In our November-December issue, on sale now, Rüdiger Bucher, editor-in-chief of WatchTime’s German sister magazine, Chronos, speaks to Breitling Vice President Jean-Paul Girardin about a wide variety of topics, including the development of its in-house B01 chronograph caliber. Click here for excerpts from the interview.
WT: Breitling presented its first in-house movement in 2009 – the caliber 01, a chronograph movement with automatic winding and column wheel. When was the decision made to develop this caliber, and what is the strategy behind it?
JPG: The idea had already been around for quite some time. You’ll recall that in 1999 we had begun to have all of our movements certified by COSC as chronometers. Even then we were asking ourselves what we would have to do as an independent company to ensure our long-term success. It was clear that it would not be appropriate to make everything ourselves, since there are highly specialized, first-class suppliers for so many individual components. And at the same time our customers in markets such as Germany, Switzerland and Japan were asking us more and more often why we – as a leader in mechanical chronographs – were not producing our own movements. So, the idea was already around. The real opportunity finally came about in 2002 with ETA’s announcement that it would be gradually phasing out the supply of ébauches.
ETA wanted to supply only complete movements instead of ébauches while at the same time reduce, or at least limit, the quantities it delivered. And that is indeed what happened.
The first announcement made the situation somewhat more complicated for us but wasn’t a critical problem. But we did have to react with regard to the reduction of numbers, since it was clear that from that point on we wouldn’t be able to order larger quantities of parts. Also, at some point we wanted to be able to offer our customers watches with new, additional functions. The decision to establish our own in-house manufacture, including a new department for research and development, was founded on an industrial strategy. It did not result from a marketing point of view. We were not concerned with issuing a limited series with our own movements just so that we would be able to say, “now we are a manufacture.”
WT: Which features were included in your specifications for the first in-house chronograph?
JPG: High performance, reliability, rate accuracy – and COSC-certification, of course. The movement would be thinner than the Valjoux 7750, preferably by a whole millimeter, and be simple to repair. An open structure would then allow for the combination of subsequent complications. And not least of all, the movement needed to be manufactured in the quantities we required. The caliber needed to offer more than the Valjoux 7750. It was clear that it would necessarily be more expensive, but was intended to cost less than twice as much.
WT: Where does the mass production of the caliber 01 take place?
JPG: In the Breitling Chronométrie in La Chaux-de-Fonds. That is where we had already been assembling ETA ébauches and the Dubois Dépraz modules, regulating the movements for COSC and casing the finished movements. We invested heavily for the purpose of producing our own movements and expanded the area from 2,000 to 6,000 square meters.
WT: According to the Swiss Competition Commission decision of May 15, the supply of watch movements by ETA is guaranteed until the end of 2013. When will your own movement production be big enough so that you could get by without ETA movements entirely?
JPG: If it were to become absolutely necessary, we would be ready in two or three years. We would need to expand again in La Chaux-de-Fonds in order to enlarge the production areas.
WT: You submit every watch for chronometer testing and certification, mechanical and quartz watches alike. Would you request that COSC do anything differently?
JPG: No. What is unique about COSC is its independence and objectivity. There is no other institution that tests so many individual movements and itself is regularly certified by the Swiss accreditation office (SAS). Their tests are all based on an ISO standard. This test by an independent institution is extremely important to us. Naturally, many are critical of the fact that COSC only tests movements and not complete watches – meaning that the movements are cased after the testing process. So it is the responsibility of the watch company to ensure that the movement retains its accuracy and doesn’t just sit under a lamp in a showcase for months on end. And after the sale it becomes the owner’s responsibility to avoid dropping the watch, to bring it in for regular servicing, and so on. On the other hand, it is always possible for a well-trained watchmaker to adjust a COSC-certified movement and return its rate to the chronometer range. And that’s also part of the higher long-term value of having a COSC-tested movement.
WT: What role do quartz watches play, now and in the future?
JPG: Quartz watches are not unimportant because we can introduce new functions. Just think about the Breitling Emergency with the emergency call function. Quartz watches also do not compete with mechanical watches. There are customers who prefer extremely high precision. And in principle, you only need to set a quartz watch twice a year, when changing from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time and back again. Our chronometer-certified SuperQuartz watches show a deviation of only 5 to 7 seconds over a period of six months.
WT: What price ranges are strategically important?
JPG: When we introduced the new Chronomat in 2009 with an in-house movement and modified cases and dials, we increased the price from about 6,000 Swiss francs to about SF8,000. That was a different price level. And it’s where we wish to remain with our watches that contain our own movements. The Transocean is somewhat more expensive, running at about SF10,000, but it offers many more functions and is, as I mentioned before, a unique watch. The great challenge for us is now ensuring that this re-positioning is understood. It’s up to us to communicate this effectively. And as an independent brand, we have to work harder at creating market awareness of the product.
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