With new owners, a new boss and new creative direction at Breitling it’s no surprise that its latest collection looks very different.
by James Buttery
Breitling boss Georges Kern is in the middle of a whistle-stop tour of the globe to signal his ambitions for the storied brand and get the jump on Basel.
Kern, you’ll recall, was until last summer head of watchmaking at Richemont Group, a recent promotion that left him in charge of all watchmaking at the luxury group, but without any one specific brand to nurture, something he appeared to have relished during his time at IWC. Kern resigned with immediate effect in August 2017, just four months into the role and moved to Breitling, a brand which had been purchased by a private equity fund in April after decades of family ownership.
The first glimpse of how his view of Breitling would affect the product itself was revealed in Shanghai in January, where the new Navitimer 8 was announced. QP caught up with the roadshow in Zurich last week and heard from Kern as he presented his transformational vision.
Perhaps most importantly, Kern announced that Breitling will be ‘less aggressively aviation’ going forward, introducing a ‘mood’ video of fast jet fly-bys and afterburners depicting the Breitling of old against a heady concoction of vintage motorbikes and propeller planes to signal the company’s change of course. It’s definitely heritage-inspired which makes great commercial sense but something of an about-face after years of decidedly masculine brand-building under the ownership of Theodore Schneider and management of Jean-Paul Girardin.
As such the Breitling ‘wings’ logo will also disappear from dials of new watches with Kern and Breitling’s new creative director Guy Bove, who has moved from Chopard, stating that the cumbersome design took up too much space on the dial.
Kern also announced that he will be cutting the number of references in Breitling’s offering from 650 to just 120. While we were surprised Breitling offered that many watches in the first place, the move to slash the size of the collection is the same strategy being used across the industry to kickstart sales. There has simply been too much choice and too many watches sitting around in stockrooms waiting to be sold.
Kern also revealed this decision hinged on sales figures rather than instinct, pointing to the fact that Breitling’s best-selling watch over the past 12 months has been the Super Ocean Heritage on a Milanese mesh bracelet, not the Navitimer I would have assumed.
Breitling will also be raising its entry-level price point by discontinuing certain models from the Colt collection, including the Colt Chronograph (£2,550) and the brand new Colt Skyracer (£1,690). Kern stated that he didn’t feel Breitling had any business offering watches in this price segment. This is a bold move as others within the industry have been actively reducing their entry level pricing to become more accessible to a wider audience. One thing that will remain is COSC certification on 100% of Breitling’s output.
The first truly new product revealed under Kern’s leadership is the Navitimer 8 collection which encompasses an automatic with date, two chronographs, a day/date and a worldtimer. Kern was quick to point out that despite the somewhat confusing use of the Navitimer name, the Navitimer 8 range will complement rather than replace the existing Navitimer, which will become known as Navitimer 1.
The Navitimer 8 collection takes its inspiration – and the number 8 – from Willy Breitling’s Huit Aviation Department, established in 1938 to produce eight-day cockpit instruments including chronometers and chronographs. The most obvious reference to these cockpit instruments is the notched bezel; there are 60 notches, each set six degrees apart so that each aligns with a minute marker. Bove has referenced the typography of early Ref 768 Breitling pilots watches for the dial.
The collection begins logically enough with a perfectly proportioned 41mm three-hand time and date automatic which sets the tone with sunray-brushed dials options in blue or black with white Super-LumiNova numerals and hands. Inside is an ETA 2824-2 based Calibre 17 automatic with 40 hours of power reserve. You’ll also no doubt notice that Kern-era Breitling wisely favours satin-brushing over polished cases, here steel and black DLC-coated steel versions [our personal favourite] are offered. A Navitimer Day & Date, based on the Automatic, sees a full-width, curved aperture replacing the 11/12/1 hour numerals and displaying the day of the week.
Breitling will maintain a two-tier chronograph offering within the Navitimer 8 collection with the Navitimer 8 B01 and its in-house movement of the same name (£5,950 on crocodile) whilst also offering a Valjoux 7750-based Calibre 13 chrono at a lower price. The most obvious difference is the 9/6/3 layout of the B01’s registers and the 12/9/6 of the Valjoux-based alternative. A 43mm worldtimer bearing the Unitime name rounds out the collection.
Kern and Bove’s decision-making has stripped away much of the technical elements and ‘design language’ that people have come to associate with Breitling, with the Navitimer 8 collection adding a dressier side to the brand. But perhaps, if last year’s best-seller was the Superocean Heritage, then that’s exactly what Breitling’s customers want.