As promised, let’s start with a ramble because I think it helps demonstrate what can be so fun about this hobby. Picture yourself on a sunny Saturday morning, coffee in hand, with little to do other than to mull the upcoming day’s tasks at hand. This was me just a short couple of weeks back and I was faced with the perfectly fine, albeit normal activity of walking downtown with my daughter to run some errands. I had wine pickup and, wait for it, the purchase of pen refills on my list of things to do. Normally, I’d use the opportunity of going downtown to look into the windows of several of the large watch shops, but this just didn’t appeal to me having just returned from Baselworld and also knowing that it’s a lull period before all the new watches hit the stores later this Summer. So, I walked and for some odd reason, I chose a slightly different route that took me by a consignment shop that’s normally filled with glitzy cocktail rings, questionable diamonds and bad 60’s/70’s dress watches. On this day, though, “mundane” took a holiday because, amongst all the rotted Junghans, BWC and Anker watches, a lovely Breitling 809 Cosmonaute sat behind the display.
I entered the consignment shop – by this time by the way, there was literally a protest of some sort with over a thousand marchers (and nearly as many “Polizei”) passing behind me on the street barely 10 meters in front of the store – this just served to heighten the whole experience. I asked the shop owner to see the Breitling 809 Cosmonaute and received a quizzical look; these shops focus on turnover and, therefore, the owners rarely know the detail of what’s in the store. Anyhow, once in hand, I knew the Cosmonaute was a winner. It wound nicely – the owner doing the age-old useless turning of the crown back and forth – and the chronograph registered correctly. I asked if he knew any background on the watch and he stated that a woman had brought it in late the night before and simply said, “put a fair value on it and sell it”. This is of note as most consignees actually place a value on the item themselves, but in this case, the seller knew nothing about it and trusted the shop owner. Also, the watch was on sale, but the contract for leasing a “slot” in the window didn’t officially start until the following Monday; yes, I was lucky to find this “Cossie” so quickly. With the brief story told, virtual approvals from two experts now in hand, I consummated the deal. During the receipt process, I was told there was no warranty and not to get it wet – ha!
The history of the Breitling 809 Cosmonaute is one that perfectly mates with its aviation-inspired design. Breitling launched the Navitimer in 1954 and aviators – from commercial to those in the armed forces, heavily used this watch. In 1959, when NASA announced its initial lineup of astronauts for the space program, they chose from some of the USA’s best fighter and test pilots. Scott Carpenter was one of these and he apparently approached Breitling with a request: specifically, he asked for a Navitimer but with a 24-hour dial in order to aid accurate time telling in space. Breitling luxury brand responded and they paired the dial with a modified Venus 178 – just as in the Navitimer – but geared to move the hour hand around the dial at half speed to correspond to 24-hours. The watch officially debuted in 1961 as the Cosmonaute (seemingly within the Navitimer line) and Carpenter famously – Breitling would go on to advertise the feat of the Cossie being the first watch on the wrist of an American astronaut– wore the watch on the Mercury-Aurora 7 program launch in 1962. Sadly, Carpenter submerged his arm in the ocean while floating in his capsule waiting for pickup and the watch was damaged and never seen again. NASA, of course, ended up choosing the Omega Speedmaster Professional as its official Moonwatch and it’s sad, but understandable, to note that the Cosmonaute was never considered due to its lack of water and pressure resistance. The Cosmonaute, however, lived on…
I’ve been highly impressed with the Breitling 809 Cosmonaute. As a “beaded bezel” owner, I was excited to take ownership of a ridged or straight cut bezel. It gives the watch a less jeweled, more modern look versus earlier executions and also gives the appearance of more height. Likewise, this is my first Breitling with the twin planes – much like the 806 Navitimer worn by World Champion Jim Clark and I like that as well. In one’s collection, variety is a lovely thing. Wearing this Cossie is fantastic – I maintain that a Navi/Cossie throws about as much wrist presence as anything on the planet and this edition doesn’t stray from my statement. Add the dial detail of the Cosmonaute and it looks incredibly purpose-driven. As you can see, I’ve paired my watch with leather NATO straps and I think they look great. Every time I consider ordering a custom strap, I back off because the NATO’s just look great on these. By the way, don’t laugh, the green 22mm leather NATO was purchased at a Fossil outlet store – yes, really – for about $8.
The Breitling 809 Cosmonaute is not a terribly difficult piece to find, but finding a good, correct one is challenging. Heavily damaged dials, replaced or damaged slide rules and incorrect/replaced hands are just some of the things to watch. Replacements of such things are becoming nonexistent and expensive. If you’re, looking for a mid-60’s Cossie such as this piece, budget $4,000 – 4,500. With luck on your side, you may find a decent piece for less, but ensure that all is correct. Furthermore, with Navis and Cossies, I always tell people to look for gold-filled pieces; they are seriously classy, beautiful and contain amazing gilt dials. And…they’re cheaper by anywhere from $500 – 1,000!