Interview with Breitling Vice President Jean Paul Girardin

By Xite - May 3, 2017
At Baselworld 2017, Breitling presented the Navitimer Rattrapante – which is an in-house split second chronograph complication added to their legendary pilot’s watch that features a circular slide....

At Baselworld 2017, Breitling presented the Navitimer Rattrapante – which is an in-house split second chronograph complication added to their legendary pilot’s watch that features a circular slide rule. The first chronograph hand is operated by the pushers, while the split-seconds hand starts and stops via a pusher in the crown itself. The watch is, of course, COSC (the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute) certified, and features an automatic movement that beats at 28,800vph and has a 70-hour power reserve. It comes in a 45mm case in either stainless steel or rose gold (the gold being limited to 250 pieces).

We sat down with Breitling Vice President, Jean Paul Girardin, to discuss not only this watch, but also the future of the connected watch, as well as his prospects for the Indian market.

What’s new for Breitling at Baselworld 2017?
This year, we finally have the ultimate in mechanical chronographs – we are presenting the Rattrapante function. We took time because we wanted to do it properly. We wanted to do something that had high precision, was reliable, but also something with some innovation in the development. And that’s what we have here – we’ve filed for two patents on this movement.

How long did it take to develop the Rattrapante function?
About three years. And, of course, we selected the obvious choice for us – to put the first in-house Rattrapante in the iconic Navitimer.

What else do you have here?
The second thing we’re presenting is also a classic design for Breitling, because we’re celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Super Ocean – which was launched in 1957. We re-launched it ten years ago, in 2007, and it’s become a classic. Moreover, like the Navitimer, it’s a very significant proportion of our sales.

Also, what’s interesting in that product, especially in the three-hands versions, is that we have a new manufacture movement – but this is not in-house. We announced a partnership with Tudor, from the Rolex Group – where we supplied them a chronograph movement (with a special adjustment for the 45-minute counter), and they supplied a special version of their MT5612 movement, with special finishes for Breitling. So, this is the first part of a long term technical and industrial partnership we have with the Rolex Group. And, a bit like the car industry, it makes a lot of sense to combine the R&D and industrial capacity on the production level but keep the identity of both brands separate on the product level. So, it’s a very good decision, and we’re very happy to be able to announce that partnership here.

You’re wearing the B55 connected chronograph – how has that been received since last year?
We’re very happy. To launch this kind of product was a very good decision, because the market understood what we were trying to do – to use this new technology and connectivity to improve the functionality of our products. And even though it’s positioned up there we’ve got a very good response from the market. And that’s why we’ll continue in that direction. At the beginning of this year, we presented a special watch for Bentley with a dedicated lap timer app for car racing. So, if you take part in rallies, you can time your stages and add penalties, etc.

We will, of course, continue to add other functions. But we will choose carefully, because you add just about anything – especially because the watch doesn’t need a smart phone to be connected anymore. You can have a SIM card built in. But how do you solve the issue of interface? You have two pushers, one crown, maybe a touch screen, and maybe even voice command – but there’s no standard for the time being. And, of course, we have projects running on these types of functions. What we know is that we’ll continue to offer real watches. It’s not our plan to have a fully digital smart watch with just the Breitling logo programed on the screen – this is not the way we want to develop new products.

Also, it’s important to mention that, on the function side, we won’t add as many functions as possible. As we do with the ‘Breitling for Professionals’ product range, we will continue to offer our consumers useful functions that are easy to use. So, we won’t try to put 40 different sports activities in a watch. The big question is which ones do we keep, because you could add almost anything – pressure sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and receivers for GPS and geo localisation, or even biometric identification, which is a hot topic right now for access control and secure payment. We have projects running on these, but have nothing to present this year.

So, from that perspective, the direction of the connected watch or smart watch is still very open ended – it could take various different forms in future?
Yes, of course, you could have fully digital watches, and you can also have classical looking watches that have some connected functions. We visited CES in Vegas this year (the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas), and there were really both trends – fully digital at one end, and, at the other, bracelets that look like nice jewellery but have activity trackers built in. So, we haven’t seen anything yet.

The past year has been difficult for the Swiss watch industry. Does a scenario like this make a market like India more important for future?
Of course, India is a high potential market for Breitling. And I would say that this potential will be realised even before China because watch making knowledge and interest in India is much higher. Indians are travellers, they’re also English speaking, and they know what a luxury watch is – so the Indian market holds a lot of potential for us.

Is there any difference in the profile of your Indian customers versus the rest of the world?
No, we cannot say that. As I mentioned, the watch making culture and knowledge is very high – they know what a chronograph is, and why there are two pushers and six hands instead of three, and this means that they understand the value of Breitling products. They may or may not like them, but they know the value of a luxury watch. Indian customers have good taste.

How do you see the Indian market progressing in the next 3-5 years?
I think the market will grow for sure. We need to be strong in products, we are. We need to be strong in communication. Distribution is also very important. And, not many people are talking about after sales service, but that’s very important for the maintenance of our products. And, if we have these four key elements under control, we’re confident that we’ll be successful in India with a high rate of growth. Of course, there are other factors that we have no influence on. For instance, I understand that many Indians buy luxury goods overseas when they travel, but I think we can build a local base of faithful customers in India with good growth.

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