that is no doubt near the top of the list for most people immersed in that particular style of watch. And when you hear Breitling, you probably call to mind the Navitimer, as it’s just about the iconic model for the brand. What you may not know is that they had another equally capable watch, the Breitling 765 AVI / Co-Pilot.
I became aware of this model courtesy of a very thorough three-part series that the crew at Monochrome put together with the help of some experts from their forums. While our article here will attempt to give a quick overview, you really should check out the pieces (linked individually below) for the wealth of information, as well as the great photography.
In the first part, they get into the history of Breitling, and how the brand essentially shaped the look of the chronographs that many know and love today. After getting through that (and of course touching on the Navitimer), they start off with the first iteration of the Breitling 765 AVI Co-Pilot, which started in 1953, and continued until 1964. Of course, even that entails another side history lesson, this time involving the Venus 178 calibre that was at the heart of the 765. For me, this first series is the most intriguing, due to the fact that the minutes register is replaced by what appears to be a date window. In actuality, this is a 15-minute counter, just displayed “digitally”.
In the second part of the series, Monochrome picks things up in 1964, where the first big change to the 765 series comes into being. It was in this era that the Co-Pilot naming came into being (this is also when watches like the Omega Speedmaster and Rolex Daytona came to prominence). For the watch itself, the bezel changed from steel to aluminum (allowing for some color to be added); on the dial side, the digital counter gave way to a 15-minute analog register. It was at this time a yachting-specific version of the CP came into being. It was around this time that the chronograph was losing ground to the automatic movements, so there’s another side history lesson in the lesson – which then sets up the final installment.
In the third and final piece, we see the era of the automatic chronograph, and it’s impact on the Co-Pilot. For the existing lines, case sizing grew a bit, and there was an introduction of a 24-hour variant. Finally, they did jump into the automatic chronograph game with the calibre 11 (which is interesting in its own right). In this third phase there were additional variants released in the late 60s / early 70s, including a massive (even for today) 48mm example.
It’s an interesting dive into one of the lesser-known watches in the Breitling lineup – and my kudos to the team over at Monochrome for pulling it all together!
All images courtesy of Monochrome