Breitling Spreads Its Wings
What tends to happen when new corporate leadership meets a rich watchmaking history? In Breitling’s case, it is the Navitimer 8. Having been an influential brand in the industry for 134 years, Breitling looks set to take off in a new direction. Here we take a look at what the new collection says about the brand?
It has been only a year since Georges Kern took the helm at the HQ in Grenchen, but already the brand has witnessed change in the air. With his experience at the Richemont Group – most notably as head of IWC Schaffhausen – Kern brings to Breitling an appetite for success. A Kernian approach guided IWC to increase its annual sales from $40 million to almost $800 million during his tenure.
Nonetheless, what Kern faced venturing into Breitling territory was a history that was deeply entrenched in aviation traditions. Since taking up the helm – aside from the watches – he has made changes to the company’s identity. What these changes make room for is simultaneously a narrowing in, and also a broadening out of how the brand is perceived. Say, for example, you’re interested in technical ‘complicated’ looking flight instruments? Great, you’ll love the 46 mm Navitimer 1 B01 with its circular aviation slide rule. Perhaps you fancy something a bit more pared back. In which case the Navitimer 8 Automatic 41 fits the bill.
Kern described Breitling’s product range as being too ‘complicated’, with too much choice ultimately dissuading potential customers from making any choice at all. Complication called for a new approach. Browse the Breitling website and you’ll now see the watches fall under five distinct ranges: Navitimer (air), Superocean (sea), Transocean (land), Professional (performance), and Chronomat (universal). Clear categories make for more intuitive interactions with the brand. Doing so also allows Breitling to play to its strengths.
Compared to many other luxury watch companies, Breitling’s timepieces exude an irrevocably functional, sporty character. Though undeniably embarking on a new flight path, it would be a grave mistake to completely disregard the rich heritage and cultural identity of the brand. Fortunately, the new leadership understands the need to integrate the past into the present in order to stay competitive. As such, Kern has opted for refinement over blatant reform. Kern’s experience indicates he has a knack for being able to simultaneously please die-hard collectors whilst also attracting new first-time buyers. And this was perhaps best reflected in this year’s Baselworld collection.
Surprisingly, by narrowing in on product ranges and the strengths of the brand’s identity, it allows for a broadening out of Breitling’s market appeal. Long perceived as the exclusive domain of aviation enthusiasts, the company was in need of an image revitalisation – Breitling had to be seen to belong in places other than merely on a pilot’s wrist. The land and the sea make up the other two equally important pillars of the brand’s identity, and the new product structure seeks to espouse the ambition to bring some aspects of the brand back down to earth.
Why the need to broaden market appeal? Simply put, Kern wants to break into the Chinese market and overtake Longines’ fourth place position in the global watch market. Currently, China accounts for only 10% of Breitling’s 150 000 annual sales – perhaps the lucky numbered Navitimer 8 (named after the eight-day movement aviation board clocks of the 1930/40s) might help to shift fortunes eastwards. The forthcoming aim to release a women’s range and to introduce online sales will further allow the brand to expand in both existing and emerging markets.
Pulling Down the Pin-ups, Putting Up the Squads
The aviation traditions of Breitling did, however, facilitate a few marketing campaigns that were incongruent with Kern’s refined vision for the brand. Air hostesses in short skirts and heels, ground crew girls nearly bare-chested in zipped down bomber jackets, models fawning over handsome pilots in the cockpit: Kern was adamant in declaring that the values of the company (and of society more broadly) have moved on. These were changes that had to be made if Breitling and Georges Kern were to shake off its overtly masculine reputation and release a female range of watches.
So what was to fill the advertising void? Introducing Breitling’s new ‘Squad’ concept. The concept of the Breitling Squad involves bringing together a team of leaders in their respective professions who are deemed to espouse the core values of Breitling – action, purpose and pioneering spirit – to act as ambassadors for the brand.
Launched with the formation of the Cinema Squad, Breitling brought together Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, Adam Driver and Daniel Wu to foster a cinematic synergy to their new advertising campaign. The squad mission has since expanded to include a jet squad, a surfer squad, a triathlon squad and an explorer squad, with plans to continue releasing more throughout the year. The squad concept operates on an ideal succinctly conveyed by Kern himself:
“We believe in the power of a team, the strength of a group, and the mutual identification of a common target, which ultimately leads to success.”
Overall, what the squads embody is Kern’s manoeuvre of a structural reorientation away from an identity entrenched exclusively in aviation, and towards a wider consumer appeal.
The first range to be released under Kern’s supervision, the Navitimer 8, is no exception to the trend of bringing the brand up to speed. The collection features five distinct models: the B01, Unitime, Chronograph, Day-Date, and Automatic models. The name ‘Navitimer’ will from now encompass all watch models that derive their look, form and function from the skies.
Inspired by the design of the Breitling clocks which adorned aviation boards nearly a century ago, the Navitimer 8 presents an elegantly simplified version of a typical pilot’s dial – a refreshing revision of previously cluttered, complicated designs.
More than anything the collection reflects Breitling’s ardent desire to tastefully merge heritage with progress. Georges Kern arrived at the brand with the ambition to refine – to cut away all that was superfluous and focus on the strengths of the brand’s rich history. If the Navitimer 8 collection is any indication of the future direction of the company, Breitling will only continue to fly higher.
Cover Image: Stephanie Gilmore, member of Breitling’s Surf Squad