Breitling Brings The Cosmonaute Back To Life With New Limited Edition Navitimer

In May of 1961 president John F. Kennedy sat before a special joint session of congress to formally announce the undertaking of sending an American to the moon (and safely returning said American back to earth) before the end of the decade. The scale of this objective was enormous, and the recently formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration wasted little time in pursuit of the lofty goal. The existing Project Mercury and its Mercury Seven astronauts had been operating since NASA’s founding in 1958 (insert The Right Stuff plug here), and a day after the one year anniversary of Kennedy’s speech (subsequently, 60 years ago today), Scott Carpenter was launched into space in Mercury’s Atlas 7 mission, within the Aurora 7 spacecraft.  This was Project Mercury’s 4th crewed flight. Carpenter would go on to make three orbits of earth in a shade under 5 hours time before landing (a bit off course) in the ocean northeast of Puerto Rico. On his wrist, a Navitimer Cosmonaute he had specifically requested from Breitling.

Carpenter entering Aurora 7. Credit: NASA

Today in Zurich, Breitling is displaying that very Navitimer Cosmonaute for the first time publicly, and is releasing a new, commercially available version alongside it.

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Before we get into the new watch from Breitling, it’s worth noting that Carpenter was, of his own accord, something of a ‘watch guy’, and just two years after completing the Atlas 7 mission, he requested a leave of absence from NASA to join the U.S. Navy’s SEALAB project, where he would be a part of the team that helped Rolex hone in their dive watch tech that would lead to the first Sea-Dweller reference, the 1665, around the time of SEALAB III. In 1965 he would spend 28 days living on the ocean floor off the coast of California as a part of SEALAB II, and would eventually go on to help create underwater training programs for future generations of astronauts to train in a weightless environment. There’s a lot more to his story, and the watches he wore throughout his career, that can be found on Jake’s Rolex World right here, including an interview with Carpenter himself prior to his death in 2013. 

The first seven astronauts, the Mercury 7. Credit: NASA

Ok, back to the Breitling at hand. The Cosmonaute came about when Carpenter requested a Navitimer that would track time on a 24 hour scale, making it easier to get the correct time without the aid of day and night cycles to discern AP/PM, as we take for granted here on the earth’s surface. Carpenter was a fan of the Navitimer while serving as a test pilot for NASA, so a modified variant would make the most sense for space flight given his familiarity with the platform. Bear in mind that this was before NASA’s official selection of the Omega Speedmaster, which didn’t happen until June of 1965.

An early Cosmonaute

Breitling delivered on Carpenter’s request with the Navitimer Cosmonaute. The watch would use a modified version of the Venus 178 found in the civilian Navitimer, only here it would see the hour hand making a complete lap of the dial once each 24 hour period. The Cosmonaute would also receive a modified slide rule bezel, which gained a bit of girth for easier use with space gloves, while ditching the Hours/Minutes scale as it would be of no use to an orbiting astronaut. 

The Navitimer 806 turned Cosmonaute 809 fit the bill, and Carpenter would go on to wear the watch during the Atlas 7 mission. A targeting error during reentry caused the Aurora 7 to land about 250 miles off course, delaying the retrieval of the spacecraft by the USS Intrepid (which, btw, is the foundation of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City to this day). During the recovery process, Carpenter’s arm (and wrist) spent prolonged time submerged in water, badly damaging the Cosmonaute (hey, this was a flight and space watch afterall). Breitling replaced the watch for Carpenter after the flight, but the whereabouts of the original were never quite certain, with many presuming it lost to history. According to Breitling, it sat in the family archives, unrestored.

Carpenter’s flown watch (right), John Glenn’s Cosmonaute (left)

For the 60th anniversary of the Atlas 7 mission, Breitling is displaying that exact Cosmonaut for the first time in its history, in unrestored condition. It looks exactly as you’d expect a 60 year old waterlogged watch to look, which is to say, it’s seen better days. Still, there’s a certain charm to seeing the watch in this state, a reminder of its accomplished past and subsequent rescue. Particularly interesting is the manner in which the dial and crystal have aged into hues of yellow, red, and brown. Displayed alongside this watch is fellow Mercury 7 member, John Glenn’s Navitimer Cosmonaute, which was acquired by the brand at auction. 

Joining the event in Zurich was former NASA Astronaut, Scott Kelly, as well as members of the Carpenter family, who recounted their memories of Scott, and of the morning of May 24th, 1962. Scott’s daughter, Chris Stoever, detailed her father’s keen interest in watches, and in particular the process of Scott making the request of Breitling. She takes a closer look at the life and work of her father in the book, FOR SPACIOUS SKIES: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut

The new Navitimer Cosmonaute is a redesign of the original, not a reissue. It is a limited edition watch that will see just 362 numbered pieces produced, in a nod to the number of times Carpenter circumnavigated the earth (3) and the year in which he did it (62). Carpenter’s watch, and early production Cosmonautes, deviated from the later commercial 809 Cosmonaute in sporting a fully black dial, and this trait is preserved with this modern rendition. Should a non-limited version of this watch be produced, I’d fully expect it to gain white sub dials.

The 24 hour time scale returns thanks to the COSC certified Breitling B02 inside the new Cosmonaute, and while it gains a date complication (added discreetly at the 6 o’clock position), it stays true to the original in being hand-wound. This keeps the 41mm case a manageable 13mm thick, and a touch over 47mm in total length. Overall, this is a very wearable Navitimer and a true treat to see Breitling paying mind to the ergonomics of a watch. 

The steel case gets a bezel unit made of platinum to denote the special nature of this limited edition. It’s not really something you notice but it’s another small detail that further separates the Cosmonaute from the standard Navitimer, which was just introduced earlier this year. 

There are a few other small changes that deviate from the original, including the modern bezel design, and more glaringly, the omission of the word “Cosmonaute” on the dial. The word Naivitimer still appears over the hour totalizer at the bottom of the dial, and under the AOPA wings we find Breitling and 1884 rather than the word Cosmonaute. This feels like a missed opportunity to use one of the coolest watch names imaginable, and pushes it more into the Navitimer variant realm.

The Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute limited edition is available now, and is priced from $10,800 on a leather strap, and $11,200 on a steel bracelet. Breitling

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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