Exclusive interview with Georges Kern, Breitling CEO during Geneva Watch Days 2023

Exclusive interview with Georges Kern, Breitling CEO during Geneva Watch Days 2023

“We will be having an impressive number of 400 Breitling boutiques worldwide soon enhancing our retail visibility and I believe the Middle East region is a great market for the brand.”

During the recent Geneva Watch Days, we had the chance to interview Georges Kern, Breitling CEO. Breitling is majority owned by Partners Group since December 2022.

Excerpts from the interview.

From Cockpit to catwalk. How does this statement represent the new Breitling Navitimer 36 and 32collection during Geneva Watch Days?

As the defacto pilot’s watch throughout the glory days of civil aviation, the Navitimer was worn by airline captains and aircraft enthusiasts. But it wasn’t only pilots drawn to the watch’s irrepressible aesthetic. Celebrities of the day such as Miles Davis and Serge Gainsbourg were devotees, proving that the Navitimer had style as well as function. We now introduced two new additions to the Navitimer collection, in new 36- and 32-mm sizes for people who love the look and feel of a smaller diameter watch. We are a generalist brand. Probably one of the only brands in the world that can sell an emergency watch up to a tourbillon without people asking questions. It is part of the Breitling tradition and heritage. In the past, people told me you have to have a backbone and one main line, but I don’t believe in it. I believe in the rules of the brand. Some brands cannot expand because it is not in line with their brand DNA and some brands can because they have the history, and we have it. It is about using the full potential of Breitling as a generalist brand. You can compare it with a car manufacturer – we have a SUV, a convertible, a limousine. We have this variety and width in our collection, because it is part of our history. And we haven’t invented anything. Our modern designs are inspired by our history and rich back catalogue. This is what makes our modern-retro design style so unique.

Last year, Breitling revealed the implementation of the lab-grown diamond as the first watch company to do so, solidifying its sustainability strategy. How did this strategy support your extension plan, and what does the future hold?

First of all, I think it certainly works for Breitling because sustainability is part of our culture. Secondly, it’s much easier to apply this concept on watches rather than on jewellery, because when you buy a watch with smaller so called mele diamonds, it is different from when you are buying an engagement ring. Thirdly, we started from zero in the women’s segment so it is easier to introduce a game-changing initiative. Fourth, more and more younger people, are starting to ask questions, wanting to know, where the materials of products are coming from. Product integrity is key for us. We transparently disclose the entire supply chain of our precious material on our blockchain from the mine or lab to the wrist as well as the social and environmental impact. This approach is appreciated by our customers who are increasingly looking for transparency.

Breitling has made its commitment to a variety of athletic activities quite obviously. How do you select the sports and communities you engage with? And how do you anticipate the brand’s future expansion into sports?

Key for us are “the people”. We sponsor specific events but ultimately, we want to partner with personalities that share the same values and fit the brand – be it athletes, actors or artists. In my opinion, much more impact on the brand comes from boutiques and not from having your logo visible at a sports event. We will open another 60-70 boutiques this year making it 300 at the end of the year. We want to reach 400 boutiques worldwide and this will give us visibility and quality experience for our customers. Walking into our stores you have the 360-degree experience of the Breitling brand universe. You have the availability of the product. It is the engagement with our clients, which is unique. 

Breitling has been devoted to brand expansion since 2017 and has developed a clear and comprehensive plan to do so. Where do you now stand and where do you envisage the brand in five years?

First of all, I believe in luxury. When you look at the valuation of the big luxury groups since the 1980s, the growth development is phenomenal. Secondly, the market will be growing faster in the coming years. With new markets like Indonesia, India and China you can forecast the macro trend for the next 5, 10 or 20 years. You have more and more people having access to this type of products, you have a democratization of luxury and humankind will want to enjoy life and invest in true values. Therefore I’m not worried at all in terms of growth. Of course, our products are expensive as they are valuable, but we still want to be accessible and desirable to people. So, for me to answer your question, yes, we have a reasonable growth record, but I think we can triple or quadruple it.

Breitling has adopted a completely new policy towards the Breitling Boutique luxury experience. How successful this approach has been towards the consumer’s extended luxury experience?

We are redefining luxury – we call it neo-luxury – not just since Covid. I believe in this casual, informal and more sustainable interpretation of luxury – we want to be the cool alternative to the more formal brands out there. You can feel it when you step into our boutiques which include a bar, a pool table or a motorbike etc. We have many ideas to extend this unique cool, informal and engaging concept. 

That brings us to the Middle East. What are your expansion plans for the Middle East after successful launching of the new boutiques concept in KSA and UAE among other GCC countries?

First of all, the region is doing very well. One reason, why we are doing so well in the Middle East, is because of our aviation history. But key in the UAE as in other regions is to have good retail visibility. Currently we have 19 boutiques and will open four more this year.