Breitling’s main man Jean-Paul Girardin is on record as suggesting that nobody should expect anything too radical from the watch company. He likens it to the car industry, which is increasingly segmented and specialised. So too with watches: Breitling’s field is the tool-like, every-so-slightly macho and, typically, rather shiny. All of which means it loses sales to potential markets – women, for example – but keeps its soul, so to speak. Perhaps that explains why its Chromomat is still a best-seller for the company, despite it having been launched 30 years ago next year, or why its Navitimer is now the oldest mechanical chronograph in continuous production. They were built to do a job and still do it. So why change them? Think of Breitling, perhaps, as the watch equivalent of that other famous Swiss product, the Swiss Army Knife. Small wonder, indeed, that the technophile Breitling has been among the leading companies in investing in automated manufacture and assembly line-type products such as its Sample Management System, one borrowed from the medical world.
It hasn’t hurt sales: the updating of its pristine, lab-like manufactory means it can now double its production from the current 150,000 or so pieces per annum, half of which are mechanical chronographs, all certified as such. New launches – from Breitling’s gigantic aquarium-fronted Baselworld stand – have included its new Emergency 2 (now with two transmitters), a development of the 1995 watch, and three new models for Bentley with Breitling chronograph movements. Of course, Breitling – a family-owned, independent company – is not dependent on uptake by aviators and action men. Recent years has seen it dip into archive, with its Super Ocean Heritage, and refinement, with its Transocean Chronograph Unitime, featuring the Calibre 5, reinventing the way world timer mechanisms work to make them, in short, properly useful. Again, despite being very dressy, functionality comes first.