Since 1884, Breitling has held a special position in the Swiss watch industry. Blending a heritage of innovation and design with inclusive luxury, Breitling has distinguished itself from all other brands. RLI recently spent some time with company CEO Georges Kern and learnt more about the heritage of the brand and its position in the market today.
As specialists in chronograph watches, Breitling has played a key role in the technical development of this complication, which includes the invention of two independent pushpieces and by presenting the first self-winding chronograph in 1969.
The Breitling story began with Léon Breitling, a skilled watchmaker who crafted both timepieces and intelligent measuring tools in his St. Imier workshop. His first patent was granted in 1889 for a model which stood out from the crowd with its sleek design, uncomplicated manufacturing process and straightforward maintenance and the company has continued to grow and evolve ever since.
Today, the business operates over 100 boutiques across a number of countries around the world and, including its retail partners, about 1,500 points of sale globally.
Georges Kern, CEO of Breitling describes the last twelve months as a year of two distinct halves. “We set records in our last fiscal year, which ended on 31 March, but there has of course been a slowdown resulting from the pandemic,” Kern explains. “In most of our markets, business has been rebounding and we are cautiously optimistic about the future. The perception of Breitling has never been better. Long before the crisis, we had started to position ourselves in a modern, contemporary way representing a casual and inclusive luxury.”
Despite the changes that have affected the industry in recent months, Breitling have continued to open and refurbish retail spaces. Back in February the company launched its UK Townhouse Boutique on Regent Street in London, extending its industrial loft concept across two and a half floors in one of the world’s most celebrated shopping districts. Meanwhile in April, they refurbished their boutique in Frankfurt to feature its urban loft concept and this has generated a very positive response, and they opened new boutiques in Amsterdam and Osaka last month.
The business has a varied selection of retail projects in the works around the world that are due to launch in the next 12-18 months. They include boutiques, corner-stores and shop-in-shop stores. There is excitement to open its Beverly Hills boutique in the US along with new stores in Hamburg and Cologne as well as in some new locations in China and the Middle East.
“We are continuously evaluating markets and locations. As an inclusive brand, it is important for us to pursue an omni-channel approach and to be close to our customers. We know that 70 per cent of the decision-making process happens online, but the physical experience remains essential, especially with Millennials and young customers who want to immerse themselves into the brand environment and try and see the watch on their wrists,” says Kern.
Innovation has been a defining part of the brand identity and DNA from the very outset and the company is proud to have a long list of technical innovations and firsts. They will continue to add to this legacy and in fact for the last three years they have been actively engaged in the development of its product portfolio.
“We are working to ensure that people all over the world know and understand our watches, our heritage and our values, all of which tend to transcend national borders and cultures,”
In recent years the company has truly begun to embrace the social media experience and they have dramatically increased the reach of their e-commerce. Today they have a strong presence on social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, while their own site has an ever-increasing number of visitors.
Back in April, highlighting their increased role through this medium, Breitling launched its new products online via a webcast. This reached more than two and a half million people around the world and introduced the new Chronomat, the Navitimer 35 and the Capsule Collection Superocean Heritage ’57.
“It is important to stay relevant to our customers and to communicate values with which they can identify. We listen closely to Breitling aficionados and communicate with them regularly,” says Kern. “Our heritage includes the strong link to aviation and we are proud that pilots’ watch enthusiasts remain besides others, an important demographic for us.”
The ethos of the business is built on a strongly defined set of values that incorporate heritage, quality, performance, style, inclusivity and responsibility.
“The challenge is always to exceed our own very high expectations of ourselves. We have to continue to distinguish ourselves from our competitors and communicate the things that make Breitling a very special global brand,” concludes Kern.