The Art Of Motorcycle Partnerships - An Enthusiast's Take On Breitling And Norton
Is the historic British marque ‘A Perfect Fit’ with adventurous watch brand?
The 16-year partnership between Breitling and Bentley is the longest of any among watchmakers and car marques - but at Baselworld 2019, Breitling CEO Georges Kern announced the brand would take to the road with another famous British automotive name that's known for building machines with two-wheels rather than four.
Norton was founded in 1901 by engineer James Lansdowne Norton and found fame six years later at the first Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - or 'TT' - when a 25-year-old toolmaker called Harry Rembrandt Fowler won the 10-lap race on a Peugeot-powered Norton bought directly from the factory.
He crossed the line a full half-hour ahead of the second-placed bike having lapped at an average speed of 36.2 mph - clocking-up the first of Norton's 19 Senior TT wins that underpinned its reputation as a maker of fast, reliable, and beautifully handling motorcycles.
But after disbanding its race team in 1955, Norton stuck to building road bikes such as the Dominator and the Commando - until the demise of the British motorcycle industry saw the firm enter liquidation in 1977.
It looked like the end of the line for the marque until 2009, when British fireworks tycoon Stuart Garner acquired worldwide rights to the Norton name from its former American owner.
After revising and improving existing designs, Garner delivered the first new Commando 961 in 2010. This new bike attracted interest from wealthy buyers around the world - and now Norton has grown to offer multiple models in the range, including a V4-engined superbike that will compete at the Isle of Man with multiple TT-winning legend John McGuinness at the controls.
The New Breitling Norton
All that history and British fighting spirit appealed strongly to Kern, who contacted Garner soon after taking over the reins of Breitling in 2017.
"One of our aims is to take Breitling beyond being known mainly for its links with aviation and back to its roots as a maker of watches for use on land and sea as well as in the air,” Kern told Watchonista.
"We were looking for a cool brand with an interesting history, and Norton just seemed right - not only do the motorcycles fit in with our concept of 'modern retro,’ but they look perfect when displayed in Breitling's boutiques and when used for our industrial, loft-style photo shoots."
He added that the Breitling name will appear on McGuinness's bike at the Isle of Man - although the brand's support of Norton's participation in the event will be 'passive.'
"Outside of the UK, not many people understand the race - or the fact that everyone who takes part in it is really risking their life," said Kern, speaking of the gladiatorial contest in which riders race on 37.73 miles of public road that dip, rise, curve and snake around the island, with the quickest regularly touching 190 mph and averaging 130 mph past walls, street lamps, whitewashed cottages, and the occasional sheep.
Previously, Norton was linked in a decade-long partnership with U.K. based watchmaker Bremont. After the partnership ended, Norton quickly announced the switch to Breitling in February 2017, after which designers from the two firms began to collaborate on the first watch, with the finished version unveiled at this year's Baselworld fair.
Called the Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Norton Edition, the watch features a tachymeter scale for speed and distance calculations, and a dial finished in Norton's signature black and gold color scheme plus a transparent case back decorated with the marque's famous logo. Buyers may choose from an aged brown leather strap or a steel bracelet.
The chronograph will be complemented by a limited edition run of 77 Norton for Breitling motorcycles based on the 961 Commando, and further watch models are due to be launched in 2020 to reflect the latest machines in the Norton line-up, such as the Superlight 650, Atlas Ranger and Atlas Nomad. The current Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Norton Edition is priced at $8,500 USD.
"Almost as soon as we met with the Breitling design team, we knew we were both working from the same page in wanting to create a watch that combined an element of refinement with practicality - and I think that's exactly what we've achieved," says Garner.
"Perhaps strangely, we haven't yet got around to talking about the financial side - but to be able to work with one of the world's best-known watch brands which has a similar philosophy to ours and which will boost our exposure worldwide clearly represents a fabulous opportunity for Norton."
(Photography by Pierre Vogel and Liam O'Donnell)