It’s clearly a time of change and the watch industry is no exception. Conscious brands will be trimming collections, improving their footprint and, with the new demands, drastically evolving the way they present themselves to the world. The cancellation of the two major Swiss watch fairs this year due to the Covid-19 shutdown of the globe presented an opportunity – and possibly an escape hatch – for a long-overdue overhaul of these tired gatherings, which not only require bottomless resources but leave a huge trail of carbon. For the more high-end luxury Swiss-made brands, who’ve witnessed the increased inclusion of more commercial brands at these gatherings, it might be time to present a Swiss-made united force for survival.
The Swatch Group was the first to leave Baselworld and their absence at last year’s fair was noticeable. Independent Breitling followed suit with its much-welcomed summits having a more personalised direct-to-market approach. Last week, the LVMH Group’s watchmaking division – Tag Heuer, Hublot and Zenith – announced that, along with the House of Bvlgari, it would follow the more recent withdrawal from Baselworld of Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard and be looking into a bespoke event of sorts in Geneva for next April.
With everyone in lockdown mode and embracing the new normal, Breitling held its first virtual summit to unveil a tightly curated spring 2020 novelty lineup to journalists via a webcast and the video conferencing platform BlueJeans. The dynamic CEO Georges Kern appeared to have embraced the pace of the “cool, relaxed lifestyle of Breitling” during his time at home, with a less showmanlike engagement than usual. The new lineup covers all aspects of the Breitling universe – sea, land and air – with the ’57 Capsule Collection and Limited Edition versions of the SuperOcean Heritage, a redesigned Chronomat and smaller Navitimer models made for women.
Kern has instituted a major freshening up of both the brand and offering since he took over as CEO of Breitling in 2017. While strengthening and diversifying its range of platforms, he remains clear that “having more choice is no choice at all”. He reduced the original catalogue from an unwieldy 600 references to around 100. Hiring 30-year-old automotive design star Sylvain Berneron as head of product design signalled a move to add youthful vigour to the brand. Berneron’s touch can be seen in the glorious SuperOcean Heritage ’57 Rainbow Edition and the redesigned Chronomat.
The SuperOcean Heritage ’57 Capsule Collection is a contemporary interpretation of the original SuperOcean from 1957, retaining key elements, such as the oversized concave bezel and oversized indexes, of the original. Available in a variety of materials, including stainless steel and 18k red gold, the 42mm case features a bidirectional rotating bezel with black ceramic bezel ring and a black dial.
Setting the scene for a younger collector, or those with a nostalgic yearning for the pleasures of their youth, Kern says, “We’ve focused on the relaxed Southern California fun-in-the-sun culture that defined an era. The surfing itself in the 1950s and 1960s is at the heart of our storytelling here … the almost spiritual connection to freedom found on endless sandy beaches and in the search for the perfect wave.”
There are three versions of this modern-retro watch in limited production (but not numbered) plus 250 of the Rainbow Edition, which pairs with the colourful range of OuterKnown Econyl yarn Nato straps. They are powered by the COSC-certified, in-house Breitling Caliber 10 and are water resistant to 100m. Priced from $4,380 (about R65,000).
The Navitimer, with its familiar beaded bezel, has been the iconic pilot’s watch for more than 65 years. The new Navitimer Automatic 35 offers jet-setting women a much-needed, more refined, smaller version of this historic timepiece. This watch has the characteristic bidirectional rotating bezel with slide rule of the larger Navitimer models and is available in six references. These include a 35mm stainless steel case with either a blue, copper or silver dial on alligator leather straps and steel with a white mother-of-pearl dial and diamond hour markers. A two-tone version in steel and 18k red gold is also offered. All references are powered by the Breitling Caliber 17 automatic movement. Pricing starts at $4,300 (about R64,000)
One of the coolest icons from the inventors of the chronograph is the sporty-chic Chronomat from the 1980s, which has been reworked as the all-purpose sports watch for a new generation of chronograph fans. The Chronomat started ticking in 1983 as a mechanical chronograph specifically developed for the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori, the aerobatic demonstration team of the Italian Air Force. The brief was to make a watch that was sturdy enough for the cockpit but also appropriately elegant for leisure time.
For the 100th anniversary of Breitling in 1984, previous owner the late Ernest Schneider decided to introduce the Chronomat to the collection. Due to the versatility of its tachymeter it became an instant hit with racing drivers and its reversible bezel riders made it the perfect tool for regattas. What was remarkable was that Schneider took the bold move of launching a mechanical watch at a time when everyone was going gaga for quartz.
While the new 42mm version is a far more refined, modern take it retains three iconic elements of the original. These are the bezel with interchangeable rider tabs which offer a count-up feature for aviation and diving and count-down for regattas; the tachymeter scale on the inner bezel and the signature Rouleaux bracelet. It is offered in stainless steel with a choice of black dial and silver “panda” sub-dials; blue or salmon dials with black sub-dials and a British racing green dial for the Bentley edition. There is also an 18k red gold version but the two-tone steel and 18k red gold references are perfect if you want the full ’80s feel of the original. There is also a Frecce Tricolori special edition to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the squadron. All these new pieces are powered by the in-house Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01, a COSC-certified chronometer. Pricing starts at $8,100 (about R120,000).
• Visit breiling.com or call 011-883-2286.