Breitling CEO Georges Kern Is A Man On A Mission
Georges Kern is a man in a hurry. Since he took over as CEO of Breitling two years ago, he has set out on a mission to revamp every aspect of the brand’s operation. MW caught up with him during the recent Breitling Dubai Summit.
MW: It has been two years since you took over and began the process of a complete overhaul of every aspect of Breitling’s operations. What has been your experience so far?
Georges Kern: We had to create a vision when we started and the vision was to build something more relaxed, cooler, more informal than what we have today in the traditional watch business, at that price point. I think the way we’ve executed it, the strategy is working. The discovery we made is that Breitling has one of the richest back catalogues in the industry. I have been seeing some of the biggest Breitling collectors in the world and it’s quite amazing to realise what they have in their drawers, and what is available in storytelling.
MW: Tell us more about your effort to streamline Breitling’s product portfolio.
GK: We want to have a clearer segmentation between the lines. In the past, products were overlapping in terms of design codes. Even I had problems recognising the lines. Now we are more clear-cut in the way we position each line, and within each line, we have dramatically reduced the number of references. We are also doing more of bottom-up storytelling now than top-down corporate marketing. I want the consumer to remember one of our stories and say, “I want the Norton”, or “I want the Pan Am or the Swissair or the Mosquito”. These stories are very strong.
MW: What has been your greatest challenge in the restructuring?
GK: We need to have the right balance because we need to safeguard both the past, and the recent past. In the past 20 years, Breitling was big and loud, but now we need to gain the new customer base who loved the Breitling of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. How can you bridge both communities and build a new, larger customer base?
MW: You have talked about making Breitling a ‘cool’ brand once again. How big is the challenge at a time when smartwatches are making their presence felt in a big way?
GK: I don’t think there is a competition between smartwatches and analogue watches. They are very different, and more complementary to each other. You wear a smartwatch for sports or health tracking, but you wear an analogue for style, emotions, etc. I am not worried about analogue vs smartwatch talk. I think an analogue watch is cooler than the smartwatch because it has a more personal story to tell, one can connect with them. You have a more intimate relationship with them than with a piece of electronic gadget which generates electronic waves, and also gets redundant with time.
MW: What has been the response to your much publicised ‘squad’ advertising and marketing campaign? Is it likely to continue?
GK: Of course. People love it because it achieves so much more. The message is so much more holistic. What message can one send if you have just one person. The squad gives a much bigger and broader image and impact to the brand. If you look at the Surfers Squad, it’s better to have Kelly Slater along with Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons, who are world champions in the team, than just Kelly alone. In the Aviation Pioneers Squad, we have world champion Drone Pilot Luke Bannister, astronaut Scott Kelly and the fantastic Spanish top gun pilot, Rocío González Torres.
MW: Tell us about the collection you have launched here at the Breitling Dubai Summit?
GK: We have launched two new products in the aviation area — the Aviator 8 Mosquito — which commemorates the famous de Havilland Mosquito plane. It’s an iconic plane made of wood. It was one of the fastest planes of its time during World War II. I love the product because it embodies different aspects of the plane. With different colour codes, different materials, treatments, etc., it is a phenomenally beautiful product, retro yet modern. Then we have the Avenger line with its clean positioning of modern aviation, with specific design codes. We have improved the product vastly by simplifying the designs, making it more wearable and super cool. We also have the Superocean with the new ECONYL® yarn NATO strap. It is a recycled product made of regenerated nylon from old fishing nets.
MW: What has been Breitling’s experience in India so far?
GK: We have a great team locally and have been able to modernise our presence at various points of sale across the country. We are actually doing pretty well in India.
This watch and its strap are the result of Breitling’s partnership with Outerknown, the sustainable apparel brand co-founded by surfing legend and Breitling Surfers Squad member Kelly Slater. The Breitling Superocean Outerknown features a 44 mm stainless steel case with a ratcheted unidirectional bezel, which allows divers to time their dives accurately. It has a green dial and central hour, minute and second hands that, like the numerals and indexes, are coated with SuperLumiNova. It is powered by a Breitling Caliber 17, with a power reserve of around 38 hours. But what stands out is the khaki green Outerknown Nato strap made of ECONYL® yarn — an innovative material created from nylon waste, recovered among others from the ocean — one source of which is fishing nets from oceans around the world. Breitling has created a series of 18 similar ecologically responsible straps for its various watches.
The redesigned Avenger collection is as bold and robust as its name suggests. It marks an evolution of the brand’s pilot’s watches, once again confirming its status as the world’s leading manufacturer of aviation-related watches. It was created as a reliable companion for aerial adventurers who want to achieve something outstanding and unexpected. It is completely at home on the wrist of a drone specialist mastering the skies from the ground, a pilot in the cockpit of a supersonic jet, or an aviation pioneer who has long been committed to challenging the conventional boundaries of flight. The watches in the Breitling Avenger collection are impressively varied, with case sizes ranging from 43 mm to 48 mm. The choice of dial colours will appeal to any aviation fan, as will the broad selection of straps and bracelets. The watches themselves are available in chronograph, three-hand `time only’ models, or with a 24-hour GMT hand.
AVIATOR 8 MOSQUITO
For its new Aviator 8 Mosquito watch, Breitling has drawn on the design of the onboard clocks designed by its Huit Aviation Department in the 1930s and 1940s and from its renowned reference 765 AVI, the highly legible watch known as the Co-Pilot. This watch honours a plane constructed almost entirely of wood, the de Havilland Mosquito. It comes in a 43 mm stainless steel case and a black satin-brushed ADLC-coated stainless-steel bezel with a practical red pointer, indexes, and Arabic numerals. Its black dial has contrasting silver subdials. It is powered by the mechanical, self-winding in-house movement, Breitling Manufacture Calibre 01.