7 Things to Know about Georges Kern’s Breitling

It’s been almost seven months since Breitling’s “Legendary Future” traveling roadshow hit New York City — after previous stops in Munich and Zurich — with Georges Kern unveiling his first collection as global CEO. In this article from the archives, we take a look at the seven biggest changes that Kern has levied so far.

Breitling Roadshow - Georges Kern Speech
Breitling CEO Georges Kern addresses the audience at the New York Roadshow event

The aviation theme stays, but the sexism goes.

Breitling has become notorious in some circles for its hyper-masculine marketing, centered not just around macho scenes of daring fighter pilots but also the imagery of idealized, scantily clad women. The new marketing materials and videos we saw were notable for the absence of the latter. Breitling even made news in recent weeks for the removal of “racy” artwork, including a sculpture of a busty woman poised atop a torpedo, from its flagship New York boutique. Kern told a Swiss newspaper, “Some customers thought they were funny. But such clips were no longer suitable and do not reflect values of today’s society.” At the presentation in New York, he juxtaposed one of the “old” video clips with a video from the upcoming campaign and stated bluntly, “We just can’t show this stuff anymore.”

“Racy” promotional videos like the above will become a thing of the past, Kern says.

2. Aviation will not, however, be the only theme going forward.

Kern pointed out that Breitling’s product history, while certainly tied to the high-flying world of pilots and jets, has always encompassed a broad variety of disciplines, including diving, sailing, and even skiing. New products will reflect this “air-sea-land” diversity, which Kern says was made necessary largely because of the success of a non-aviation model, the Heritage Superocean II, a vintage-inspired diving watch that Kern described as “less loud and less shiny” than many other Breitling models. The collection will be segmented neatly into families, with all pilot-type watches fitting into the Navitimer family, diving watches in the Superocean family, et cetera. The partnership with British luxury carmaker Bentley will continue, though the future of Breitling for Bentley as a sub-brand appears to be iffy. A new partnership, with Norton Motorcycles, also kicks off this year and will produce some motorbiking-influenced watches.

Breitling Superocean Heritage - 1957-2017
Expect more vintage-inspired pieces like the Breitling Superocean Heritage II.
Breitling CEO Georges Kern w/ Norton Motorcycle
Breitling announced a new partnership with Norton Motorcycles.

3. Breitling will create more products to embrace the Asian market.

What has made Breitling watches so desirable to certain markets and customer demographics — their large sizes and complicated-looking dials — has also made them harder to sell in China and other Asian countries, where the customers lean toward smaller, simpler, and more traditional timepiece looks. Hence the development of products like the Navitimer 8 — which offers more modestly sized cases and eschews the iconic slide-rule bezel, a longtime fixture of all Navitimer models that adds a layer of (to some) unnecessary complexity — as well as the upcoming release of the elegant Premier collection, presumably at Baselworld. As Kern pointed out, China does not have the rich aviation history of other markets such as the U.S. and Britain, so creating something more relatable for this audience was long overdue.

Kern is quick to point out, however, that fans of the current Navitimer need not fear its extinction; the models with the generous case dimensions and classical slide-rule bezel will continue to be an important part of the collection. “Yes, we need big watches,” he acknowledges, “but there is a way to bridge the two communities.”

Breitling Navitimer DC-3 Limited Edition- reclining
Fans of the classical Navitimer 46mm with the slide-rule bezel (above) need not fear: it’s not going anywhere.

4. Fewer quartz movements, more mechanical ones — both in-house and outsourced.

Breitling will concentrate, Kern said, on what it does best: analog timekeepers with mechanical movements. Quartz-powered pieces like the Skyracer will be phased out, but popular outliers like the Breitling Emergency will remain. “Our competition,” Kern said, “is not coming from the digital world, but from analog.” And while Breitling’s new global CEO insists that there will continue to be a dedication to in-house movement production, a look at the models launching in the Navitimer 8 series make it clear that outsourced movements will be an important part of the strategy going forward — both to maintain a brand presence in certain price segments and to help the consumer with product identification. (The overall price segment Kern is aiming for, by the way, is around $3,500 to $9,000.)

Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01
Breitling Manufacture Caliber B01

On the latter point: chronograph watches equipped with Breitling’s in-house B01 caliber, or variations thereof, will now be more readily distinguishable from those that use other movements, such as the ETA Valjoux 7750. The 3-6-9 tri-compax subdial arrangement, with a date at 4:30, will denote a B01 movement (and hence a higher price point), while the 12-9-6 arrangement with a day-date display at 3 o’clock, means the timepiece is powered by the workhorse ETA movement. To drive home the point even further visually, the B01 movements will be on display through sapphire casebacks while the ETA movements will be behind solid casebacks engraved with Breitling branding.

The Breathing Navitimer 8 B01 Chronograph in 18kt gold.
The Breitling Navitimer 8 B01 (above) has a distinctly different dial arrangement than the Navitimer 8 Valjoux (below).
The Breitling Navitimer 8 Valjoux Chronograph.

