Breitling Reborn, Hands-On and Interview with Georges Kern
The biggest business story from Baselworld is how quickly Breitling CEO Georges Kern is recasting the brand.
To recap, after only six months at the helm, Georges Kern, the new head of Breitling, has gone on a world tour to introduce the Navitimer 8 and the brand’s new marketing mission. If that wasn’t ambitious enough, Breitling made a bevy of new announcements at Baselworld. Here’s the scoop.
A Simple Plan
The first objective of Breitling’s new mission is to reconcile the myriad collections. We first spoke to Kern about his plans for Breitling 2.0 in New York last February. “We are going to simplify the collections,” says Kern. “There is such a huge number of references that is difficult understand the brand.”
Other than the introduction of the Navitimer 8 (which Watchonista’s Josh Shanks wrote about here), Breitling has been busy rebranding across the board.
“The market is changing,” Kern says. “Society is changing. People want less loud products.” Which is why the Navitimer 8 cases are less shiny and more streamlined and the dials are not as busy as Breitling’s previous generation of Pilots’ watches.
Thus, going forward, all aviation watches will become Navitimers. SuperOceans will cover all things water-related, Premier will handle the land-based timepieces, and Chronomat will be the all-purpose collection. Says Kern: “It’s about simplification, readability, and storytelling within the line.”
The Breitling logo will also be made consistent across the board (bye wings). And most new models will be priced between US$3,500 and $9,000 (bye quartz, bye super complications).
The newest pilot watches in the Breitling family are the Navitimer Super 8 and the Navitimer 2 Automatic 38, both introduced at Baselworld.
At 50 mm in diameter, the Super 8 is definitely super-sized. Available in titanium or stainless steel and presented on a brown NATO leather strap it’s the brawniest of Brietling’s Baselworld novelties and takes its design direction from WWII stopwatches used by bomber pilots and crews.
Part of Kern’s vision for Breitling moving forward is to get inspiration from its archives (hence the new marketing slogan “Legendary Future”). This stainless-steel model has a black dial while the titanium version features a military green dial. It also has an offbeat, bidirectional rotating bezel and a big screw-locked crown positioned on the left side of the case.
At a press conference in New York last February, Kern discussed the drive behind Breitling’s shift in priorities. “The market is changing,” he says. “Society is changing. People want less loud products.”
The Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 chronograph sums up this philosophy quite nicely. It has roots in the 1950s, when Breitling introduced the Reference 66, a three-hand Navitimer. Without chronograph sub dials, the dial is clean and easy to read. The Navitimer 1 Automatic also has an elegant beaded and ratcheted bidirectional bezel. At 38 mm, it’s sized both for men who like smaller watches and women who have been looking for Navitimer but seek a smaller diameter.
While the size of the Super 8 appealed to the old school Breitling fans, this stripped-down chronograph was a hit with the new-to-the-brand fans at Baselworld. “We want to build a bridge,” says Kern. “There’s a way to satisfy both communities.”
Breitling has also quietly dropped a lot of the over-the-Top Gun imagery associated with the brand. “Breitling was never aviation alone,” says Kern, pointing to the company’s long-term association with Ocean Conservancy.
Which brings us to the new Superocean Héritage II. Breitling just redesigned this classic dive watch collection in 2017, so the news this year is that line has been expanded to include 44 mm models, as well as a 42 mm version in gold and stainless steel.
Overall, Breitling is becoming less macho. “The women’s market accounts for 60 percent of watch buyers,” says Kern. The brand is using vintage images of Raquel Welch to tout their historic association with cool women wearing gender neutral timepieces. Also gone is the “Betty on a Bomb” imagery associated with the brand.
The biggest takeaway from Breitling at Baselworld is that even more changes are on the way. During the fair, the company announced that it was doing away with brand ambassadors and bringing in a Squad concept — groups of high profile people representing a range of different professions (hello Brad Pitt!). Okay, it’s not really a big jump from the idea of brand ambassadors, but Breitling is breaking away from tradition by featuring female surfers Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons and the legendary actor Charlize Theron as representatives who will be rocking the same watches as the boys.
Kern also teases that there will be another big introduction before the end of the year. We guess that it will continue to be part of the curation of Breitling. After all, says Kern, “Too much choice is no choice.”
(Photography by Liam O’Donnell)