Flying High with an Icon

As its iconic pilot’s watch, theNavitimer turns 70 this year, Breitling introduces a freshly reimagined collection that’s a nod to its original innovations, and comes packed with stories and legends for a bold new audience. We speak to Tim Sayler, Chief Marketing Officer, Breitling, of the Navitimer as a signifier of history, the Squad and their journeys, and the Swiss watchmaker’s strong appeal among collectors and millennials.

The new Navitimer by Breitling is a modern ode to the classic pilots' watch

Worn by pilots, an astronaut, and people of style, since the 1970s, the Navitimer is the icon in Breitling’s collectionof models – and one of the most recognizable watches in the world. When and how did the Navitimer become such an iconic pilot’s watch? “There are several reasons for this,” says Tim Sayler, Chief Marketing Officer, Breitling, in a call from his headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. “The brand is lucky to have launched a watch that became a global icon andstill remains relevant. In the1950s, it was innovative and introduced a slide rule, that pilotsactually used. Moreover,the Navitimer has a beautiful and recognizable design.”If you look at it, theNavitimer has certain design elements that are totally unique– the first is the circular slide rule that creates a busy dial, thenotched bezel (with the distinctive‘teeth’), and of course the uniquely placed chronograph sub-dials.

Breitling Chief Marketing Officer, Tim Sayler

No one predicted the Navitimer’s wildly successful reign, least of all its inventor Willy Breitling. In 1952, he created this wrist-worn chronograph that would allow pilots to perform all their necessary flight calculations, becoming a handy tool when flying inside a cockpit. And two years later, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots’ Association (AOPA) would pick this watch for their members and make it their official timepiece. “This is how the Navitimerfirst got the AOPA logo, in 1954,” says Tim.“This is the logo (with wings) that we have brought back now. It’s at the origin of the watch – when we look at the history of our collection, when we want to bring the retro feeling back.”

The new Breitling Navitimer is their redesigned classic pilots' chronograph

But even before the Navitimer, Breitling was deeply rooted in aviation. “We had produced two watches that pilots used to measure time, and for navigation,” says Tim. “But the Navitimer was really an ultimate breakthrough because of the addition of the slide rule and the chronograph. Now pilots could do all their important calculations – measure the climbing rate, speed, time to destination – and it was the on-board computer of the 50s! Couple this with its design, its looks, and that is how it became successful.” All the way up to the 70s, one could find pilots wearing the Navitimer in the cockpit, but with the advent of electronics in the cockpit, it lost its relevance and became a symbol of aviation. “Like many Swiss watches, a watch like the Navitimer is a bigger symbol and signifier of history, than an actual tool,” says Tim.

More for the stylish man than the pilot, the Navitimer by Breitling floors with its retro design

Fast forward to the present. At first look, it’s unmistakably a Navitimer, with its circular slide rule, batonindexes, trio of chronograph counters, and notched bezel for easy grip. Up close, however, itsmodern refinements come through loud and clear. “As a brand, our design strategy is modern retro,” says Tim.“We look at our back catalogues and archives,and are inspired by history and retro designs, but we give them a modern and contemporary touch. The Navitimer is an example of that. It’s such an iconic, important watch. You don’t want to change it too much, as is the case with many design icons. You have to be careful when you refresh it.” The key design elements are all there, albeit with tiny refinements. “The bezel still has the teeth, but the watch looks more modern,” says Tim“The (sapphire) glass on top of the dial is now domed, with a bit of a retro vibe. We made the dial a bit more compact, and so the slide rule is compact. Visually, the main element of modernity would be the colours of the dial.” Previous models of the Navitimercame in just black and white – either a black dial with white sub-dials or a white dial with black sub-dials.

The new Breitling Navitimer chronograph

The watch comes in a range of sizes (46, 43, or 41 mm), two case materials (stainless steel or18 k red gold), and a choice of straps (semi-shiny alligator or seven-row metal bracelet).Modern colours in shades of blue, green, and copper define its updated dial options. And if thereis one feature sure to spark nostalgia, it’s the return of the AOPA wings to their original positionat 12 o’clock.The watch movement is confirmed by its status as a COSC-certified chronometer,and the brand remains one of only a handful of independent watchmakers to produce its ownmanufacture calibers, the Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01. There’s a power reserve of 70 hours, and the wearer can change the date – now visible through a discreet window in the sub-dial at 6 o’clock – at any time.

The perfect chronograph for the modern man - the Breitling Navitimer

Breitling’s goal is to reach out to a younger demographic, who didn’t necessarily grow up with watches like the Navitimer. “We want to introduce the watch to people who may not be primarily interested in aviation,” says Tim. “So we want to take the watch out of the pilots’ niche and place many elements in the mix, such as colour.”

Famous for its ‘Squads’ of world-famous personalities who are at the top of their game and who are united by a shared passion, goal, mission – Breitling’s squad members have included the likes of actors Brad Pitt and Charlize Theron – and for the new Navitimer’s2022 campaign, Breitling introduced a brand-new squad.Thecampaign – Navitimer: For the Journey – featuresbasketball superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, American BalletTheatre principal dancer Misty Copeland, and aviation pioneer and explorer Bertrand Piccard.

