Breitling: One for the road

The watch brand’s CEO Georges Kern on its relationship with Bentley, and the resulting new timepiece

Watches & Jewellery 26 Mar 2020

Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Bentley Mulliner Limited Edition

How long has the Breitling association with Bentley been going?

It goes back some 18 years now, to 2002. It’s actually the longest relationship between a watch company and an automotive company in history, and it’s something I am very proud of.

And you’re launching a new limited-edition watch…

Yes, we’ve just launched a new watch as part of our collaboration – the Breitling Premier Bentley Mulliner Limited Edition, a beautiful timepiece, limited to 1,000 pieces, which takes its inspiration from Bentley’s new car, itself a limited edition: the Bentley Continental GT Mulliner Convertible. Mulliner is the name of Bentley’s special custom workshop.

It’s not the first limited edition you’ve done with Bentley.

This watch follows on from recent pieces we have done with Bentley that proved really popular: the Premier Bentley British Racing Green that we introduced in 2018, as well as the Premier Bentley Centenary Limited Edition that we launched a year ago, which has a unique wooden brown elm burl dial – an important link to the wood inserts in the dashboard of the Continental GT Number 9 Edition, which are taken from the seat of legendary Bentley Boy Sir Tim Birkin’s iconic 1930 supercharged Bentley “Blower” No. 9 Le Mans race car. The Continental GT Number 9 Edition by Mulliner is a special limited edition with which the British marque celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019.

Is there a car associated with this new watch too?

Today’s Breitling Premier Bentley Mulliner Limited Edition also has a partner motor – the Bentley Continental GT Mulliner Convertible – and its colour scheme echoes the colour codes of the car. The blue alligator strap mirrors the hue of the leather interior of the car, while the silver dial recalls that of the dashboard clock in the car, also by Breitling. Significantly, this car is the only Continental GT to come fitted with a Breitling-edition clock. Five years ago there were seven Bentley Continental GT Speed Breitling Jet Team models with on-board clocks, and they sold in a matter of hours. This is the first car since then to feature one of our clocks. The general red, white and blue design of the watch – a beautiful combination – is also, of course, a nod to Bentley’s British heritage.

What are the similarities between the watch and the car?
Of course, Bentley has a machine that is some five metres long in which they can exercise their design vision. We have one that is only 42mm across, but in this stainless-steel case we try to express something of the essence of the Breitling/Bentley alliance. On the left side of this case is a plate with an engraved “Bentley” inscription; the design is based on the “engine spin” dashboard found in historic Bentleys.

Bentley Continental GT Mulliner Convertible

Do you have to be a Bentley owner to be able to buy the watch?

No. Though it stands to reason that it’s much easier to buy the watch if you are a Bentley owner than to buy a Bentley if you are a Breitling owner. But this timepiece, like our previous Bentley-partnership watches, has an appeal on a purely aesthetic level that means it will attract people who are just interested in design. The authenticity of the marriage between our two brands is something that doubtless adds to the attraction. That marriage has deep roots. Willy Breitling, the grandson of Léon Breitling, the Swiss founder of our company, was quite a character – a lively guy who obviously felt that Bentley reflected his lifestyle, as he drove one. In fact, during WWII when he was supplying on-board chronographs to the Royal Airforce, he would transport his deliveries to the airfield in Switzerland at night in his Bentley to meet the British planes.

Breitling is known for its connection to aviation. Why not create a range of aviation watches instead of with a car company?

While it is undoubtedly true that today Breitling is best known for its association with aviation, this is really a function of how it has been marketed for the past 30 years. Before then it was a watch brand that was involved in land, sea and air. There was a chronometer that we did with the Renault F1 team that I discovered recently, and British F1 driver Jim Clark wore a Breitling. The other day I watched that great movie, Ford v Ferrari, and in real life the Ford driver wore a Breitling. I do love cars, and when we go to Bentley to see their designers it’s really inspiring. It’s also very exciting to see a car a year or so before it’s released. Our designers and their designers talk and they certainly share ideas. But I think the reason our relationship as brands has endured so well is that everybody involved does what he does best. We are watch specialists and they are car specialists. Both parties are respectful of each other and trust each other’s competencies in our different fields.

Why Bentley rather than any other car company?

Well, apart from the fact that Willy Breitling was a Bentley driver, there are the shared values – the interest in mechanics and craftsmanship, and the fact that both products are about design, technology and lifestyle. Indeed, the Premier Collection was launched by Willy Breitling in the 1940s as an elegant range of timepieces that could bridge performance and style. The Breitling Bentley watches are not purely elegant, just as the Bentley GT is not purely an elegant car, though elegance is undoubtedly one of its characteristics. It’s more bullish than that and has in its DNA the racing heritage of the brand. In this respect there is a similarity with the Breitling Premier range, which offers elegant sports watches that have substance and weight – the perfect crossover between style and function. They’re not thin and dainty. They perform with a tachymeter to calculate speed, and a chronograph function.

So you feel a natural affinity with Bentley?

Yes indeed. There is genuine friendship between Breitling and Bentley, which I like to think pays homage to Willy Breitling’s enthusiasm for his motorcar all those years ago. Adrian Hallmark, the CEO of Bentley, and myself have bonded on the road – but not in cars! We’re both keen cyclists, and last year Adrian rode by my side in one of the Breitling teams we entered into the 202-kilometre Coronation Double Century ride in South Africa. It was a charity event and we had a great day riding with the Breitling Triathlon Squad.

The Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Bentley Mulliner Limited Edition in streel with a brushed silver dial is limited to 1,000 pieces; £6,820;