: The Breitling AVI Ref.765 1953 Re-edition
TEXT Francis Cheung
PHOTOS Nicholas Biebuyck

Over the past decade, vintage watches have become increasingly desirable among collectors, aided by some jaw-dropping hammer prices particularly for Rolex references, and extended to other iconic models from other brands. Might the allure be the beauty of every unique patina, or the story and sentimental values that come with the watch? Whatever the motivation, collecting vintage watches is certainly something that a lot of enthusiasts aspire to.

Things got increasingly interesting when brands began to pick up the trend and accommodate the market with homage re-editions. As pristine vintage examples of certain iconic models are so coveted nowadays, to the point that it is extremely difficult to hunt for, these re-editions certainly makes it more friendly and approachable for enthusiasts to enjoy the vintage aspect without having to worry about the risky bits of buying and owning an all-original watch, such as condition and genuine provenance.

Breitling is not lacking of historical significance to justify their signature military aviation styling. As early as the 1930s, they started manufacturing onboard chronographs for the British Royal Air Force (RAF), a partnership that remains until the modern day, as shown by their collaboration on the RAF100 series in 2018. Another signature milestone, the Navitimer was commissioned by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association exclusively for their members and pilots, with a slide rule bezel to calculate the elapsed flight distance and time, as well as fuel consumption.

The story of the original reference 765 dates back to 1953. After the success of the partnership with the RAF in World War Two, Breitling had ambitions to expand their military contracts with the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) and introduced the original AVI (an abbreviation of aviation), reference 765. However, it missed one of the crucial specifications from the French military, a flyback chronograph, required out of necessity for pilots to have spontaneity in operating the chronograph during unpredictable events in midair, and would result in the loss of the contract to the Type 20 designed by Breguet, whose movement was designed with the required flyback function.

Despite the misstep in military application, it was quickly adopted by civilians. In 1964, it made a comeback with the name Co-Pilot, and since then developed various cosmetic variations. It was spotted successively on American actress Raquel Welch, and alpine ski racer Jean-Claude Killy, winner of numerous World Cups and Olympic medals. Coincidentally or not, he was wearing the Co-Pilot when he won the gold medal during the 1968 Winter Olympics in France.

The new Breitling AVI reference 765 Re-Edition references one of the two original variations that date back to 1953. The major difference between them was the way of displaying elapsed minutes on the chronograph; the dial arrangement as shown in pictures is referred to as “analog,” which included a 15-minute counter with three minute increment. Alternatively, the other version, referred to as “digital,” featured a window displaying the minute count in numerals, instead of the more traditional subsidiary minute counter.

The overall aesthetic is so accurately cloned that you might mistake it as an original at first glance, including the 41mm case, rotating 12-hour bezel, shape of hands, and the luminous indexes, which are all visually identical to the original. Still, it is distinguishable as a re-edition by the text on the dial, which no longer features “Genève” under Breitling. Other updates for modern concessions included replacing radium with Superluminova on the luminous elements, and water resistance up to 3 ATM (30 meters). Inside the case is the in-house, manual-wound calibre B09 that has a generous 70-hour power reserve, and just as an actual vintage watch, the movement is fully concealed by a screw-down case back that is engraved with “One of 1953”, indicating that the stainless steel model will be a limited run of 1,953 examples in total.

Other than stainless steel, there are two other metal variations which feature a different dial colour: red gold with a black dial , in a run of 253 examples, and platinum with a navy blue dial, in 153 examples. The watches are priced at HKD 58,300 in stainless steel, HKD 155,000 in red gold, and HKD 288,000 for platinum at the time of publishing.