Long an established favourite of those in the aviation field, Breitling’s Navitimer series, has, over the years, also been quietly embraced by a cool crew of men from other industries — jazzmaster Miles Davis, for instance. If all goes according to Breitling’s plans, the line will attract an even broader audience in the years ahead.
It’s certainly off to a good start. Last Thursday night, a new edition of Navitimer, the Navitimer 8, found a fresh following in actor Armie Hammer, motocross champion Ken Roczen, and Houston Astros World Series pitcher Justin Verlander. All three walked the red carpet at Breitling’s New York spring roadshow event held at Brooklyn’s Duggal Greenhouse. Later, the men joined a distinguished crowd of 300 to fête the Navitimer 8’s launch during a black-tie dinner emceed by Saturday Night Live’s Alex Moffatt.
Appealing to a more varied mix of distinguished notables is exactly what Breitling has in mind for its new flightpath. Under the fresh direction of global CEO Georges Kern (formerly the CEO of IWC), the Swiss watchmaker is looking to skew a little less aircraft cockpit, and a little more first-class passenger. That strategy is embodied perfectly by the Navitimer 8, which reflects a move away from the big, loud pilot’s watches the brand has recently specialized in and towards something still aviation inspired, but decidedly more understated.
The Navitimer 8’s face is refreshingly uncluttered, its lugs are shorter so as to sit better on smaller wrists, its slanted, bi-directional bezel is shaped to elegantly reflect light, and its fonts have been streamlined for easy legibility. Altogether, the range encompasses five models: two 41mm automatics (a base model and another with date and day of the week complications); two 43mm chronos (one with a Valjoux movement and the other featuring Breitling’s in-house Caliber 01 movement, differentiated with contrast dials); and a world-time model. In addition to the 43mm case’s stainless steel configurations featuring either a black or blue dial, an 18K rose gold edition with a bronze dial will also be available.
And while the new timepieces at first look to have little in common with previous Navitimer models, the Navitimer 8 still has its pilot credentials: it’s named for Breitling’s Huit Aviation department, which designed aircraft chronographs back in the ‘30s.
The morning after the gala, Kern — sporting two watches, one on each wrist — delivered a keynote to collectors and watch media that elaborated on his plans to build Breitling a “legendary future.” His strategy is to take inspiration from Breitling designs released between the 1930s and ’70s— in Kern’s words, “the great years of cars, boats, and motorcycles” — in order to deliver similarly sporty yet sophisticated timepieces that appeal to contemporary sensibilities. The Navitimer 8, for instance, takes its cues from the Model 635 pilot watch.
Mood boards shown throughout Kern’s presentation elaborated on the brand’s old-meets-new vision of retro luxury. Steve McQueen — “the coolest guy on the planet,” according to Kern — made multiple appearances. It’s easy to picture McQueen at home in one of the watchmaker’s future flagships, which slides showed will now be envisioned as loft-like environments complete with display cases modelled after pool tables and plenty of rustic brick.
A lot of the credit for this visual revamp goes to creative director Guy Bove. His most significant move so far has been redesigning Breitling’s logo, replacing the wings and anchor icon with the handwritten B now found on the Navitimer 8’s face. This, too, was revealed to be a nod back to Breitling’s past, as it’s a tweaked version of a wordsmith that once appeared on many of the brand’s watch faces. A display of historical watches on view after the presentation further drilled home this link to the brand’s heritage.
Kern was quick to stress that the Navitimer 8 does not aim to replace the traditional Navitimer 1. Rather, it’s being treated as a complementary product line meant to appeal to those who might not traditionally have considered a Breitling watch. Next on Kern’s to-do list: smaller 38-millimetre diameters, and women’s watches.
As Breitling continues its reinvention, Kern plans to streamline the brand’s offerings into four main product lines. Navitimer, Superocean, and Premier will take their design inspiration from the air, sea, and land, respectively, while the Chronomat line will be an all-purpose offering. Prices for all future timepieces will be kept between $3,500 and $9,000, with the Navitimer 8 range starting at CHF 3,600 (about $4,900 CAD) and launching in May.