the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon took off.

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Hand Holding a Watch

It was at precisely 8:05 on the 1st of March 1999 that the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon took off. Nobody was yet aware that, only twenty days later, the last great human adventure of the 20th century would have finally reached its epilogue.

At 8.05 on the 1st of March 1999, the Swiss village of Château-d’Oex woke up to see a strange and shiny craft lifting an orange pod in the air. On board, the Swiss balloonist Bertrand Piccard and the Englishman Brian Jones saw the Earth moving further and further away while dreaming that this moment, suspended in time, may soon make history.



However, nothing was less certain: for almost 20 years, the completion of a nonstop trip around the world in a hot air balloon had evaded all attempts. Since the beginning of the 1980s, then more frantically during the next decade, many tried to be the first to succeed at accomplishing the first nonstop trip around the world in a balloon. In total, ten seasoned professional teams attempted twenty-one times to achieve this circumnavigation, following the wind and all its hazards. All poured passion, determination, technology and other resources into this enterprise, including Richard Branson and Steve Fossett, who made several attempts.


Bertrand Piccard, supported from the very start by Breitling, tried several times as well. In 1997, his first attempt ended…after a 6-hour flight in the open above the Mediterranean Sea; the second in 1998, after 9 days in Burma. Determination, however, did not fail Bertrand Piccard, who could count Breitling as a faithful sponsor. His third attempt would yield the long-awaited success. 45,633 kilometers…

“There are many ways of looking at the first nonstop trip around the world made by the Breitling Orbiter 3: the philosophical aspect, where dreams and perseverance make the impossible possible; writing a new page in history; the human adventure, using the force of wind to fly longer and further than anyone before; the technological development of a hot air balloon capable of floating 3 weeks in the air, and last but not least, the sports side of it, with world records at its conclusion. It is the cumulation of all these aspects that excited me", remembers Bertrand Piccard. For the Swiss balloonist, the collaboration with Breitling combines friendship and loyalty.


“When I first started dreaming about going around the world nonstop in a balloon, Breitling strongly supported me. Today, 20 years later, we continue to unite our efforts through the Solar Impulse Foundation, researching solutions for a better quality of life for our entire planet. The new time-keeper Cockpit B50 Orbiter Limited Edition celebrates the anniversary of the Breitling Orbiter 3: it stirs us towards new horizons to explore”

However, there were many skeptics at Château-d’Oex on March 1st, 1999, at 8:05. Twenty days later, the feat was officialized. The Breitling Orbiter 3 had just landed somewhere in the Egyptian desert after flying nonstop for 45,633 kilometers, in 477 hours and 47 minutes. The last great human adventure of the 20th century had just found its epilogue. And it owes much to the Swiss watchmaker Breitling.

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The Breitling Story

Since 1884

Léon Breitling was an ambitious Swiss watchmaker who, in 1884, opened a workshop in Saint-Imier. He focused on creating chronographs, which were increasing in demand at the time.

In 1889, he received a patent for a model that distinguished itself from the competition through its sleek design and uncomplicated manufacturing process. The success of this model established the reputation of the company, which moved to a new factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds.



In 1896, Breitling created a chronograph that was accurate to two-fifths of a second, and within a decade, the company had sold more than 100,000 chronographs and stopwatches. At the dawn of the 20th century, Léon Breitling patented a simple timer (the Vitesse timer) that could measure any speed between 15 and 150 km/h, and also enabled the police to do the same. When Léon Breitling passed away in 1914, his son Gaston took over the company and proved to have his father’s pioneering spirit and passion for chronographs.

In 1915, Breitling was one of the first brands to introduce a wrist chronograph, with the ingenious idea of creating a pushpiece separate from the crown which controlled the three chronograph functions, start, stop and reset to zero.

In 1923, Breitling launched a patented pocket watch with two pushers, which made it possible, for the first time, for the stopwatch to measure multiple times in sequence.

Gaston Breitling was succeeded by his son Willy who, in 1934, filed a patent for the world’s first wrist chronograph with two pushers. He also founded, in 1938, “HUIT Aviation Department,” which developed products for professional aviators, most of which offered an eight-day power reserve, so the French word for “eight” (huit) was an appropriate choice.

The tumultuous 1940s were marked by trailblazing creations such as the Premier line, referencing the civil, non-military use of chronographs, relying less on innovation and more on elegance and attention to detail. The ‘50s debuted with the launch of the Breitling Navitimer, equipped with the flight-specific slide rule and adopted by many pilots, followed by the Superocean and then, building on this diver’s watch, by the Transocean, which became a great success, buoyed by the brand’s reputation for aviation precision.



In 1962, a Navitimer with a special 24-hour scale accompanied astronaut Scott Carpenter on his orbital flight in the Aurora 7 capsule, thus becoming the first Swiss wrist chronograph to travel in space.

In 1965, James Bond, as played by Sean Connery, checked his Top Time with an integrated Geiger counter. This watch was also heavily marketed towards a new generation of women, who were looking for a fashion accessory in particular, and it glamorously graced the wrist of actress Raquel Welch in her film Fathom.

In 1969, Breitling responded to the new era of electronically controlled wristwatches with a quartz Chronomat and, starting in 1973, it introduced quartz versions of the iconic Navitimer. In 1979, right before his death, Willy Breitling sold the assets and brand names to the visionary entrepreneur Ernest Schneider, whose family remained the guardians of the Breitling legacy until 2017, and still retain a stake in Breitling to this day.

Three Breitling Watches