One on one with George Kern

In this exclusive interview with Global Citizen, Breitling CEO Georges Kern talks about his vision, challenges, and what customers can expect from the esteemed watchmaker

George Kern

You joined Breitling as CEO in 2017 with a five-year plan to relaunch the brand. What were the major criteria you wanted to focus on?

The biggest remaining challenge is that not everyone knows where we are today, how beautiful the products are, and how great the brand is, so this takes time. When I joined Breitling, it had strong brand positioning as a pilot’s chronograph. However, when I started looking into the history of the brand and really digging into the archives, I found that we are so much more than that and have such a rich heritage that other companies could only dream of. During this time, I went to see a collector in Vienna who has the biggest Breitling collection in the world, and I was amazed by the incredible number of Breitling chronographs I saw that day across different brand universes. I selected 10 pieces that stood out to me and that I thought were the coolest ones to re-issue. Along with my team, we focused on the segmentations of our brand universes to allow customers to understand the brand and its offering in a much better way. We focussed on redefining the identity of Breitling to a casual, inclusive, and sustainable luxury brand with purpose and a touch of fun, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. Changing a strategy is one thing, bringing it to your target group is a totally different ballgame.


What are some of the most challenging aspects you’ve faced in overhauling the brand’s products, aesthetics, and marketing?

By simply examining the overall collection, we found that there were too many references per line – like 26 variations of the same watch. While it’s good to have diversity and style, having too much choice is like having no choice at all. So, the first challenge we had was to refine the collection. We reduced the number of references per line and segmented the collection into three universes where Breitling was already well-established: Air, Land, and Sea. Alongside that, we also introduced Professional and All-Purpose as further universes. Through these segmentations we were able to shift the perception of Breitling from a pilot’s brand to a generalist brand, offering something for a broader clientele.

With the new strategy of repositioning Breitling to a casual, inclusive, and sustainable brand, we had to look at the new product launches, the re-design of our boutiques and the new advertising and marketing activities. I would say the biggest challenge was me wanting to do everything at once. I started by ensuring I had the right team in place that would help me make a difference.  After a few phone calls, I brought a strong team from my professional network, and we set out to achieving our goals.

The new Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Collection


How have your customers evolved, and how are you reaching them compared to when you first joined the brand?

Initially, Breitling was very focussed on the aviation segment. With the new product segmentation across Air, Land and Sea, we’ve been able to tap into new and existing communities within these categories, leverage strategic partnerships and achieve stronger sales across all three of these universes. We offer classic stylish watches such as the new Premier collection, inspired by the first watches Breitling ever designed for style as well as purpose. We also have the Endurance Pro, the ultimate athleisure watch in bold and vibrant colours, designed for active individuals. We have also seen a large increase in our female customer base, thanks to collections such as the Navitimer 35 and 38, as well as the Chronomat 36 and 32, and the Superocean Heritage ’57 Pastel Paradise Capsule Collection. Nowadays, any individual that appreciates both function and style can be a Breitling customer.

We follow an omnichannel approach when it comes to our customers, offering them the opportunity to reach us across all customer touchpoints. Our customers can make a purchase whenever and wherever they want. Our goal is to provide them with a seamless customer journey whether it’s online or in our boutiques, where they can really immerse themselves in our new brand universe. I would say our boutiques are great marketing tools, especially the way they are designed (as industrial lofts with lounges, surf boards and pool tables), representing the brand’s casual, inclusive, and informal luxe style.


How does the Middle East market compare to your other key markets?

The Middle East is a key market for us and within our top five performing markets globally. In fact, the Dubai Mall Boutique, which opened in 2018, is currently the top-performing Boutique on a global level.

We have strong relationships with our strategic partners in the region, through which we launch local products and initiatives to engage with our customers. As there is a high number of pilots and aviation enthusiasts in this market, we know there is a particular love for the Air universe and for the Navitimer series, which is one of the most popular watches in the region.  We are the Official Timekeeper of Etihad Airways, recently working with the airline on a co-designed limited edition Navitimer of only 250 pieces. The series features an engraved caseback with the inscription “Etihad Edition,” this has been very well received in the market, and we find that particularly in the Middle East region, limited and special editions perform well.

