The rumour that the owners of independent Swiss watchmaker Breitling were looking to sell surfaced sometime last year, reported by several online news sites and forums. Finally, it was confirmed by news outlets last month. While it might seem a grim outcome to many, it’s crucial to remember that the sale isn’t necessarily bad. Ernest Schneider himself, bought Breitling in 1979 during a period of crisis. Under him, the brand’s aviation characteristic became its key selling point. It was during this time that several now-iconic collections such as the Chronomat and Emergency were created.
Ernest’s son Théodore took over in the 1990s and capably piloted the brand to where it is today. The terms of the sale will see Théodore re-invest for a 20 per cent shareholding in the company after the 80 per cent stake is sold to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. While this means Breitling loses its “family-owned” status, it is likely to gain more from the injection of capital that the new ownership will bring. The brand is by no means doing terribly even in the recent challenging times. As a family-owned brand, it has constantly pushed forward through research and development, putting up a good fight against group brands.
Its Breitlight polymer, for example, is just one of the latest material developments that the brand is pushing after unveiling it on the Avenger Hurricane last year. Baselworld 2017 saw two different executions of Breitlight – one on the Avenger Hurricane Military (below), an extension of last year’s model, and the other, on the new Colt Skyracer (above). We had the chance to feel the polymer again at this year’s Baselworld and we are still surprised at how light the material feels, especially on a watch like the Avenger Hurricane Military, which is 50mm wide. The mind’s conditioned belief is seriously challenged when the timepiece feels nothing like its perceived heft.
The statistics speak for themselves – 3.3 times lighter than titanium and 5.8 times lighter than steel, yet harder than both materials. We were surprised when Breitling decided to release the quartz-powered Colt Skyracer using Breitlight. While the usage of proprietary materials has been reason enough for brands to jack up prices, Breitling’s reasoning to do the opposite on an accessible piece signifies a small and welcome step forward. The younger market seems to be Breitling’s next bet. It is a segment that has been untouched by the brand for a long time.
While the Avenger Hurricane Military will appeal to Breitling’s usual fans (its size and the aesthetic is as Breitling as it gets), the pricing of the Colt Skyracer opens a new market for Breitling and allows them to compete with the sub-$3,000 brands.
With the capital from CVC in the upcoming years, you can bet on Breitling channelling marketing dollars into that segment, increasing its R&D department and making a strong push for China. It may be a pity that the brand will not be family-owned any longer, but we are confident that the full potential of Breitling will soon be realised in the coming years.