By  on December 20, 2010

NEW YORK — After 21 years as a wholesale presence in the U.S., the Swiss luxury watch brand Breitling is staking a retail claim.

The company will open its first store here on East 57th Street on Dec. 26, in a neighborhood that Tiffany & Co., Tourneau and Bulgari, among others, also call home.

“We feel we’re ready,” said Marie Bodman, president of Breitling USA. “We’re secure enough in our market. We know that Americans really will like it.…We want our customers to understand the DNA of Breitling.”

The 3,400-square-foot unit was designed by Alain Porta and Frédéric Legendre. It covers three floors, each of which has a dedicated selling area. In addition, the second floor features a display of vintage Breitling timepieces and the third floor includes a conference room and a bar.

The main floor is awash with color, thanks to several projected artworks by contemporary artist Kevin Kelly. “He’s Breitling — daring and sophisticated,” Bodman said. Walls were constructed from a wood called Quadrillo that is known for its ability to absorb sound.

Bodman said the design will provide a blueprint for future stores. The firm plans two more next year, in Saint-Tropez and in Buenos Aires.

Reflecting on the company’s progress in the U.S., Bodman said: “In 1989, I was the first one, traveling with my little suitcase, getting people to buy our watches.…Our watches 20 years ago were…well, everything else was thin and flat, and nobody wanted to see a chronograph.”

Bodman said the road to brand awareness and growth was hard fought, but now “America is the largest market for us.…We do have a large, good, steady group of men who are really passionate about our product.”

Breitling watches retail from $1,000 to $300,000. 900 of the brand’s latest models will be available for purchase at the store. The company also is launching a limited edition Transocean chronograph, inspired by Fifties aviation.

Breitling ambassador John Travolta will host a formal opening Jan. 13.

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