The brand has introduced blockchain-backed provenance records. How does this help improve the social and environmental impact of your products?

As part of transitioning Breitling’s entire product portfolio to feature Swiss Better Bold and lab-grown diamonds by 2025, we have carefully reviewed and selected the suppliers we work with. We are convinced that sourcing responsible artisanal and small-scale gold and lab-grown diamonds is the greatest opportunity for us to achieve social and environmental impact along the value chain while enabling greater product integrity and traceability.

We’ve rolled out Breitling’s first fully traceable watch, the Super Chronomat Automatic 38 Origins, through which the entire chain of custody can be verified in blockchain-backed provenance records. This includes information around all the responsible measures taken along the supply chain for the watch’s artisanal gold and lab-grown diamonds, all free from association with conflict or human rights abuses.

Previously, there have been limits on how far you could trace precious materials. Even when following industry best practices, tracking gold and the small “melee” diamonds used in watchmaking to their origins had been nearly impossible. These raw materials are naturally combined from many different sources—meaning their provenance literally gets lost in the mix. However, Breitling wanted to do better, starting with Super Chronomat Origins.

The Breitling Chronmat Six Nations Italy on the wrist of Paolo Garbisi_RGB

Also on your radar for sustainability is the Solar Impulse Foundation. Tell us about that.

One of the members of Breitling’s Explorer squad, Bertrand Piccard is an influential voice in sustainability. Bertrand is known for his record-breaking trips around the world that raise awareness of our shared goal of protecting the planet for future generations. A long-time pioneer in clean technologies, Bertrand believes climate change is a market opportunity that can only be tackled through the lens of profitability. This led to the start of his Solar Impulse Foundation, with the aim of identifying 1,000 economically profitable projects and solutions that help protect the environment and benefit the economy.

As sustainability is a key commitment for Breitling, we have redesigned our packaging to create a foldable, reusable watch box created entirely from upcycled PET bottles, which is among the most widely recyclable types of plastic. When no longer in use, the watch box can be fully recycled at the nearest dedicated facility, reducing the environmental footprint of our packaging. We are proud to say that Breitling’s new sustainable packaging was awarded the Efficient Solution Label, by Solar Impulse Foundation, which names it as one of the 1,000 solutions that has a positive impact on the environment and the economy. 


One of the first initiatives of its kind, each Breitling watch comes with its own NFT. How does it work and what are the benefits?

In 2020, we were the first luxury watch brand to launch a digital passport with blockchain technology for all our new watches. With the digital passport, watch owners can prove the authenticity of their product as well as the legitimacy of their ownership without needing to present a physical certificate.

When customers purchase their watch, they can simply scan their electronic guarantee card with their smartphone camera, and download the private, encrypted digital wallet that safely stores the digital passport. The passport contains every detail of the owner’s watch, including its serial number, and a timestamp of the purchase and digital warranty. The passport is connected to Breitling’s digital warranty program, powered by Dentsu Tracking, whereby owners can manage any services like repairs, warranty periods and insurance for theft or loss.

With blockchain technology, we empower our customers in a way no other brand does. First, it offers transparency by registering the entire life cycle of the watch since the day it was bought by its first owner. Furthermore, traceability is crucial when it comes to resale, which will directly be enabled in the digital passport. With the tradeability feature, watch owners can safely and securely transfer this certificate in case of resale.

What’s coming up next for Breitling in the coming months in terms of sponsorships, ambassadors, products, and boutique openings?

Locally, in the coming months we will be opening further boutiques in KSA and expand our presence in India. Over the last twelve months, we have expanded our distribution network in the region with new boutiques in Istanbul, Riyadh, Jeddah, Manama, and Abu Dhabi, with more planned for 2023.

On a global level you can expect further sponsorship and ambassador announcements and, of course, new products. It’s worth noting that in the years to come we will further implement our omnichannel strategy, allowing our customers to buy our watches and experience the brand anywhere, any time. Our proactive commitment to corporate social responsibility, which is an important part of our brand message, will evolve and engage both our employees and our clientele.