THE PILOT’S CHOICE
Breitling CEO Jean-Paul Girardin on self-sufficiency and aesthetics.
Is becoming self-sufficient the biggest challenge for you going forwards?
The main challenge today as an independent brand is this: when you have the know-how, let it be known. We did our homework regarding the development and production of high quality products, but today if you don’t see a high-quality product it’s worth nothing. Now the real battlefield for us is the market. Distribution, marketing, that’s why we’re here. I did a lot of visits just to let our knowledge be as known as possible. That’s where we need to fight. We have to convince jewellers that it’s good for them to stock Breitling, and to push an independent brand. We have to fight against very powerful people. The world watch market is not increasing by that much and to grow you need to gain market share. We know how to make good products and we have to let it be known.
When do you think you will be able to build 100 percent of the watches yourself?
I think we could do that. The Breitling building we are in now has been designed so we can have an extension. But it’s also a question of the market. We are not producing as much as when you buy movements from other parties, so the price of our products has to be increased by a little. A lot of our consumers enjoy our high reliability, two-year warranty, and things like that, so in-house or not in-house is not too important. What they want is a Breitling watch, so we have to be able to continue to offer this to consumers. But it will happen one day and we are ready.
Who are your nearest competitors?
When looking strictly at mechanical chronographs, there are brands producing very nice chronographs, such as Omega or Rolex. There are many good brands around. They are the two who are also making a lot of good movements and that’s an important point. So to answer your question, what we did from 2004 to 2009 to develop our movement, what we’re doing now, is the same level of development, difficulty and time to create a Breitling. If you compare Breitling today to 10 years ago, it’s completely different.
For the past few years we’ve been seeing a lot of pilot watches. Do you think it’s a threat? How would you analyse this situation?
I don’t think so because what’s good for pilots is also good for passengers. There are more passengers on a plane than pilots! It’s important to have good watches for everyone. A chronograph designed to be easy to read for pilots is also good for someone while jogging. It’s not a threat, it’s for us to produce watches in line with the requirements of pilots — it’s pushing us to the limit regarding quality and aesthetics.
Is it difficult to keep in line with the aesthetic of Breitling while developing new products at the same time?
Yes, the line is very thin, so you have to be innovative with functionality or design, but you also have to be recognisable. People need to say, “Ah this is a Breitling watch”. This mix between innovation and being conservative requires deep thinking. We could do something completely new but it might not work; you have to take it step by step.
So what aesthetic traits are characteristic of a Breitling?
Its features: the slide rule, the turning bezel, the highly legible dial, the sharp angles, the numerals and also the kind of symmetry. If you look at the dial, you will never have a pusher at two and ten o’clock. We are quite rigid but we have room for creativity in that field. We took the opportunity to have more luxury features when we went into the Breitling for Bentley line. We were a little more creative with this line; a little different.
Is it hard to balance form and function?
Precision and functionality are important but the key is strong design. Aesthetics are important, as the designer at BMW told us once. He said that you may buy a luxury car even if the trunk is a little small for your golf clubs, but you would never buy it if you simply don’t like the look of it. A watch is something that is intimate. You wear it more often than a particular pair of shoes or a tie. It expresses your personality. Even if someone isn’t wearing a watch it tells you something about them. So design is the most important aspect. It’s the emotion behind the watch itself.
What Brietling do you wear?
The Breitling Emergency if I’m flying. When I’m travelling I wear a Transocean Unitime. But the one I tend to wear most is usually whatever prototype I’m testing for the future. “The designer at BMW told us that you may buy a luxury car even if the trunk is a little small for your golf clubs, but you would never buy it if you simply don’t like the look of it”.