By Air, Land and Sea
Breitling Creative Director Guy Bove sits down for a chat on the new direction and creations of the brand
Things are changing at Breitling. But instead of simply going “out with the old, in with the new” the brand has reembraced its rich heritage in a decidedly contemporary fashion. Case in point, and perhaps, what most people will notice first, is how Breitling’s winged logo has been replaced with a B in the brand’s familiar script. This new approach is also palpable in its allencompassing message that goes beyond classic aviation, with an increased presence of collections like the Superocean, land-themed partnerships like the one with Bentley Motors as well as ocean conservancy ventures along with an expanded roster of “Breitling Squads” to encompass cinema, exploration and surfing. And of course, this is also seen in the novelties introduced this year.
Spearheading this era of change is Breitling’s CEO George Kern and creative director Guy Bove. Earlier this year, I had the chance to sit down with the former for an in-depth chat about what the “new Breitling” entails. DAMAN: So, we’ve seen a lot of changes happening in Breitling, from the watches to even the logo. Why is it all happening this year? Guy Bove: Well, change in management, for sure. I’m not sure so much is changing. I think that we’re reorganizing into what I would say are compartments that we can communicate to. For instance, the Superocean Heritage which was relaunched in 2007 and again in 2017 for the 60th anniversary of the collection. It’s a diver’s watch—the first from Breitling dating back to 1957—but it was advertised with a floatplane. It’s talking about water but from a plane’s perspective. We’re just changing things so that if we’re talking about water, we’re going to talk about water.
It’s just that it was aviation that was contemporary when the watches were designed. Like with the 52 Navitimer, that was the world that the watch existed in. That’s why you might get the feeling that it’s vintage, when it’s actually just referring our new and old customers back to the origins of these product lines and of the brand.
If we start with all people, then if you take out all the women [ laughs] and you take out everybody who is not interested in aviation, then we’re talking to a small percentage of the population. But if you look into Breitling’s origins for its first hundred years, they had watches for timing football games, they had diving watches, they were timing the Tour de France, the tour of Italy, they were worn by movie stars, they were worn in space ... there’s a huge amount of touch points that the brand used to have. And basically, all we’re doing is
“Today no one needs a watch, really. But if you’re buying a watch, the odds are that you’re going to find out a lot about the product or the brand before you decide to invest in it”
putting them back in, because the watches are already there. We already have the Transocean which is basically based on a premiere collection from the ’ 30s to the ’60s. We have the Superocean collection which was based on the first diving watches. And then we have the Navitimer 1 based on ’ 50s pilot watches. Now we also have a Navitimer 8 which goes back 20 years before that to the very beginning of aviation and Breitling.
The idea is to create connections with the brand as it was. Because today no one needs a watch, really. You look at your phone, you look at your computer or you look in the car. But if you’re buying a watch, odds are that you’re going to want to find out a lot about the product or the brand before you decide to invest in it. And with the connections we’re recreating, when you go to a Breitling boutique, receive the catalog or go on the website and investigate, you’re going to say, “Ah, the Superocean!” and notice that it had the same bezel as it did back in 1957 or you look at the Navitimer 1 and go, “Ah, 1952—that goes way back.” When you start Googling those names you’re going to see decades of beautiful watches.
I think for someone who is contemporary, who is interested in Breitling, there’s going to be a direct connection between the products, the boutiques, the logo, the catalog, the website—all the touch points are going to fit in well with what you would’ve seen at Breitling in the past, but with a contemporary version. The idea is to take some of the ingredients from the past, make the new products familiar to people who know the old Breitling but still make contemporary products that have this sense of heritage. That’s what we’re doing in a nutshell. DA: You mentioned the people who knew the old Breitling. For those new to the brand, how would you describe the DNA of Breitling as it is today? GB: As it is today last week or this week? DA: This week. GB: I think, I would say contemporary cool with a sense of heritage. DA: On a related note, how would you describe the typical Breitling owner or wearer? GB: If I refer back to the old Breitling which is basically the original version of where we’re going, I see them as amazing tool watches with such a great sense of style that you can wear them with a dinner jacket. So, they’re not bulky, they’re so refined that even the diving watches can be worn with a dinner jacket. And I think where we’re going is basically trying to recapture that.
