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Q&ATo 140 And Counting: Breitling’s Chief Tells Us All About The Brand’s ‘140 Years Of Firsts’

Georges Kern, under whose helm the Breitling brand has evolved steeply, tells us about how the brand needed a refresh, the inclusivity of the present-day Breitling, creating recognisable products, their collaborations and what India means to them

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What does the milestone of 140 years mean for the brand and for you personally, having been at the brand’s helm for the last several years?

Breitling marking 140 years is an important moment for us. When I first joined the brand in 2017, I started looking into the history of the brand and really digging into the archives, and I found that Breitling had such a rich heritage that other companies would dream of. I knew that this brand was going to be successful, and my team and I got to work right away, with a new strategy as a generalist brand, new positioning in ‘neo-luxury’ and our ‘modern retro’ design style. And it’s been successful so far, which proves that our strategy of delivering casual, inclusive and sustainable luxury resonates with our consumers.

Breitling CEO georges Kern interview 140 years anniversary legacy brand refresh update modern retro aviation watches sporty India edition New India event Delhi
CEO Georges Kern, at an event in New Delhi, India, as part of the brand’s tour to commemorate 140 years of firsts for Breitling

Now, with this incredible milestone of 140 years, it’s a great opportunity to tell the Breitling story that we haven’t been able to properly tell yet. We’ve kicked off our anniversary campaign ‘140 years of firsts’, which talks about all the firsts and milestones that Breitling has achieved. I’m proud to be part of a brand with a rich history, strong heritage and one that is still young in its potential for growth.

Talk about the evolution of Breitling, over the last few decades, and how would you summarise what you have brought to the brand?

When I joined Breitling it had a strong brand positioning as a pilot’s chronograph. The brand was stuck in the past for too long. The products were big, loud, and flashy. As you undoubtedly know, Breitling’s brand centred on a macho view of aviation watches. As a consequence, the image had become outdated.

The Watch Guide

"Breitling it had a strong brand positioning as a pilot’s chronograph. The brand was stuck in the past for too long. The products were big, loud, and flashy." Seen here is a modern, sleeker Navitimer GMT

The Watch Guide

"As you undoubtedly know, Breitling’s brand centred on a macho view of aviation watches. As a consequence, the image had become outdated." These more refined Navitimers reflect the brand's more inclusive personality

The Watch Guide

Yet, the new editions within the Navitimer collection are instantly recognisable as Breitling's iconic collection, with all the distinctive signature elements in place

With the new strategy of repositioning Breitling to a casual, inclusive, and sustainable brand, we had to revisit our product offering, the redesign of our boutiques, the advertising and marketing activities. I would say one of the highlights is the growing number of Breitling boutiques across the world. From just 50 boutiques six years ago, we’ll hit 300 worldwide by the end of this fiscal year, as we wind up our celebration of 140 years. This boost will amplify our presence worldwide. And it’s not only boutiques, or watches, for that matter. Today’s Breitling experience is phenomenal. When you visit one of our boutiques, designed in a relaxed, industrial-loft style, you embrace the whole world of Breitling. Our flagship store in Seoul, South Korea—the largest Breitling boutique in the world—is a two-story townhouse with a wine bar and restaurant. The look and feel of this retail and lifestyle space say everything about our casual, inclusive, and sustainable approach to luxury.

Breitling CEO georges Kern interview 140 years anniversary legacy brand refresh update modern retro aviation watches sporty India edition New gmt watches
The new Navitimer timepieces remain extremely functuonal as aviation tool watches, with the useful GMT feature seen in this edition

How has this milestone year kicked off? Talk about the novelties being launched to mark the anniversary (if there are any teasers you can drop about what’s to come).

We kicked off our celebration of 140 years in March this year with the launch of the Aerospace Orbiter timepiece. As part of Breitling’s celebration of ‘firsts’, we decided to start by celebrating an iconic first: the historic first nonstop balloon flight around the world by the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon.

The Watch Guide

"We kicked off our celebration of 140 years in March this year with the launch of the Aerospace Orbiter timepiece"

The Watch Guide

"In each timepiece there’s a small piece of the actual Orbiter 3 balloon, making this watch a collector’s item that exudes a spirit of adventure." It's a piece of the historic ballon seen through the transparent caseback

We launched the new Aerospace collection as a tribute to this landmark and specifically on the 25th anniversary of the Orbiter 3 journey on March 21, 1999. In each timepiece there’s a small piece of the actual Orbiter 3 balloon, making this watch a collector’s item that exudes a spirit of adventure, and that has an actual piece of history embedded inside it.

The Watch Guide

"As part of Breitling’s celebration of ‘firsts’, we decided to start by celebrating an iconic first: the historic first nonstop balloon flight around the world by the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon"

The Watch Guide

"We launched the new Aerospace collection as a tribute to this landmark and specifically on the 25th anniversary of the Orbiter 3 journey on March 21, 1999"

Other recent launches were from our iconic Navitimer GMT and Automatic 41, along with a new, self-winding Cosmonaute, which celebrates the first-ever Swiss wristwatch in space. You can expect a lot more coming up this year, from novelties to special anniversary editions. We are even launching a book of 140 anecdotes around the brand and a pop-up museum that will open this summer during Geneva Watch Days.

