Breitling enters a new era with Guy Bove and George Kern - Hashtag Legend

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Breitling enters a new era with Guy Bove and George Kern

Mar 26, 2018

The Navitimer 8 B01 with black dial and a black alligator strap

In 1962, Breitling’s Navitimer Cosmonaute became the first wrist chronograph to travel to space. In 1965, Sean Connery’s 007 sported a modified Top Time watch as he tracked down stolen atomic bombs in Thunderball. But more than half a century later, in 2018? The Navitimer 8 hits the market and is set to bring the house back to eminence.

The brainchild of new CEO Georges Kern and new creative director Guy Bove, the Navitimer 8 collection features five distinct models that draw heavily on Breitling’s rich heritage. The brand, which was dominant in the market through the 1980s, has a storied yet often unknown past that extends far beyond the pilot’s watches for which it’s famed.

Bove and Kern are on a mission to change all that by tapping the archives for inspiration, aiming to bring the brand into the future and create an enduring legacy of cool, luxurious timepieces at approachable price points. The duo worked together for six years at IWC before reuniting again last November at Breitling.

the Navitimer 8 Automatic with blue dial and a black leather strap

What was it about Breitling that attracted you?

First of all, they have a fabulous history that I thought would be very exciting to continue and bring back. Georges and I are on the same wavelength there – we want to bring it back because nobody knows about our history. The idea for us is not to make the old watches again, but to remind people of what Breitling stood for: elegant, sporty watches at an interesting price point.

Are you a history buff?

No. Well, it’s not that I’m not a history buff, but I don’t spend days reading about it.

But that seems to be your strength – bringing the past to the present?

Well, I try to do that. Even if it’s not an existing past, it’s about finding the spirit.

You’ve said the new Navitimer 8 collection fits into the future of Breitling. What does that future look like?

You can see the future here doesn’t consist of GPS; it’s more the future of the past. What I like to say is “back to the future”. It’s going back to move forward.

An advertisement from 1931 for an onboard chronograph made for aircraft or automobiles

Will we ever see you sporting a smartwatch?

Well, you’re probably not going to see me in one, because I don’t wear a watch. But you might see other people in it. We already have smartwatches, actually—driving, diving and flying watches.

That’s a surprising fact – why don’t you wear a watch?

One day, I took it o  and I felt more comfortable. I also work with a lot of products and if I wear one, I don’t want to be influenced. I don’t want to start doing fluted bezels just because that’s what I’m wearing every day.

In the market, it seems that Breitling had lost a bit of its lustre over the past couple of decades. Why do you think that is?

Actually, sales have been extremely stable and have even grown, but they’ve changed populations. When I was growing up in Geneva, the cool, sporty kids in the know would wear the brand – those kids grew up and they’re still wearing Breitling. But the cool, sporty kids in the know today aren’t wearing us. Times are changing. What’s very different is this [points to his mobile phone]. These didn’t exist when I was growing up. You don’t need a watch anymore, but if you want one, you’re going to do your research. And if you research Breitling, there’s a fantastic amount of beautiful watches to look at.

You and Georges Kern are known for creating legacies by reviving the past and creating new futures. What do you hope your legacy will be at Breitling?

We create things that never existed but look like they’ve always been there. I would obviously like, first of all, to attract some of those young, cool, sporty people – many of whom may not think they need a watch. Today it’s a cool brand, but it’s cool to a niche amount of people. We want to reach a wider audience by bringing our heritage to the forefront.

How are you two working together to achieve that?

With Georges, it could go from speaking once a minute to once a week. But we’re always questioning and fine-tuning our vision. Working in-house, that vision is rejected immediately in everything we do. He counts on me to tie all the disciplines together – graphic design, product design, architectural design, movie consulting, art designing, storyboards.

What was the most difficult aspect of creating this new collection?

Figuring out how far we could stretch different elements of the DNA. But really, it wasn’t very difficult; it was a very fast product. We started with the dial and looked to Huit Aviation [the brand’s earliest aviation department, founded in 1938] for inspiration. But of course, a pilot’s watch doesn’t have a case, so what do we put it in? That’s where the Navitimer came in. A pilot’s watch is a very serious instrument. You have to be able to read it at a glance and it has to resist shock – it’s quite a muscular thing. So, we had to take the elegant Navitimer and make it into almost a fighter pilot’s watch.

What can we expect from Breitling next?

I would say it’s not going to be an air, because people aren’t just interested in planes. They’re interested in swimming, driving, running, dinner parties. So I can say that elegant will be on the list. And sophisticated. But probably not swimming.

This feature originally appeared in the March 2018 print issue of #legend. 

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Sarah Engstrand