4/3/2018 / In Timepieces
In July of 2017, Georges Kern left his position as head of digital and watchmaking at Richemont and, in a move which was surprising to the timekeeping world, accepted the role of CEO at Breitling. For many years, Breitling has faced criticism for their oversized watches with shiny cases and their too detailed dials stuffed full of complications. This feedback impacted Kern and his desire for a “new” direction for the brand, which is the fourth largest in the US by sales.
As Georges Kern begins the work of reinventing a major brand in the global watchmaking game, he plans to take his inspiration from the history of the company and the archives of design at Breitling. The result can be seen in the first release of a new chronograph under Kern’s helm. The Breitling Navitimer 8 B01 was introduced in February at the Breitling Road Show in New York City (check out out exclusive photos here). The “new” Breitling is a mix of historic simplicity and modern size aesthetic, for now at least, as Kern has promised a more “traditional” appearance of future pieces in the line.
The Breitling Navitimer 8 B01 is a 43mm chronograph designed with pilots in mind - a vision that is part of the company's past, present and future. Part of the Navitimer family of watches, the 8 B01 is equipped with a COSC-certified chronometer in-house movement, the Breitling 01. While the 43mm case is business as usual for Breitling who has become known for large watches and complications which appear to clutter the face unnecessarily, the 8 B01 does denote a shift under the leadership of Kern.
Contrary to common belief, the Navitimer name was used historically on more watches than just the well-known slide rule chronograph. In his first nod to the history of the brand, Kern has imposed a new paradigm where all pilot’s watches will now fall under the Navitimer family, regardless of complication or physical appearance. While the Navitimer 8 B01 is still very large at 43mm in diameter (Kern has promised that 41mm and smaller cases are coming with different complications) there are some noticeable changes to the design which channel vintage Breitling and represent a stark departure from recent pilot’s watches by the brand.
Most noticeable is the departure of any type of scale on the watch face. Replaced with a minimalist bezel which features only a subtle arrow which can be set opposite the minute hand to track elapsed time. The coin-edge bezel and reverse panda dial harken to vintage Breitling and represent a simplicity many have requested of the brand for several years. There is a substantial amount of open space on the dial, where the Breitling logo has been simplified.
No longer dominated by the “winged B”, the brand is now represented by a simple script B and the name Breitling in a sans serif font. This presents a dial on the Navitimer 8 that is true to the history of Breitling 8 instruments, right down to the font used for the numerals. The name for the Navitimer 8 comes from the Huit Aviation Department that Breitling established in the 1930s to make onboard chronographs for aviators. Huit means eight in French and is a reference to the power reserve of the original instruments. The new Navitimer 8 B01 is automatic and has a 70-hour power reserve.
The Historic Huit Aviation Department would be proud of the new piece by Breitling. The font used for the numerals on the dial, the small ticks and triangles on the minute track that extend into the dial, and the five-minute numerals placed between the hour markers and the track are all historic nods to the original Breitling 8 onboard instruments.
The new chronograph is not devoid of modern touches either. The hands are faceted daggers which are coated in SuperLuminova as are the hour markers, making the face legible in low light conditions. Pump-style pushers and a large crown occupy the right side of the watch case, which is sealed enough to guarantee 100 meters of water resistance. Constructed of stainless steel with a blue or black dial and rose gold with a bronze dial, the Navitimer 8 B01 is complete with a crocodile or stainless-steel strap.
While there may be a long way to go to move Breitling out of the realm of large faced, highly complicated timepieces, Georges Kern has shown a dedication to reinventing the brand. The first new release under his leadership is a nod to the history of Breitling, with just enough modernity to keep the diehards engaged.
In our opinion, this “new” generation of Breitling looks bright after the introduction of the Navitimer 8 B01.