Well known for his meteoric rise in Richemont where he took the reins of IWC Schaffhausen at the young age of 36, Georges Kern now has his sights set on transforming another storied brand: Breitling.

 

Since you took the helm, Breitling has been undergoing a great deal of change. How do you see the restructuring of its communications?

Before Breitling was acquired by CVC, it was a private company that belonged to a private person who built something fantastic. It was very successful in the US and Europe, but it needed to be ready for a different setting.

Everyone has his or her own style; I have mine. I have no problems talking to the press or being on Instagram. I think it’s really important in the context of a transformation and it’s why we are doing these phenomenal road shows. We have been to Shanghai, Tokyo, Osaka and Singapore. I have met 800 retailers, and hundreds of journalists and bloggers. We have been very active online for the first time.

When you look at the products – the novelties – and how we reworked the Chronomat, the Navitimer, and the Superocean Heritage… it feels like a different brand. But it’s the same. It’s just a contemporary, more up-to-date Breitling.

 

What are some of the key changes you are implementing at Breitling?

I would need hours to explain that properly. Let’s start with the first thing: Strategy. Breitling has always been perceived as a pilots’ brand, with a focus on Air – aviation. Now, it will be an Air, Water and Earth brand, with watches that span different categories. But of course, aviation will remain as the brand’s main pillar.

Previously, Breitling’s emphasis on functional, legible pilot’s watches resulted in larger, overt designs. However, Breitling also produced elegant watches like the Premier and the Top Time. From now on, Breitling will offer small elegant watches alongside its bigger brothers once more. We will focus on contemporary, stylish and tasteful offerings. Take for example the Super 8 we just launched: It’s sized at 46mm, but it’s more restrained in design and expression.

We are keeping big watches and we will work on enhancing the design of our larger watches. For instance, our new Chronomat is satin-brushed, not polished. We have completely revamped the dial and made it simpler and cleaner. It’s a whole new watch.

 

How will the new design ethos be reflected in the brand’s public communications campaigns?

Our communication will be more industrial- and lifestyle-driven, with a touch of neo-vintage. We want to keep it informal and personal. We have stopped all the cartoons and pop art-influenced décor in our boutiques today. Those themes were great for a certain period of time, but are challenging to sustain especially given the areas of focus we want to develop now. We have stopped the advertising campaigns with the pin-up girls and the flight suit girls as well. These campaigns don’t accurately reflect today’s society and the women of today. We have to be more considerate of the changes in society.

So to sum it all up, we have a clear strategy in terms of the words we use, the products we make and the advertising campaigns that we create. Implementation of this strategy is just as important. A smart strategy without the right implementation will not work, and implementation without a vision is useless. You need both.

Throughout the course of my career, I have never experienced as many changes as I did in my first six to eight months at Breitling. We launched a new website; totally reviewed the brand’s digital strategy; and totally revamped its [store] architecture, art, advertising, and product line. The team has been terribly great and terribly efficient.

Will in-house movements see more representation?

We will grow our in-house movements, of course. Everything we launch will see some representation with Breitling movements. The tri-compax (three, six and nine on the dial) that now comes in a bi-colour design will be a signature of that presence. It’s a historical Breitling look of the mid-century era and we want to preserve that heritage. Breitling-modified movements will always be monotone. It’s like having a Porsche 911 or buying the 911 Turbo. It’s the same car but at a different price point. Going from $5,000 to $7,200, it’s a price barrier we need to counter with an alternative offer.

But my priority is for Breitling to become a very legible brand. Today, if you are standing in front of our window [display], that clarity isn’t there. But with the new collection, it’s very clear and segmented. We’ve stopped all the variations of these rubber straps and will keep just one version. Dilution of a brand comes when you have one line but you make it in 100 executions, not when you have four lines in 20 executions.

 

Breitling is [or, was] essentially an aviation brand and it has captured that niche. Is there a risk that the brand is taking in changing that up?

Of course not. What worked yesterday doesn’t necessarily work tomorrow. I remember when Spain was a European champion and a world champion. But when they came to the next World Cup with the same team, coach and system, they didn’t win a single match. You have to evolve with the market. You have to adjust, across all these elements I’ve mentioned. I’m not here to keep the status quo. You don’t need me for that; you can take anybody. We are here to elevate the brand to a global level, to bring back elements that made the brand very successful in the ’40s to the ’70s.

Take Range Rover for example. When Tata first bought over the company, Range Rover had always been making four-wheel drives. Then a new guy walked in and suddenly it starting making the Evoque and Evoque Convertible.

Remember when Porsche launched the Cayenne and people said the company would go bankrupt? Then after that it launched the Panamera, the Macan, and everyone said it would fail. Guess what is the bestselling car at Porsche? The Cayenne.

 

And what are they saying about Breitling now?

Here’s an interesting point for all the people fixated on the big statement Breitling watches with the wings and motifs. On a very rational level, I examined which Breitling line sold the most over the last 18 months. It’s the Superocean Heritage. It’s the mesh band, classic, beautiful, traditional, no wings, retro, back to the roots – reassurance, beauty, good taste. I say, let the consumer decide. I always stand by my choices in taste. I cannot change that. And if by chance, I have the same taste as the consumer, we are in perfect harmony. 

 

Article originally published by August Man. Republished with permission. 

Cover image credit: Breitling. Image: Georges Kern. 


About the author

Sean Mossadeg

Associate Editor

Sean Mossadeg is the Associate Editor of AUGUSTMAN, the top men’s lifestyle journal in Singapore. When he is not daydreaming about giving up his day job to be a watchmaker, Sean also helms the publication’s annual timepiece supplement, MVMT.