No one knows this watch better than Fred Mandelbaum
Breitling celebrated the 60th anniversary of the mythical watch that was aboard the Aurora 7 spacecraft with the launch of the all-new Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute. On this special occasion, we caught up with Fred Mandelbaum, vintage watch collector-turned-Breitling consultant, to talk about the newly released timepiece, his watch collection, and the 2022 Navitimer Cosmonaute.
MW: How long have you been collecting watches, and how did Breitling become a part of it?
Fred Mandelbaum: When it comes to how long I have been collecting watches, it has been longer than I can remember because it shows how old I am. It started out with me using chronographs for my work in the 1980s. We were using chronographs for production control and for optimising workflows. Everything that is now done by cameras and computers, was then done by managing staff walking around and looking at machinery and workflows. The chronograph was the tool that I used all the time. So that is how I started using chronographs. I did not start collecting them; I started depending on them. Over the years, I was and still am in electronics, so everyone around me was using quartz watches. But I had so much micro-chips in my work life that I kept my chronographs mechanical, always actually. That is how I started to like chronographs more and that is how I started collecting them. You don’t get up in the morning and become a collector; you grow into it over the years. You develop sympathy, interest, and with interest, comes curiosity and the desire to learn.
Regarding the second part of the question, if you come with an open mind as somebody who is researching a certain segment, you will find that with any relevant innovation, both in terms of functionality and design, Breitling was always either the first or one of the firsts. They were defining the form and the function of the chronograph for many years. So when you start collecting chronographs, what else but Breitling should you collect! They have such a huge back catalogue over so many years with so many outstanding watches, Breitling became the core of my collection. One other thing that maybe drew me closer to the brand was the fact that there was very little research done on it. There was a lot to discover and learn and probably that is what sparked my interest in it as a brand too.
We have read that you only collect complicated watches. Can you talk about that?
Relatively complicated watches. I collect some dive watches too and the really complicated ones are a different case. But my collection mostly consists of chronographs with a strong focus on more complicated chronographs like rattrapante, etc. However, yes I do collect tool watch chronographs typically. I am more interested in chronographs because it was my tool. Others used other devices for their work like calculators, my tool has always been the chronograph that I had on my wrist. This is what triggered my interest so this is probably the reason why I concentrated so much on chronographs.
Which was your first complicated timepiece? What made you get it?
My first chronograph was a Chronograph Suisse, which was a standardised chronograph branding used by small Swiss watchmakers in the 1940s and 1950s. The second was Girrard Perreguax and my third was a Breitling which I got in the late 1980s.
Can you tell us a bit about the 1962 original Cosmonaute? What does this watch mean to collectors and how does it fit into the broader context of the space programme at the time?
It has a huge historical relevance as it is the first Swiss wristwatch that ever flew to space. Another unique quality is that it was the only watch that was specifically designed for an astronaut for a specific flight and a specific task. Scott Carpenter was responsible for the communication and navigation of the project Mercury then and he contacted Breitling and asked them to build that watch according to his specifications. So if you are into tool watches, for me, this is the one par excellence because if you are a watch-maker, it is a little bit out of the way to say that we will build a prototype just for a single event. But that is what Breitling did because the owner of the company then was also a fan of space flight.
How was the original watch received?
I don’t know about the others but I have known the watch for some time, so I won’t be surprised. But I assume, for anyone who has an interest in spaceflight and history, this is an outstanding and unique timepiece. The decision taken by Willy Breitling to not restore or repair it but leave it like it was flown into orbit proved that he treated it as a sacred object and understood the historical relevance of it. And that’s why it is such a unique and outstanding piece and it is beautiful too when you see it in real.
What are your thoughts on the 2022 edition of the Navitimer Cosmonaute?
It is not a re-edition of the original but it catches the spirit of the 1962 original Cosmonaute, which is outstanding for a modern watch. It is slimmer and thinner than the original watch, it is very elegant and it has the soul of Scott Carpenter and of his innovation and uniqueness. This is what the watch represents to me. It is an enthusiasts watch, built in a limited quantity. It is the only Navitimer design that has a platinum bezel and it does not copy the original but reinterprets it in a modern way. I think for any Breitling collector or any chronograph collector in general, this is an outstanding watch, both in terms of value of how unique it is and the background and history that it represents.
For more information, visit the Breitling website here.
Image Courtesy: Breitling