How Breitling sees the bigger watchmaking picture

EDGAR flew to Breitling's Chronométrie HQ in Switzerland and found out there's more to the luxury brand than just watches.

November 20, 2016

An engineer who’s fascinated by technology and innovation, Jean-Paul Girardin, vice president at Breitling, has spent 20 years with the Swiss watch brand.

EDGAR met him at Breitling’s Chronométrie in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, to find out not just about Breitling's watches and history, but the impressive Chronométrie itself. As we discovered, the building plays a major role in the watchmaking. 

Why is it important for Breitling to have a statement Chronométrie?
The project started in 2004 and was a strategy to secure our independence. It was more than just a marketing tool.

Who was the architect of this Chronométrie?
It was designed by the Swiss architect Alain Porta who was also in charge of building our headquarters in Grenchen, our booth at Baselworld and our boutiques worldwide.

Does the design of the Chronométrie reflect the design of Breitling watches?
Yes, it’s a functional building with a strong aesthetic. We studied the flow of materials and the layout to ensure the factory was as efficient as possible. The building has a design which reflects what we are looking to achieve with our chronographs: to be functional, precise and high performance but with a strong design such as the sandstone from Italy, called Pietra Dorata, that’s used on the outside. 

What kind of special conditions does the building have to enable high quality watchmaking?
The climate system is important because we have to control the dust, the humidity and the temperature. The inspiration came from technology used in a Swiss factory that produces pacemakers. Combining a high-tech environment with traditional handmade Swiss craftsmanship is the best way we identified to develop and produce high quality products.

Is the building eco-friendly?
Yes, very. It delivers the lowest energy consumption possible. The heating system uses gas instead of oil. In the department where we produce the brass parts such as the bridges and the main plates of the movement, the machines produce a lot of heat and use a lot of energy. The warm air from these machines is filtered and reused to heat the factory. In the washing department, we do not use chemicals. We only use water with ultrasonic cleaning, which makes the process longer and more complicated but better for the environment.

Is the history of Breitling versus modern technology a constant thought in your mind?
Definitely. We always look at new technology and see how it can fit in Breitling products, which is in line with the company’s history. We try to match innovation while remaining true to the brand.

How big a role does Breitling’s history play in new watch designs?
It plays a huge role. We move forward while taking inspiration from Breitling’s historical movements. Look at the new Navitimer 1952 – everything has changed on the inside but the basics of the design remain the same. Similarly, the Transocean or Superocean Héritage are inspired by 1950s designs which makes them look like classical watches.

How big do you think the smartwatch market can become?
It’s not easy to predict the future. We see connected watches very positively. Analysis tells us that many buyers of connected watches were not wearing watches before, especially the younger generation. If people get used to having something on their wrist they may one day have an interest in buying a more traditional, classic, luxury watch. 

Do you think the smartwatch boom will slow down in 2017?
We launched our Exospace B55 smartwatch last December and we are still increasing our capacity to produce what we are selling. We see a good future for this product and we don’t see it slowing down in 2016 or 2017. In terms of real potential, we really don’t know yet.