Have You Met Breitling's New CEO?

Georges Kern introduces some bold new moves for the brand.


It was a pretty big deal in the watch world when Georges Kern—who had been carrying the interesting and coveted title of Head of Watchmaking, Marketing, and Digital at the Swiss luxury house Richemont—announced his “resignation with immediate effect” in July 2017. He had had a stellar career at the company, having joined up in 2000 and then, just two years later, becoming the group’s youngest CEO at age 36, when he was named the head of IWC Schaffhausen.

“Georges has been offered an interesting opportunity to become an entrepreneur,” Johann Rupert, Richemont’s chairman, told the industry magazine Worldtempus. "He has had a very successful career at IWC Schaffhausen and we wish him well.”

It soon became public that Kern left IWC Schaffhausen to join Breitling—which, notably, was also associated strongly with aviation. Breitling, heretofore one of the few remaining family-owned independent watchmakers, had just been acquired by the Luxembourg-based CVC Capital Partners a few months prior. Intriguingly, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps also reported (and Breitling confirmed) that Kern had acquired a stake in the company as part of his deal.

Given his successful 15-year stint at IWC Schaffhausen—during which Kern was widely credited with bringing the brand to global prominence—industry watchers and timepiece collectors have long been waiting to see what Kern was bringing to the table.


At his first major global roadshow, Kern took to the stage everywhere from Zurich to Shanghai, Singapore, and finally, New York to unveil what they called Breitling’s “Legendary Future.” He didn’t disappoint, presenting sweeping new changes to bring the brand into the future.

Here are a few of the biggest points from Kern's presentation:

Midcentury seems to be the best century, especially when it comes to logo design (I mean, have you seen us?). There's something about the curvy, simple lines of the 1950s that is at once old and very current, and so it's to this period that Kern looks to for his iteration of the logo.

This version is actually one of the earliest versions of the Breitling insignia—the more elaborate logo with the anchor and wings was introduced decades after. Expect the simplicity of the new logo to start rolling out quietly throughout stores in the next few months.

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And speaking of stores, some of its stores will start being remodeled into Breitling Loftswhich means losing the old-school, hypermasculine pilot-themed aesthetic in favor of the modern, hip, minimalist loft concept. According to Kern, the first lofts will be in the company's home country of Switzerland and then in Beijing. 


BREITLING EMBRACES ASIA IN A BIG WAY. Kern has been talking about China as the company's "largest growth market" for months, recognizing its emerging importance vis a vis Breitling's traditional sales stomping grounds in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Kern is pushing investments in new stores and marketing in China and in the rest of Asia, and will, interestingly for a watch brand that's known for its chunky pilot's watches, introduce smaller watches better suited to Asian-sized wrists. (Kern also notes that the brand will be introducing more ladies' models in the coming months.)


IT'S NOT ALL UP IN THE AIR ANYMORE. This was the first year that Breitling has not sponsored the Singapore Airshow, signaling the brand's surprising step away from its niche in aviation. Cheekily observing that, in Asia, aviation may not have the same historic connotations as it does in the West (think about your late arrivals and lost luggage, Kern jokes, and a roomful of Asian lifestyle journalists giggle nervously) Kern says that Breitling will de-emphasize aviation. He is, however, careful to emphasize that Breitling will not be abandoning aviation entirely—he is quick to remind everyone that Breitling is the only brand to have its very own Breitling Jet Team—but is instead expanding to be an all-around adventure brand. 


The Land-Sea-Air concept is embodied under three main lines: the brand's signature pilot's watch collection will continue to be made under the Navitimer banner, with the Navitimer 8 as Kern's first new watch; the Transocean, to represent land travel, was first launched in 1958 as a traveler's watch; while its diver's watch collection is found under the Superocean banner.

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BREITLING WILL FOCUS ON ITS STRENGTHS. Though the Exospace will remain in its arsenal, meant for professional aviators, don't expect a Breitling smartwatch in the future. Also, Kern is careful to emphasize that while Breitling is aiming for a "sweet spot" when it comes to pricing (US$3,500 on the low end to about US$9,000, with some outliers), they are definitely not going for cheaper watches. In fact, Breitling will now phase out its quartz watches—so say goodbye to the US$2,000 Skyracer

SAY HELLO TO THE BREITLING SQUAD. Kern was famous for bringing in celebrity "friends of the brand" to IWC, and so he brings the same concept to Breitling. In a first for the brand, Hollywood actors are being signed to be members of the first Breitling squads.

"Rooted in the dynamic values of Breitling—action, purpose, and pioneering spirit—this concept focuses on the bond created between people brought together by a shared endeavor and common goal, and will be presented in Breitling’s advertising campaigns," reads Breitling's recent release to accompany its announcement at Baselword naming Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, Adam Driver, and Daniel Wu to its first squad.

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Kristine Fonacier
Former editor-in-chief of Esquire Philippines
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