5. More vintage and retro inspiration, in the products and also the logo.

The sweet spot for watch design and inspiration going forward, Kern says, will be the century spanning from 1884 to 1984 (with specific influences coming from the 1930s to the 1950s), as we have already seen in the Navitimer 8 models. The Breitling logo unveiled for 2018 goes for a more vintage-style cursive text while retaining the bright yellow coloring that has become so emblematic of the brand.

Breitling Logo 2018
The new, retro-look Breitling logo (above) will replace the current one (below)
Breitling Old Logo
Breitling Old Logo

6. Breitling Boutiques will become Breitling Lofts.

As noted above, the look of Breitling’s branded boutiques will also be undergoing some significant changes, with the pilot/adventure/pin-up girl/Pop Art aesthetic giving way to a more sober, luxurious, yet still sporty “loft” atmosphere, hence the new name. The Breitling yellow will still be prominent, but will now be used in concert with the new logo, the stylized “B,” and lots of wood, in dark brown in beige tones. The photos below, of the new Breitling concept store in the Swiss alpine resort town of Zermatt, offer a glimpse of what the other flagship boutiques can expect from their upcoming makeovers. Beijing will see the first of the official Breitling Lofts and will include masculine and welcoming elements like a pool table and Norton Motorcycles on display.

Breitling Zermatt boutique - 1
Above and below: Breitling’s Zermatt concept store, the blueprint for the Breitling Lofts
Breitling Zermatt boutique - 2

7. Streamlining is the name of the game, even for bracelets and straps.

“Too much choice is no choice,” Kern said when referring to the current plethora of bracelet and strap options offered on Breitling watch models — Professional, Diver Pro II and III, and Ocean Racer among the rubber choices, plus numerous colors and styles of leather. As part of the clear segmentation of the Breitling families, these options will also be limited, which will help solidify each model’s and each collection’s identity. It is — in an era during which nearly every watch manufacturer seems to be going in the opposite direction, with customization and easy strap interchangeability becoming the name of the game — a bold move. But then, Georges Kern, during his tenure with IWC, has become known for such moves, and they more often than not have paid off.

No Responses to “7 Things to Know about Georges Kern’s Breitling”

Show all responses
  1. Stephen Warren

    Well…a year and a half since this articles was written and since that time, a little more reflection on that period of time since Georges Kern took the helm. As a Breitling owner; I have to be honest and say that the Ernst Schneider era for me was the best so far hands down. The marketing and the products were exciting. Yes…I would partially agree the macho thing could be toned down, but for gosh sakes these were pilot watches with a rich aviation history. The watch designs were bold and exciting; unlike anything else within their league. Now I think the company and the offerings are at best absolutely boring. The “Squads” to me are uninspiring to say the least. I won’t even touch on the personalities and politics these squaders represent. Yeah…and I think many of the commenters here had the foresight to see that pandering to the Asian ( read Chinese) market wasn’t going to do much from a demographic that still worships Rolex. I would know since having lived in the region for a couple of years. Bring back the bold. Bring back the winged “B”. I realize change in necessary, but Breitling seems to be working hard to become irrelevant. Also I have personally never had a problem with customer service but it seems many others have not had my good fortune. Maybe also worth looking into?

  2. Mickey Watch

    New models, New Logo are a FAIL for me. I own 4 “classic” Navitimer and will continue to purchase NOS or used to add to my collection but there is nothing in the new line up I desire. Also stop with the MASSIVE size watches….Silly.

  3. Georges,
    First diagnose before you prescribe!
    This is not Kraft Foods – our former employer. Here you are dealing with an iconic brand not to be sacrificed for satisfying Chinese tastes.
    The changes you propose are a major faux pas my friend….

  4. Robin L Robson

    Owner of a Breitling chronomat 44 GMT 2-tone w/pilots bracelet. Truly one beautiful, precise instrument. I never checked my wrist as I do now when wearing my Rolex day/date (30 years). Other people were quick to point out my Rolex, but I only checked my watch maybe four times per day. This Breitling is a different story altogether. Throughout the day and throughout the evening I’m checking my wrist to admire this beautiful luxury watch. Hopefully Mr. Kern can work his magic and restore Brieting into the top 50 swiss brands. Personally, I believe Mr. Kern’s primary goal for Breitling should be positioning this iconic chronograph Swiss watch company securely as the number two Swiss watch brand. Behind Rolex, securely in number two.

  5. Gregory Ingram

    I wish they would bring back the Bently flying B jump hour with a new look and colors.

