Mercury astronaut's long lost watch found in Breitling family archives
May 24, 2022
— Long thought to be lost to history, the first Swiss-made watch to be worn in space has been found just in time to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its mission.
Breitling on Tuesday (May 24) revealed the watch that Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter used on the United States' second orbital spaceflight. The event, which was held in Zurich with members of the Carpenter and Breitling family in attendance, as well as Breitling brand ambassador and former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, also introduced a new Navitimer Cosmonaute styled after the original.
"Today, I'm thrilled to finally announce two Cosmonaute reveals: the first-ever public viewing of the watch Scott Carpenter wore into space and a 60th-anniversary limited-edition timepiece that pays tribute to its history-making forerunner," said Georges Kern, chief executive officer of Breitling, in a statement.
Launched on May 24, 1962, on what was only the fourth American spaceflight and sixth worldwide, Carpenter's Mercury-Atlas 7 mission preceded NASA's efforts to select a watch for its astronauts to use while in space. Instead, it fell to Carpenter to reach out to Breitling, which had a reputation for making chronographs for aviators, and ask for a version of its Navitimer to be modified for use in Earth orbit.
Carpenter knew he would be reading off times from space in 24-hour format, but the Navitimer only had a 12-hour display. He felt that he and his fellow astronauts would "want to be able to say what they read."
"Nowhere on a 12-hour dial does it say '8 p.m.,'" Carpenter said in 2008, recalling the details in a discussion with his daughter, Kris Stoever. (Carpenter died in 2013 at the age of 88.)
Breitling was keen to see its watch launch into space and so designed the Caliber B02 movement for the task. The Navitimer Cosmonaute was born, incorporating the new 24-hour markers while retaining the circular slide rule for performing mathematical calculations and the trio of chronograph subdials that were features of the original.
The watch worked well while in space, but after an off-target splashdown, the less-than-water-tight timepiece was submerged in seawater as Carpenter waited three hours to be recovered from the Atlantic Ocean. Hoping for its repair, Carpenter returned the Cosmonaute to Breitling, but the corroded timepiece was said to be beyond saving.
Instead, the watchmaker sent the astronaut a replacement from the production line models that he and his spaceflight had inspired.
As for the space-flown watch, its fate was largely unknown. In 2012, on the 50th anniversary of Carpenter's flight, Breitling said that it had searched through its vaults but was unable to locate it. Now, ten years later, the watchmaker says that the still-unrestored timepiece was held for all these years as part of the Breitling family archives.
Replicated and refreshed
At the same time as showing off the 60-year-old space-flown artifact, Breitling also revealed a new Navitimer Cosmonaute commemorating the anniversary.
Modeled after Carpenter's watch, including its ability to tell 24-hour time, the 2022 Cosmonaute features a new platinum bezel and a sapphire crystal caseback. The latter not only offers a window on the B02 movement but also reveals engravings added to mark the occasion, including Carpenter's name, the name of his Mercury spacecraft "Aurora 7" and "3 orbits around the Earth."
The caseback is also etched with the date of Carpenter's mission and the phrase "First Swiss wristwatch in space." As a final nod to the anniversary, the limited edition of 362 pieces recognizes both the spacecraft's circumnavigations of Earth and the year the mission made history.
"Today's Cosmonaute takes us back to the origins of space travel, when the race was on, stakes were high, and every mission was a triumph of human ingenuity," describes Breitling on its website. "This new watch honors the aesthetics of the original Cosmonaute, with subtle updates that work almost imperceptibly to give it its modern-retro appeal."
Corroded as a result of being submerged after splashing down in the ocean, Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter's Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaut chronograph resurfaced on public exhibit for the first time on May 24, 2022, 60 years after its flight into space. (Breitling)
Members of both the Carpenter and Breitling families, together with Breitling CEO Georges Kern and brand ambassador Scott Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, were present in Zurich for the reveal of the original and new edition Navitimer Cosmonaute watches. (Breitling)
Pre-launch photo showing astronaut Scott Carpenter suited up and wearing his Navitimer Cosmonaute while on board "Aurora 7," the name he gave to the Mercury-Atlas 7 spacecraft. (NASA)
Breitling's new 2022 Navitimer Cosmonaute besides a 1962 model and the original watch worn by Scott Carpenter in space. (Breitling)
Breitling's new limited edition Navitimer Cosmonaute reproduces the look of the original with a new platinum bezel and a sapphire caseback. (Breitling)