“We’re proud of what we have accomplished together and after 19 years,” Breitling CEO Georges Kern told the world, announcing the watchmaker’s break-up with Bentley. “Breitling and Bentley are embarking on their own new journeys,” the official presser proclaimed. In case you didn’t know it, that’s corporate speak for FOAD. No great loss. Breitling Bentley watches never really gelled. In other words . . .
there was never a compelling aesthetic or mechanical connection between the legendary British carmaker and the Swiss watchmaker. With the possible exception of the quilted and burled Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph Bentley Centenary Wood Dial.
Whereas a Porsche design watch embodies the automaker’s sleek minimalist aesthetic, Breitling Bentley watches are, um, Breitlings. The only obvious linkage: the “special edition” watches’ elevated prices, the word Bentley or Bentley Motors on the dial and auto-themed casebacks (usually a wheel or Bentley’s flying B logo).
I’m not the only one less than impressed by the Breitling Bentley horological partnership. chrono24.com tells the tale. Nearly 50 percent depreciation on a unworn gold Breitling Bentley? Ouch! For Breitling Bentley anyway.
Needless to say, neither company acknowledges their nearly two decade co-branding failure. “The long-standing collaboration between Bentley and Breitling demonstrated that when two like-minded brands work together authentically the performance of both is enhanced,” Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark stated for the record.
When referring to the co-branding partnership’s “performance,” did Mr. Hallmark mean it increased car sales? Watch sales? I doubt it.
As Breitling is owned by British private equity group CVC Capital Partners, there’s no publicly available data on Breitling Bentley watches’ sales performance. Common sense tells us that a Breitling Bentley watch is as likely to sell a Bentley as a Ducati-branded Dainese motorcycle jacket is likely to sell a Monster.
As far as “working together authentically,” Breitling’s British ownership lacks a measure of authenticity. Same goes for Volkswagen Group owned Bentley. (Both companies still build their products in the countries commonly associated with their brand.) But make no mistake: heritage branding is the unnamed third party in the Breitling Bentley divorce.
As the automaker’s moved from selling hugely expensive unreliable leather-lined luxobarges to hugely expensive reasonably reliable luxury rocket ships (including the world’s fastest SUV), Bentley’s woken-up to the fact that Breitling does nothing to enhance their brand. Breitling’s nowhere near stylish or exclusive enough to represent Bentley’s “effortless elegance.”
At the same time, volume-chasing Breitling wants nothing to do with the Bentley brand’s “stuffy” heritage. Or, for that matter, Bentley’s alternative rep as a baller’s whip.
“Breitling has been throwing its weight behind its ‘squad’ concept in the years since Mr Kern took over as CEO,” watchpro.com reports, “with Hollywood stars, musicians and sports stars representing the brand.” A group that’s predominantly young and white and doesn’t include a single rapper.
Breitling has placed a mountain of chips on historic reissues (most recently with their pretty in pink SuperOcean heritage) while Bentley is busy moving the design and performance ball forward (most recently with their Flying Spur Hybrid). No matter how you slice it, the dissolution of their partnership makes perfect sense.
The real question: which watch brand should pick-up the Bentley ball and run with it? I reckon it should be at least vaguely British, exclusive (Bentley makes around 10k cars a year) and elegantly beautiful – but not overly pretentious or insanely expensive.
Roger Smith’s $350k watches fit the bill, but George Daniels‘ protégé’s products are too exclusive (they make 10 watches per year). I’d love Bentley to give all-British Bremont the nod, but Bremont’s most excellent timepieces are too mass market for the job. I’d go with Speake-Marin.
Founded by its eponymous British watchmaker, Peter’s mob builds quality watches in Switzerland. There isn’t a timepiece in Speake-Marin’s current range that fits the bill; SM would have to gin-up something Bentley appropriate. No problem. The text accompanying their Vintage Collection indicates SM’s head and their heart are in the right place.
Like the refurbishment trend in the design furniture or car industry, Speake-Marin proposes to make old movement revive in new designs . . .
The purpose of this collection is to remind people how great is the watch industry know-how in terms of movement development. The great movements from the past keep inspiring designers and engineers of today.
Substitute the word “engine” for “movement” and the copy would suit Bentley’s PR department equally well.
No matter who makes the next Bentley watch it will be the brand’s chance to rethink its horological destiny. Meanwhile, Breitling will be free to explore its celebrity-based marketing. Personally, I’m more likely to buy a Bentley than a Breitling. What does that tell you?