George Kern is a man in a hurry. The former Head of Watchmaking, Marketing and Digital at Richemont, who took over as the CEO of Breitling last year after the brand was bought over by private equity group CVC Capital Partners, is in the middle of a significant restructuring effort at the brand.
Among the things that he has done in less than a year of being at the helm are paring down the brand’s extensive collection to focus on watches in the 3,500-8,000 Swiss francs category, shift away from brand’s recent over-emphasis on aviation and drop the aviation inspired wings from its famous B logo to go back to the simpler old logo. Moreover, he has led the refocus of the product strategy towards watches that are rooted in Breitling’s rich heritage from the 30s, 40s and 50s, and changed the direction of the advertising strategy towards something called a `squad’ concept (which involves creating three-person groups, called the squads) of brand ambassadors made up of famous men and women who are recognized masters in their respective professions. In this interview, Kern discussed the thought behind these changes and more.
Though the share is not much, it adds to our history and heritage. We don’t have to build a story – we have the story
Tell us about the rationale behind all the recent changes that you are bringing about at Breitling.
Breitling is a super-successful company and very profitable. The challenge for us is to bring it to the next level. It’s a privately owned company, run by very passionate people. Now we have new investors who want to make Breitling a global brand. For this, you need to adjust a couple of things in products, communication, etc.
We don’t want to become an Asian or a Western brand; we want to be a global brand. We want to focus on our historical brands. Of course, that does not mean that we want to become a vintage brand. We don’t want to cut out what made us successful. We will continue to do big watches, but we will also make smaller and more classic watches. If you look into the history, the brand has watches in a variety of categories in beautiful designs. So why not make use of this history.
I want [us] to get out of the mini-segment of pilots watches because it deludes the brand. If you see the Chronomat, we make the same product in 300 different references. You don’t recognise a product anymore. Roman figures, Arabic figures, square counters etc — but not one readable design. I prefer having three lines or four lines, with clear three or four design codes and [more] identities than one line in 300 varieties. Only then can you build great icons and build the identity of the brand. Many companies build the brand bottom up with their product lines. Breitling was always built top down. We need to do much more bottom-up communication and thinking. What you have to do is to raise the knowledge, and understanding and distinction of the different lines rather than work on brand awareness. You will see product lines are clearer and structured. For the consumer, the brand needs to be readable. I am a visual person. Now we will have clear lines, clear segmentation of movements, clear segmentations of emotions etc.
Will there be a new price segment?
We have stopped all the watches at the low-end price points — watches like the Skyracer. We don’t want to be at the 2,000 Swiss Francs range but have an entrance price range of 3,500 Swiss Francs. We also don’t want to go too high and therefore not go into major complications. So Breitling is going to be in the 3,500-8,000 Swiss Francs range. Of course, there will be smaller complications like the Rattrapante which is part of the history of the brand from the 50s and the 60s.
What was the thinking behind the new Navitimer Super 8’s design?
It’s a cool design. I love it. I saw it in the museum, and I said to the designers, let’s do it.
Why did you cut the wings of the new logo?
There’s a clear trend for simplicity. People are more discreet. They want to go more to the roots that reflect the brand’s true values. We are responding to that. We not only make pilot watches, we also do water and earth. We cannot artificially put wings on a diving watch. The Superocean Heritage and the Transocean had no wings. The new logo was [the] Breitling logo for 50 years. It has been by far the longest logo that we have used. Small brands need to have one corporate identity. If you have three segments, then you need one generic corporate identity, and this is the one we had for 50 years. But we are going to use wings on the pilot’s watches regarding engravings or on the anchor for the diving watches.
Tell us about the new `Squad’ concept in Breitling’s advertising strategy.
At Breitling, 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. We aim for authenticity, credibility, and honesty for our brand and our products, as well as in our interactions with our clients. The same applies for each of the squads. We are going to launch several of them, from sports to the arts, covering different areas of activity linked to our thematic worlds: air, sea, and land. Our squad members, world-famous or not, will be absolute masters in their respective fields.
How do you look at as India as a market for Breitling?
India is doing very well. We have a team in India. The problem with India is import taxes, trade difficulties, local taxes, local issues etc. While the Indians are buying in Dubai and London, just being there, showing the brand and having the service, etc. is great and gives reassurance for the Indian clientele, which then is buying outside of India.
FOUR NEW BREITLING WATCHES FROM THE GEORGE KERN ERA
CHRONOMAT B01 CHRONOGRAPH 44
This new interpretation of the Chronomat features a 44 mm satin-brushed stainless case with a screwed stainless-steel caseback, a ratcheted unidirectional rotating bezel and a stainless-steel Pilot bracelet. The dial comes with 30-minute and 12-hour chronograph sub-dials and a date window. Comes in two versions, one with a Blackeye blue dial and the other with a Blackeye gray dial. The automatic movement has a power reserve of around 70 hours.
BREITLING NAVITIMER 1 AUTOMATIC 38
Joining the new 43 mm and 41 mm Navitimers that were launched this year, this new interpretation of the famous Navistar is targeted at women, though many men who prefer smaller diameter watches will find it interesting as well. The 38 mm dial comes in three versions — steel and gold with silver, steel with blue and steel with black. The automatic movement has a power reserve of around 40 hours.
SUPEROCEAN HERITAGE II B01 CHRONOGRAPH 44
Based on the Breitling Superocean from the late 1950s, this new chronograph is an upgrade on the version released last year. The big change is the more powerful Caliber Breitling 01. This new three-register chronograph movement has a higher power reserve of 70-plus hours and a patented new vertical clutch with self-centering reset hammers. Comes in a 44mm steel case. Dial options include black, silver, and blue.
NAVITIMER SUPER 8
This big 46 mm watch, particularly the prominent screw-locked crown positioned on the left side of the case, takes its design inspiration from the Reference 637 stopwatch used by bomber pilots and crews in the World War II. It was made to be strapped to the aviators’ thighs for optimal readability and ease of use, and hence the location of the crown on the left side of the case. Its prominent size and positioning meant that an aviator’s hand – even gloved – could easily manoeuvre it. With the distinctive bidirectional rotating bezel, the size of the case goes upto 50 mm. Comes in two versions — a stainless-steel case with black dial, and a titanium case with military green dial. The automatic movement has a power reserve of over 70 hours.