“The difference between successful brands and unsuccessful brands is execution,” offers Georges Kern, Breitling’s new CEO. As he refocuses the Swiss aviation-themed watch manufacturer, Kern has created a high-profile stage to test the validity of that statement. Navitimer 8, the historically based pilot’s watch collection he has launched at a series of events around the world, is just the beginning of a sweeping alteration of the company’s brand position. Models to be introduced later in the year and in the upcoming seasons promise to take Breitling from its long-established niche in aviation watches and establish it on a broader footing as a generalist brand with product families in land, sea, and air themes.
Work of this kind is hardly new to Kern. At the helm of IWC for well over a decade, he organized the company’s broad offerings into a cluster of well-marshaled product families that were refreshed and promoted at a regular drumbeat. But while this approach brought the brand’s attributes into high relief, it did not alter an already well-established brand identity, which is the task facing Kern at Breitling. The brand’s close ties with aviation have earned it a solid market position in the United States as well as a strong level of awareness around the world.
Kern describes Breitling’s aviation ties as a “niche within a niche,” and he is clearly pursuing a generalist position for solid business reasons. Aviation does not possess the same romantic associations in Asia as it does in the West, and this may be limiting the brand’s expansion in these areas. He can also point to models in the brand’s current offering—like the best-selling Superocean and the Bentley watches that are not at all related to flying—as evidence to support the move.
Collectors of vintage Breitling watches (many of which are not aviation related) and its current owners are both highly passionate about the brand. If Kern can manage to please both groups with his new models, he will have performed one of the most delicate adjustments in Swiss watch history.