  6. David

    Was Breitling really that “broken” as a brand and a company? Not to my understanding and knowledge, being both a long time customer (15 years) and experienced business strategist. What bothers me from my customer perspective is the alienation of a contributable portion of the current customer base. And, from a business management perspective, it is outright dangerous to levy such dramatic change, especially without fully understanding all the factors driving the business. Despite his industry knowledge, Kern does not understand most, or many, factors that influenced Breitling’s operative successes and failures over the past 5-10 or so years. It should stand to reason that a “well-tuned” CEO should have at least a year of exposure to the operating environment before they impart radical philosophical changes. Understandably, the Asian market has been weak for Breitling, but that does not warrant comprehensive repostioning of the entire product line. Start slow, Mr. Kern. I think you’ve created more challenges for yourself than were there on your first day on the job. You’re not Mr. Biver, and you’re working with a totally unique situation from anything Biver touched. Don’t try to be a hero, be a level-headed thought leader. You’re taking the wrong approach by making this exciting brand less-exciting. At least when Biver “fixes” companies, he makes the products more interesting, not void of personality. This is not IWC, Kern. This is Breitling. But I guess you’re paid to debase the fanbase to pick up a few points more in volume from Asia. Very short-sighted. I predict you will be moving on to Bell & Ross in the not so distant future to water down their brand as well. Granted, Breitlings product line-up was too broad and seemingly lacked direction, but you’ve stripped it of it’s core identity.

  7. Sarah W.

    Logic from Kern, “Female + Commercial = Sexism?”

    What. So, is anyone doing anything about these extra young, extra curvy women in modelling? Who are basically going through the same thing… Nope.

    Didn’t think so. Don’t make me laugh, removing sexism. There is no sexism there… It’s not 1950 again people… Grow up and stop being offended by everything.

    And Kern, stop pandering to the lowest common denominator, you should know better…

  8. stephen tremm

    They should change their name back to Sicura and start making cool watches again….and stop with the GIGANTIC diameters!

  9. Michael

    I think it is a big mistake to call this new collection, which seems to derive from marketing strategy more than horological inspiration, Navitimer. These watches have nothing to do with the iconic Navitimer and the ploy to co-opt the widespread fame of the original is crass.

  10. Doug ladowski

    It’s a sad day when people see problems that don’t exist. So the answer to the market is change your uniqueness and be more bland. Good move guys, later

  11. I am rolex and breitling wearer. IHMO, i like the current breitling. It was really different from other brands. Changing to become simpler/smaller just make breitling looses its uniqueness. I love the uniqueness of breitling.

  12. Norman Plotkin

    I have the B01 slide rule Navitimer and I appreciate that it is different from the other plain dials. I’m glad that Kern is keeping this version. I am an engineer and I like slide rules.

  13. Herbert Wong

    I’m glad Breitling will move away some from the wrist hockey pucks they were selling. every time I wear my vintage Omega SM 300, I get that “less is more” feeling.

  14. JW Safranek

    More “outsourced” mechanical movements, and less super quartz. Brilliant! What will Breitling think of next? Perhaps they can change the town name of ‘Grenchen’ to ‘Gebrochen.’

  15. Concerned Breitling Customer

    Unfortunately Georges is grossly misreading the Breitling customer here. Just like BMW & Mercedes, people buy Breitling for the BRAND NAME RECOGNITION. Breitling owners want their watch to have a large WINGED Breitling logo, which can be instantly recognized. Breitling watches are supposed to be big, bold and Breitling. Removing these and making the major brand, logo and ethos changes at one time will lead to nothing but confusion and a drop in sales IMHO. I personally like Georges as a personality and his previous work but this is not IWC which people buy for their refined subtle look. Georges if you read this please course-correct before it’s too late.

  16. Abraham

    I am not convinced by the branding/logo change. The current color/text/design combination appears stronger and has built up a lot of goodwill. It appears to be case of changing for the sake of making changes, and a lot of money will have to be spent to retain recognition levels. Ask yourselves whether a company such as Rolex would make such a profound logo/script/brand color change, all at the same time.

    • Concerned Breitling Customer

      Well said. I think everyone agrees that the coldstart racer and their convoluted naming Was confusing to customers, but this needed to be more of a one step at a time process. CVC Capital ought to keep a close eye on top-line revenue on a monthly basis rather than letting this go up to years before realizing it’s a mistake.

  17. Randy Rogers

    George Kern represents for Breitling a savior, one who is not a prisoner to the ‘Group Think’ that is so common in the Swiss and Japanese Watch Industries, he has an understanding of the Brand, it’s history and ethos and is able to communicate that into Product and messaging. The late 1980’s saw the re-birth of many Heritage Brands, Breiting has a bright future moving forward, under the guidance and direction of one whose formative years in the Industry had the exposure to open-collegial thought, rather than the segmented structure of Brands vis-a-vis where they fit with-in a Group, or some concocted storyline, or as the cash cow that has to sacrifice its future to carry a Group. Breitling is in good hands with George Kern, a man who understands where they have been, where the market is transitioning, the customer profile, both macro and micro and simple a evolution of Spirit.

    • jason toms

      I wish George Kern all the best. The industry faces challenges from many directions. His plans may work well for the brand, but only time will tell. So many of the micro brands are focusing on pilot & diver oriented pieces. This may become the biggest challenge the brand will have to deal with as their pricing is often very competitive.

Leave a Reply