Astronaut Mark Kelly, Breitling Collector

When you’ve got to close down the main engine valves, it helps to know what time it is.

You’ve heard of Mark Kelly. The American astronaut, former US Navy Captain, and decorated Gulf War combat vet is a bestselling author and the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. With 6,000 flight hours in more than 50 different aircrafts, 375 aircraft carrier landings, 39 combat missions and more than 50 days in space, Kelly is one of America’s most experienced pilots. He’s also an astronaut with four space missions aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, which he commanded on its final flight in May 2011, under his flight suit’s fabric belt. And he accomplished all that while wearing a Breitling – well, several Breitlings, but not at first. 

Early on in his career, Kelly learned why you don’t wear a cheap watch in space. He was on his second mission for NASA when the watch he was wearing (he won’t name the brand) experienced technical difficulties. “The second hand got stuck on the minute hand during liftoff,” he remembers. “Of course, this happened at a critical moment while I was timing the closure of some main engine valves.” In other words, the failure of his small-ticket ticker nearly doomed a $450-million endeavor.

“I knew it was time to get a better watch,” Kelly says. He’d heard about Breitling’s reputation among pilots for high quality, precision and not cracking under pressure. He picked one up and became a convert: “On my later flights into space, I didn’t leave the planet without my Breitling.”

Back on Earth, Kelly started collecting Breitlings to wear on missions. In 2011, Breitling asked if he would wear the first Breitling Naval Centennial Limited Edition Airwolf on his fourth trip to space. That watch was then auctioned off to benefit the Breitling Scholars program at the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, FL.  He also helped launch the 50th anniversary Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute with Scott Carpenter, who wore the original watch when he circled the Earth in the Aurora 7. 

But it isn’t all about space for Kelly.

“I used to fly the A-6E Intruder all weather attack airplane,” Kelly tells Maxim. “The mechanical clocks in those were notoriously unreliable, which was really frustrating because timekeeping was critical in many of the missions that we flew. When I was in combat over in Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War, we were often given a window of just a few minutes to deliver our weapons on target, so just imagine that you are in the middle of your mission and your watch doesn’t work. That can turn into a dangerous situation and directly effects the success of the mission.”

Want to keep time like Kelly? Here are the current versions of his top six Breitlings.