“The campaign for Navitimer is a very important step for Breitling,” says Tim. “We have a lot of storytelling about the history of the watch – its strong link to aviation, relevance for pilots and so on. But today nobody uses the slide rule anymore. People are inspired and impressed by the historical relevance of the watch. What we did in our campaign, is tell the story in a way that’s interesting and relevant.”So from a navigation toolfor pilots the watch becomes a symbol of navigating one’s journey through life. “That’s why we chose a squad of people who have had impressive journeys in their lives,” says Tim. “Bertrand Piccardhas been a Breitling ambassador for a long while, and his journey has been linked to aviation, so that makes sense with the Navitimer.But the squad also includes Misty Copeland and Giannis Antetokounmpowho have nothing to do with aviation but have incredible stories of how they navigated their journey through life, and this is really the bigger relevance of the Navitimer in today’s world.”

Each Squad member has charted a course and stayed on it through sheer determination. And eachone is on route to achieving their next set of ambitions. Using powerful visuals and their own narration, the campaign gets to the heart of these moving journeys.

The new Breitling Navitimer

From its founding in 1884, to today with more than 150 retail locations the world over, Breitling is now a champion of the digital game, especially after the pandemic. “Almost five years ago, when this management took over the brand, it took a 180-degree turn,” says Tim, “And today we are fully immersed in digital communication and digital channels, since this is where our customers are, and I don’t mean just a younger audience, but our existing customers who engage in and spend time on digital platforms, using digital devices.” He says that more than two thirds of Breitling’s marketing budget go into digital spends (naturally accelerated due to Covid), so they are fully and successfully enabled for e-commerce in over 40 countries. Online sales are booming. “In the last 12 months, we have done 10 percent of our global sales online,” says Tim, “Which is at a leadership point for the watch industry.”

Breitling's Navitimer comes in bold colours

And what about Breitling’s secondary market? “In terms of the grey market (Breitling watches sold on unauthorized channels online, as was the case 4-5 years ago), we brought this under control, and we have very good distribution with no unwanted secondary market,” says Tim. Then there’s the other secondary market – vintage watches, collector’s pieces, auctions. “We are working on introducing a collector’s audience, for Breitling’s vintage pieces,” he says, making it clear that the brand doesn’t sell pre-owned watches. But they remain in touch with auction houses, via a special heritage department, that buys vintage Breitlings for their own collections, which then travel to exhibitions, events, and are used in catalogues, as an important part of the brand’s history, and to build their own archives. “We also collaborate with auction houses like Phillips when it comes to storytelling,” says Tim.

Modern and bold - the Breitling Navitimer

So far, the watchmaker does not have its own museum of watches. “In our factory, we have an exhibit of historical and vintage watches,” says Tim. “And in most of our flagships, you will find smaller exhibits of vintage pieces from Breitling so that when we launch new collection, we can talk about the historical background of the timepiece. But we should have a museum at some point, as we have considerable historical archives.”

The watchmaker tends to have a high number of novelties and capsule collections launched each year, and is constantly upgrading and relaunching models. “The Navitimer is our crowning piece when it comes to repositioning the brand,” says Tim. “We have redesigned every collection that we wanted, and now, the brand is in place. Around the world, people want news – we are on top of the conversation for watch aficionados. This year, it started with this biggest launch, and there are two big launches coming up, along with a few smaller ones.”

In terms of India, Tim says that distribution-wise, the high luxury import tax is a bit of a issue, but Breitling has a presence here, with a high number of followers on social media. “We see collectors out of India buying globally, in places like Dubai or Switzerland, but because of travel restrictions, people were travelling less last year,” he says. “Breitling is a brand, with a local customer base, and were not as dependent on tourist-customers, but we are now seeing them now coming in.”


Priya Kumari Rana

Lifestyle Insider is a kind of junction point, connecting people with diverse interests that touch on the more luxurious aspects of lifestyle – fashion, design, travel, food and spirits, art, watches and jewellery, cars, yachts, and aviation, and technology. People today don’t fit into boxes and categories. In our individual ways, we are interested in diverse themes, products, and the challenges that face our world today. You will judge how well this effort of mine caters to your passions and proclivities.

Lifestyle Insider is a showcase of all that is beautiful and luxe. Behind every creation, is a designer, chef, entrepreneur, or a design maison. I have delved into my own appreciation for objetsde luxe that I have admired over the years – be it a love of fashion from the world’s top Parisian and Italian fashion maisons and their ’90s muses, or the care that goes into sari and Indian textile collections in my own family. Growing up on four continents, as the daughter of a former Indian Ambassador, I’ve seen a remarkable array of historic places and met a myriad people. My aim is to bring my world view into this website, a curation of what I find particularly stunning, unique, and newsworthy.

It’s an exciting time for brands all over the world. With change comes opportunity. With the global ‘reset’ and uncertainty on many fronts, there is a chance to write a new script. Let’s be those pioneers.

A bit about me:
A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.

Priya Kumari Rana

Founder and Editor

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