Last week Breitling unveiled the Premier, a whole new collection of elegant, vintage-inspired watches, at an event in London. But it wasn’t the only story to be had: here are five things we learned about Breitling’s future
By Chris Hall
The Premier was originally launched in 1943, but you don’t need to be a total watch nerd to realise that the models we’re seeing now bear little resemblance to chronographs of the 1940s. Instead, designer Guy Bove has drawn more heavily from the Top Time models of the late 1960s and early 70s.
Not a bad call by any means – it’s a lot more in-keeping with what’s selling well at the moment, and the watches of the 40s were so much smaller that bringing that look back in a modern sized case would inevitably be a challenge. What we did hear is that Breitling plans to introduce more watches that are directly linked to specific vintage references, including some hand-wound models.
Relative to the rest of the major players in its price bracket, Breitling has probably been somewhat conservative with the production of limited edition pieces. In an unprecedented step, it revealed a watch that will be officially launched next year, a version of the Premier that pays tribute to a group of WW2 American pilots in the Chinese airforce called the Flying Tigers (so named for the nosecone decorations of their Curtiss P-40 Warthogs). There will be two watches, a B01 model and a B13 (Breitling’s ETA-based 6-9-12 chronograph design), with olive green dials.
In addition, we saw a limited edition Superocean Heritage chronograph with an eco-friendly strap, launched in association with surfer Kelly Slater’s firm Outerknown. Reading between the lines, these are the first of many more limited-run pieces to come over the next two years.
A new Bentley
It’s a case of ‘So, farewell then’ for the Breitling for Bentley range as we know it, and few will shed a tear for those heavy slabs of watchmaking. You can still see them on the brand’s website, but the knurled-bezel 48mm pieces are on the way out. Instead it seems that Breitling’s association with Bentley will revert to something closer to other brands’ car partnerships: limited edition pieces that are a lot closer to the core collection.
Evidence is provided in the form of this British Racing Green version of the B01 Premier Chronograph. Also, 2019 is Bentley’s centenary year, so expect a bit more noise to be made about this tie-in than in recent years.
When China sneezes, the watch industry catches a cold. It’s only just getting over the last bout of sickness but we’re seeing Switzerland once more turn its eye to the east, with sales in Hong Kong rising fast again, and Chinese interest following. And Georges Kern’s focus on the region is clear: it may have been held in London but the Breitling Summit was peppered with references to the Asian market (the aforementioned Flying Tigers; a slide entitled ‘Growth’ was illustrated by a group of Asian men in black tie; Breitling’s website is now available in two languages, English and Mandarin).
For every watch the brand sells in China, it reportedly sells four to Chinese tourists abroad, so the scope for improvement is clear. The Premier – particularly in Day-Date and time-only formats – is a more modestly sized watch with a design that definitely has Asian tastes in mind.
A cornerstone of Breitling’s new marketing has been the introduction of thematic groups of brand ambassadors, or ‘squads’. There’s a “Cinema” squad, featuring Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, Adam Driver and Daniel Wu (although he only features in Asian markets), an Explorer Squad, a Jet Squad and a Surfer Squad.
United by the cringeworthy hashtag “#Squadsonamission” they are derided by journalists, imitated by other brands (Oris already has a Movember Crew), and probably helping Breitling shift a lot of watches. So it’s no surprise that Mr Kern confirmed we will see more squads launching in the near future.