So, [the typical Breitling owner] is probably someone urban, stylish, who appreciates the intrinsic qualities of the brand and the brand’s heritage and reliability. I think it’s a great package for anybody looking for a stylish sports watch with some heritage. DA: There’s always a lot of talk in the industry about reaching out to millennials, a new generation of watch owners. How does Breitling approach the millennial problem? GB: Well, actually, that’s exactly what I was saying before. Almost by definition, a millennial is someone who’s going to go back and Google Breitling to find out a lot about it. If they’re going to invest in a watch, they’re going to want to know what they’re buying; maybe even
better than the salesmen. So, one of the things we can do is to create these touch points, the visual connections between the, say, Navitimer 8 and the cockpit clocks. So, when they go back and search they’re going to say, “Ah, there’s the connection.” Other than that, we’re doing a lot of work on digital to make sure these touch points are available to millennials.
The third thing is making sure that we are clearing our communication, making sure that the brand is cool to them, design-wise. Who would disagree with a lofttype experience when they go to a boutique and feel a cool interpretation of an industrial space? So, I think all the way across it’s good. And for people who don’t know about the brand, just the fact that we’re organizing our product lines where they don’t have to think for two hours about it, it becomes sort of a shortcut for them to learn more about the brand. DA: How about expanding into e- commerce and similar platforms? Is that also a priority for Breitling right now? GB:
I don’t know if you’ve checked out our new U.S. site but we are there with the e-commerce, we have the prices on there and so on. We’re gearing up for that. I don’t want to comment too much about partnerships and so on, but for sure, yes. DA: How is the brand doing in Asia, by the way? GB:
In some places, well. In some places, not as well as we should be. Which has been good, especially if we’re talking about the Chinese market. It’s seen a lot of brands go up like a shot and then fall like a stone. We weren’t there, not in any meaningful way. So, we didn’t go up, but we didn’t go down. We’ve been extremely stable and now we’re obviously dedicating efforts towards huge growth without compromising anything. DA: Have you noticed any particular trends that do well in Asia? GB: Credibility. I think credibility does well. People say that in Asia the watches have to be small, they have to be gold or they have to be polished or they have to be whatever. In fact, I think brands with a strong pull generally do well in Asia. You know people always talk about designing for Asia and so on, but Asian people
are buying Swiss watches. They’re happy to buy credible design, I think—credible products from credible brands. So, once you’re able to communicate effectively in Asia—about where the brand is coming from, what it stands for and when they see the products, maybe newer ones which are more in line with the vision that we have of referencing the past with contemporary pieces that fit well on the wrist—I think, I hope, that we will be appreciated. DA: Breitling has connected watches like the Exospace, but those are designed for professional use within certain fields or certain sports. Are there any plans to introduce connected models for regular, everyday use? GB: Who knows what the future holds? But I think what Breitling is doing with connected watches is quite different with what most people see in a connected watch. The philosophy of Breitling is that the computer is at the service of the watch, not the other way around. That means we use the computer to program the functions of the watch, because it’s much easier to program on the computer than on three buttons. But once that’s done, the watch is a standalone product.
Definitely our target is not to create connected watches in the sense that it’s something that people wanting a Samsung Gear are going to recognize. It’s not our proposition. We’re doing more elegant watches with intrinsic values. DA: Do you have a personal favorite among this year’s novelties? GB: I already have several, unfortunately. I think the one that I would probably wear is the Super8, but I like the black Unitime because I like worldtime watches and it’s actually very readable. DA: Finally, what’s next for Breitling? GB: In the near future we will be relaunching our “Earth” collection, the Premier. So, that will be big. It’s a pillar that we don’t really have right now. And then, of course, we want to grow, and we want to be bigger in Asia, we need to implement all the changes that we’ve been talking about.
“The idea is to take some of the ingredients from the past, make the new products familiar to people who know the old Breitling but still make contemporary products that have this sense of heritage”