When a vintage-watch collector receives a message from the incoming Breitling CEO, he’s likely to take notice. Even when he’s on holiday. It’s what led Fred Mandelbaum to be appointed consultant to Breitling.
“I was on vacation with my wife in Venice when my phone dinged. It was an Instagram message that read: ‘This is Georges Kern. Can you please call me?’ That’s how it started,” says Mandelbaum.
They met in Vienna. “In 2017, he asked if I’d like to advise Breitling and share my knowledge of the roots of the brand as part of the foundation of its strategy,” says Mandelbaum.
“I started out using watches to time production processes at work. I fell in love with the precise mechanical instrument on my wrist. I started to read books and ask questions, slowly educating myself when there was no internet and nobody to ask.”
He collects chronographs across a number of brands, but Breitling takes centre stage. “Breitling has been the first adopter in most of the technological steps in watchmaking — always developing new designs and defining new standards. This is how Breitling came to be at the core of my collection.”
He investigates Breitling’s watch history after hours, poring through production ledgers from September 1944 (Breitling was founded in 1884, but most of the records preceding that year were destroyed). “Breitling was always trying to innovate. That was the defining element. They saw the watch as a tool for specific tasks.”
He says the biggest finds are the rarest. He recently found one of the first Duographs dating back to the 1940s. The Duograph, recently relaunched by Breitling, was first manufactured in batches of six, and typically assembled on order. “Approximately 30 pieces have ever been found. This piece belonged to a businessman who had passed away. His father had been a doctor and this is the only pulsation-scale doctor’s watch Duograph we’ve ever seen.”
• From the May edition of Wanted, 2021.