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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.