ZURICH — Swiss watchmaker Breitling will unveil its first women’s range next spring, as the company exploits the financial muscle of its private equity owners to expand products and geography.
The new collection from the Swiss watchmaker, still best known for its chunky aviator timepieces, will be followed by a second women’s range next fall.
The new ranges will be underpinned by expanding Breitling’s eye-catching advertising, featuring “squads” of high-achieving celebrities in different fields. Brand awareness among female buyers will be heightened by a new all-female “squad” next summer and an additional mixed group next winter.
The two new groups will extend Breitling’s exiting squads, which include the Hollywood lineup of Brad Pitt, Adam Driver and Charlize Theron, a surfers squad featuring legendary Kevin Slater and an explorer squad.
“What’s important for us is to have credible and authentic people,” said chief executive officer Georges Kern. The “squad” concept has been seen as highly effective in moving Breitling away from individual ambassadors and potentially sexist messages by refocusing on teamwork and inclusion.
In an initial expansion underpinning the brand’s commitment to flying, Breitling this week announced a new “aviator’s squad,” featuring former astronaut Scott Kelly, multiyear world drone racing champion Luke Bannister, and the only female member of the Spanish air force’s aerobatic jet team.
“Business is good. We have strong double-digit growth,” Kern said in an interview with WWD at Breitling’s fall “summit” in Zurich.
“You need to prove to your investors that your strategy works. We’ve moved the ship in the right direction and gathered speed. Now we need to increase that speed.”
He revealed sales of the company’s products, revitalized progressively since its more than 800-million-euro acquisition in 2017 by CVC Capital Partners, had risen steadily this year, against a slower environment for Swiss watch exports in general.
The Zurich event, which followed a similar jamboree for media, retailers and customers last week in Los Angeles featuring Pitt and Slater, reflects Breitling’s new strategy of shunning traditional watch shows in favor of twice-yearly spring and autumn “summits” focused on key markets.
That began last winter with events in Beijing and London, followed by a Swiss “summit” paralleling the brand’s final appearance at last March’s Baselworld trade show. Kern is convinced big watch trade fairs face extinction in a digital age, when speed has become key. His mantra is “from catwalk to customer” — meaning products should be ready for sale almost immediately after display. “No one wants to wait anymore.”
Kern conceded recent instability and riots in Hong Kong, a crucial market for Swiss watchmakers, would impact sales this year. But he claimed Breitling was relatively unaffected — having in the past been criticized for its limited presence in the city and mainland China.
“The only thing I’m really worried about are events that affect the mood of luxury consumers, whether that’s trade wars, Brexit, Iran or Hong Kong,” he said.
But, in the longer term, his view is that such developments are short-term glitches, and he repeated his underlying confidence in the future of the mechanical watch industry. “I truly believe the industry will grow as a trend, for one simple reason — demographics. We as industry that has by far not yet reached the ultimate level.”