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Georges Kern and The Future of Breitling – The Cool Alternative to Traditional Luxury

Georges Kern and The Future of Breitling – The Cool Alternative to Traditional Luxury

Breitling CEO Georges Kern - Road show in Munich, Germany

Since Georges Kern took the helm at Breitling almost three years ago, realigning collections and the brand’s strategy, annual sales have increased significantly. Kern recently revealed just how the brand will stay on the path to success with an intriguing, forward-looking perspective. A key theme is how we will consume in the future and the role that luxury will play. According to Kern, luxury in the traditional sense will cease to exist – and Breitling wants to offer a cool new alternative.

Breitling Surfer Squad

A resistant brand

Despite the exceptional circumstances of the current health crisis, which is seriously affecting trades, Breitling is a fairly ‘resistant’ brand in markets such as England, France, Germany, Japan and the USA. Demand has steadily increased in the past years. In China, Breitling has a low turnover of 7%. However, two years ago – just before the brand’s change of course – it was at 0%. What’s more, the Chinese market requires further expansion in the future, as it is currently indicating a drastic change in the way that the next generation is consuming products. This new trend stems from the Japanese, who buy 90% of their products in their own country. The days in which large numbers of Asian tourists went on a shopping pilgrimage to Europe are over.

Breitling Boutique, Regent Street, London, UK

Therefore, for Kern, it is even more important not to rely on business from tourists. Local markets need to be strengthened, so that products can appeal to each individual market. In other words, Breitling should not become a brand tailored entirely to the taste of its Asian consumers. With this in mind, Kern wisely wants to focus on Breitling’s products achieving a global appeal, rather than focusing solely on the Chinese market. The current worldwide crisis has also exposed how sensitively each market responds to cutting off its supply chains. Breitling, for one, tries to ensure sufficient supply for local markets as much as possible, helping countries to operate self-sufficiently.

Traditional luxury will cease to exist

For the most part, the new generation of consumers purchase locally. This new generation accounts for around 70% of Breitling’s sales today – at least in China and Japan – but this is also a growing trend in Europe. According to Kern, it is not only the way of consuming that is changing, but also how luxury is being defined. In his opinion, the traditional term of luxury will fade, as will the sense of privilege that comes with wearing the product of a certain brand. Today, things are increasingly challenging for brands and they must be in constant communication with their clients. What’s more, the days of posing with a mink fur coat and champagne at a Polo tournament are over. Rather, younger generations of today prioritise fields such as sustainability, nutrition, sports and authenticity.

Breitling Triathlon Squad & Friends rode in support of Qhubeka at the Coronation Double Century in South Africa

Clients today want to be in touch with these new priorities when it comes to brands that they want to relate themselves to. The brand’s values need to be comprehensibly presented and regularly demonstrated. Georges Kern has fully understood and responded to this new mindset, and strongly believes in this brand strategy. In 2018, Breitling teamed up with Ocean Conservancy, an organization that has fought against plastic pollution in oceans for over 30 years, organizing big rubbish collecting events.

Washed ashore plastic garbage, Christmas Island, Australia © Reinhard Dirscherl

Only recently, Breitling presented a cooperation with sustainable fashion brand Outerknown, that specializes in producing recycled function fabrics from nylon waste – often caused by lost fishing nets. From this recycled waste, Breitling now produces NATO-straps from ECONYL-yarn.

Superocean Heritage Chronograph 44 Outerknown with NATO-strap made of ECONYL-yarn

But for Georges Kern, this is not enough – he has set his sights high and has a clear vision. Blockchain, for example, a method where all production steps can be tracked, allows Breitling customers to know where their watches’ materials originate, where are they produced, and so on. This ensures full transparency regarding product- and supply chains. The method is already used in the nutrition and fashion industries, but remains a fairly novel idea in the watch industry.

The new luxury

The next question for Kern is how to market this process and create an exciting and convincing narrative. Therefore, Kern gathers testimonials from his ‘Squad’ members and ensures that they fit his strategy and products. For example, surfer legend Kelly Slater is not only part of the Breitling Surfer Squad, but also the founder of the aforementioned brand Outerknown.

Similarly, Brad Pitt is not only part of the new Breitling Cinema Squad, but also a pretty relaxed guy, according to Kern. This brings us to the next crucial keyword when talking about the future of luxury. Luxury has not only become more democratic and conscious, but also much more relaxed in its style – casual and cool – and less formal. Both Kelly Slater and Brad Pitt embody this lifestyle.

Left: Brad Pitt wearing Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Norton © Samir Hussein
Right: Kelly Slater wearing his Superocean Heritage II Chronograph 44 Outerknown

This is also reflected in Breitling’s new boutique concept. Loft-style shops with couches and music from cool Spotify-playlists have replaced the traditional, conventional and even stuffy showrooms that we associate with some brands and jewellers.

Newest Breitling Boutique concept

Looking into the future, Georges Kern is convinced that if you fail to notice or simply ignore certain trends and developments, you will be in trouble. It’s possible that only ten to 15 of the most relevant brands will remain in ten or 15 years time – that is Kern’s wary forecast. This trend can already be seen in the car industry. For Kern, Tesla plays a leading role and might even have inspired him. Already in the past ten years, they have thoroughly examined the field of autonomous driving – many years of intensive research, insights and data that other automotive producers simply don’t have.

What the future will look like, nobody can predict. But Kern is convinced that consumption and luxury are going to change massively. And, with Breitling, he is ready to offer a stylish, laidback alternative to the ever-traditional luxury.