Anybody even remotely familiar with Breitling is aware of the sweeping changes that have been taking place over the past four-and-a-half years since Georges Kern took over the helm of the company and began steering it towards ever higher heights.
He pulled the brand from Baselworld, he implemented the unique concept of “Squad on a Mission” that teams three brand ambassadors under a single theme. There has been a rapid roll out of new look Breitling monobrand stores, and he has launched summits around the world that are more like theatrical productions than conferences and that draw invitees firmly into the world of Breitling.
Such was the case with last week’s Dallas Summit that took place at the Dallas Executive Airport’s National Aviation Education Center.
Four of the rarest World War II planes – the ones that inspired a new aviation watch collection – flew in formation from Virginia to Dallas for a spectacular marketing video and a huge statement-making event that culminated in C-47 flights flanked by the legendary fighter planes. The day began when nearly 100 retailers and watch writers gathered in the hanger of the airport and were seated in front of a large stage where we knew Georges Kern would be making his appearance.
Within minutes, the hanger doors began rolling sideways, opening to the great outdoors. Smoke ushered in and as the doors continued to open, all four World War II fighter planes parked outside came into view. The center one moved forward partially into the hangar before coming to a stop. The pilots of all four planes, along with Georges Kern, stepped out of the planes, climbed down amidst the lighting smoke and climbed on stage. The surreal minutes that made the connection between the vintage 1930’s and ‘40’s planes and modern time was more like a scene from a well-produced movie than from a summit.
When the applause quieted down, the video came on screen showing the four fighter planes flying in formation in what was history in the making. The planes included the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, the Vought F4U Corsair, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and the beloved de Havilland Mosquito. Each plane had been flown in by highly experienced pilots for the summit. Just the logistics of getting the planes there had to be its own nightmare as there are just a limited number of each of them left in the world in true flying condition. Obtaining the insurance on the planes alone – each valued at well over a million dollars – had to be insane.
However, as Mr Kern said during a private interview later that day, the planes had to be there because they brought the entire concept of the Super AVI line full circle.
The collection, which consists of five models, was inspired by Breitling’s 1953 aviation watch, Ref. 765 AVI, which came to be lovingly referred to as the Co-Pilot and has achieved icon status. A re-edition was created last year, but the big release is now, with the Super AVI line.
According to Mr Kern, when the decision was made to re-introduce the AVI, it was also decided that the collection would honor legendary aircraft from the early aviation days. “We have watches from the 1950’s onward, but we needed to pay tribute to the early days in the 1930’s and 1940’s,” said Mr Kern.
After all, Breitling’s Huit Aviation department was making cockpit clocks that early. In fact, under the leadership of Willy Breitling during World War II, when there was a ban on exporting instruments from neutral Switzerland to the Allies, Breitling himself would go out in the dark of night and light a field so that pilots could safely land and load up on instruments to bring back for use.
As such, Breitling wanted to honor those early days of aviation with the Super AVI. The plan: honor the finest fighter planes in the world. How did they select those planes? By color first and foremost. “We knew we needed a blue dial, a green dial and a black dial,” says Mr Kern. So, the brand turned to the planes whose colors could be magnificently recreated on the dials of the GMT watches.
“We looked around and it made perfect sense for us to go with these legendary planes. We looked at a lot of planes, but these four fit the bill for so many reasons,” says Mr Kern. He also notes that it was important to keep the key aviation elements front and center.
Every Super AVI 46mm watch is a chronograph with GMT timing thanks to a 24-hour inner bezel and red-tipped GMT hand. The highly legible dial boasts Arabic numerals, and the case flaunts and oversized crown. The watches are powered by Breitling’s in-house-made COSC-certified chronometer Manufacture B04 movement wit h70 hours of power reserve. Each watch features an etching of the plane it is affiliated with on the transparent sapphire case back. All of the watches retail for $10,100 except for the 18-karat gold Mustang that sells for $23,650.
To achieve the military blue, the brand was inspired by the Vought F4U Corsair naval plane, which often had to make tricky takeoffs and landings from aircraft carriers and remote landing strips. This was the first single-engine fighter plane to surpass 400 mph and was the first to offer a bent-wing design so that the wings could be folded up. The Super AVI Tribute to Vought watch features a striking blue dial with color-coordinated chronograph counters.
The military green dial version is inspired by the Curtis P-40 Warhawk that made its first flight in 1938. Robust and agile at the same time, the plane could withstand the harsh weather conditions and was capable of incredible turning maneuvers. It’s iconic shark-tooth nose art made it immediately endearing to all generations. The green dial of the watch boasts red accents that recall the shark teeth.
The famed P-51 Mustang, which was built in 120 days by North American Aviation, was a power-house plane. It had a unique engine-cooling system that was experimental for its day and offered high speed and great range. To honor this iconic plane, Breitling built two versions of the Super AVI P-51 Mustang, one each in rose gold and stainless steel.
The steel version has a black dial and brown leather strap, while the 5N 18-karat rose gold model has a rich anthracite dial and black leather strap. The gold version is available only in Breitling boutiques and at Breitling.com.
The final plane honored by Breitling is the de Havilland Mosquito plane, made of wood (since steel and aluminum were scarce during the war). The Wooden Wonder actually outperformed many of its metal counterparts and was one of the fastest planes built in the 1940’s. The Super AVI Mosquito watch is the only timepiece in the collection to boast a ceramic satin-brushed black bezel with contrasting chronograph counters and red and orange elements that recall the plane’s woods.
The Super AVI watches are in regular production and not made in limited editions. According to Kern, it was important to bring this era of aviation history to the forefront with this collection. The night before the big event at the airfield, Kern announced to retailers that they needed to sell double and even triple the watches they currently are selling. “I don’t want my retailers to think big,” says Kern. “I want them to think huge and we are going to give them what they need to accomplish this.”
While Breitling already produces about 230,000 watches a year, we can expect production to be amped up by double-digit percentages in the coming year or so. This added capacity is due in large part to the investment boost recently spurred when a private equity firm, Partners Group, acquired 25 percent of the brand, whose largest shareholder is CVC Capital Partners.