Breitling CEO georges Kern interview 140 years anniversary legacy brand refresh update modern retro aviation watches sporty India edition New Aerospace Orbiter
The Aerospace Orbiter, with digital features, comes with a steel or rubber strap

How did the collaboration with Victoria Beckham come about? What were the thoughts behind the special edition created?

Working with Victoria felt like a natural fit. The women’s market is more important than ever. Breitling women are multi-faceted—business women, surfers, motorcyclists or pilots. They want a timepiece that reflects their daily lifestyle as much as they want something to wear to a cocktail party. The reason we approached Victoria Beckham is that her brand shares the same ideals of quiet luxury and understated elegance, wearable in every facet of life. Victoria perfectly incorporates the aforementioned values, which made her the perfect fit to lend the classic yet versatile Chronomat her signature style.

The Watch Guide

"The new Chonomat Victoria Beckham was redesigned in the colours of Victoria’s latest spring/summer palette and features subtle touches of her brand and logo on the watch"

The Watch Guide

"There’s only 1,500 pieces of this collection produced, making the Chronomat Victoria Beckam a highly exclusive and coveted timepiece"

The new Chonomat Victoria Beckham was redesigned in the colours of Victoria’s latest spring/summer palette and features subtle touches of her brand and logo on the watch. There’s only 1,500 pieces of this collection produced, making the Chronomat Victoria Beckam a highly exclusive and coveted timepiece.

Has there been a greater interest in Breitling among women in recent years, with such collaborations and associations with personalities such as Charlize Theron and Misty Copeland?

Yes, and I would say there are two reasons for this. First, we’ve expanded our women’s collection over the past few years, introducing new sizes, styles and colours that appeal to women such as the Superocean 36, Chronomat 36 and 32, and Navitimer 36 and 32. Women now have more options to choose from at Breitling. Second, having squad members like Charlize Theron and Misty Copeland, who represent the Breitling woman, has been very successful in raising awareness and aspiration amongst women.

The Watch Guide

"Having squad members like Charlize Theron and Misty Copeland, who represent the Breitling woman, has been very successful in raising awareness and aspiration amongst women"

The Watch Guide

"Women now have more options to choose from at Breitling," Oscar-winning actress and Breitling squad member Chralize Theron was the face of the new Navitimer 36 and 32 watches, launched last year

Our recent launch with Victoria Beckham has also helped reach more women and we will have another launch later this year that will help us continue with this momentum.

Breitling CEO georges Kern interview 140 years anniversary legacy brand refresh update modern retro aviation watches sporty India edition New Navitimer 36mm watches
This Navitimer in steel and gold is a perfect example of watches that take into consideration what women might prefer

What were the thoughts behind the creation of the Navitimer India edition?

India is a rapidly developing market and we’re very excited to be growing our presence there. We already have three boutiques—in Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune—and we’re planning to open a few more just this year. Earlier this year, we launched the special edition Navitimer 43 with an Ice Blue dial, with only 50 pieces made, in partnership with one of our longstanding retailers, Ethos Limited.

The Watch Guide
"Earlier this year, we launched the special edition Navitimer 43 with an Ice Blue dial, with only 50 pieces made, in partnership with one of our longstanding retailers, Ethos Limited"

Around the same time, we also launched a special edition Superocean Heritage 42 with a green dial, with another retailer, also limited to 50 pieces. These launches celebrate our longstanding relationships with our retail partners in India and reinforce our commitment to our customers here.

Breitling CEO georges Kern interview 140 years anniversary legacy brand refresh update modern retro aviation watches sporty India edition New gmt watches
The Breitling Navitmer India Edition also comes with the colection’s signature seven-link steel bracelet

What are the challenges of staying true to the brand’s DNA, and recognisable design language, while also presenting products that are fresh and innovative?

Breitling is not a vintage brand. Yes, our novelties like the Avenger, Aerospace Orbiter and Navitimer are inspired by earlier models or vintage pieces, but our design code is ‘modern retro’—which is different from vintage. We have retro elements, which are taken from the brand’s history and DNA, going back 140 years, because they are just really good design elements, and they will remain good forever. We’ve modernised our timepieces to have a certain style that’s recognisable but to be very contemporary in its sizes, colors etc. Our products are now more sports chic than hard, professional tool products. They’re just more sophisticated now.

Breitling CEO georges Kern interview 140 years anniversary legacy brand refresh update modern retro aviation watches sporty India edition New Navitimer 36mm watches
“We’ve modernised our timepieces to have a certain style that’s recognisable but to be very contemporary in its sizes, colors etc. Our products are now more sports chic than hard, professional tool products. They’re just more sophisticated now.” This here is a newer Navitimer time-only edition

If you had to imagine what Breitling will be like 140 years from now, what kind of future would you see?

One hundred and forty years is quite a long time from now, but I would imagine, much sooner than that, Breitling will have reached the top five brands in the world or even better. I’ve never managed a brand in my life with such strong intrinsic assets as Breitling in terms of history, back catalogue, products, and in terms of wide appeal. We are just at the beginning of our development stage. We want to get the maximum out of Breitling’s enormous potential. As we celebrate this incredible milestone, we still have so much work to be done. For Breitling, this is only the beginning.

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