Breitling And Bentley Part Ways, But How Will They Move On? A Look At The Past And Possible Futures
by Martin Green
It is (almost) official – well, the cat is at least out of the bag: after nearly 20 years, Breitling and Bentley are parting ways.
What started in 2002 when Breitling designed the dashboard clock of the Continental GT and was last renewed in 2018, when Breitling launched a new range of designated watches, is now coming to an end.
The Breitling-Bentley partnership has been an interesting one, although it is anyone’s guess at to how successful it has actually been. While the total annual production of Breitling can be tracked through the brand’s chronometer certifications, the number of Breitling for Bentley models manufactured is undisclosed.
The only safe conclusion that we can make is that both brands must have been pleased with the partnership, otherwise it wouldn’t have held up for nearly two decades.
Ups and downs
During that time, Breitling released a significant amount of co-branded watches. While I wholeheartedly admit that I am far more a Bentley boy than a Breitling fan, some watches, especially at the beginning of the partnership, have been interesting to say the least.
One of the earliest watches released was the Navitimer “Bentley Motors.” With a diameter of a whopping 48.7 mm, it even makes the Breitling Emergency look small. One would expect a watch capable of inflicting such blunt force trauma would associated more with a brand like Hummer than Bentley.
In comparison with elegant Italian thoroughbred sportscars, Bentley is more a locomotive (check out Bentley Blue Train for a nice story starring both) and should be loved because of that. I always felt that many Breitling for Bentley watches were out of touch.
It didn’t get much better in later years: in fact, the watches even got larger. The Breitling for Bentley Chronograph GMT that you could buy around the turn of the decade measured 49 mm – about the same size as the center caps of a Bentley rim!
Powered by a relatively small ETA movement – too small for the case, anyway – all the subdials closely crowd together in the center of the dial while a wide, knurled bezel serves as the watch’s main reference to the world of Bentley. As the steel version was quite heavy, it is no wonder that Breitling introduced a titanium version of the watch a couple of years later.
Could it get worse? I thought so with the Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon. This one holds a place in my list of ugliest watches ever: it looks like a fake made in a backstreet workshop in the Far East, mainly thanks to the decoration on the tourbillon bridge and the cutouts of the date and the chronograph minute counter.
Both of these subdials are far too small to read without a loupe at the average age somebody would usually buy their first Bentley (or anybody older than their late teens). Again, it is monstrously large with a diameter of 48.7 mm, but the good news is that when you accidentally drive your Bentley off the pier going to your yacht, the watch will remain ticking as it is water resistant to 100 meters. On the minus side it will probably drag you down.
Did this partnership produce anything good?
That’s just my opinion, and beauty is as always in the eye of the beholder. For that matter, some might not actually understand why I was quite taken by The Flying B, a rectangular jump hour watch.
Yes, it was still too large, too thick, and too heavy, but I liked the way Breitling executed that watch. (Then again, I am also still a fan of the Rolex Cellini Prince.) Breitling also introduced The Flying B as a chronograph, but I prefer the cleaner look of the jump hour, which also marked the first time Breitling used this complication.
After the partnership was renewed for the last time in 2018, Breitling moved its Bentley pieces into the Premier collection, and there I think the brand finally got it right. Yes, they are separated from the rest of the herd by mere details, but I feel that these watches capture the soul of Bentley much better.
They are smaller, subtler creations that convey their refinement in details and colors. While I think that the name of the Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Bentley Centenary Limited Edition is way too long, the burl elm dial is stunning.
Its sibling, the Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Bentley in British Racing Green, is such a tempting watch that I would proudly wear it myself.
Not to forget the pièce de résistance!
In 2015 the partnership made worldwide headlines as Bentley introduced the Bentayga, the carmaker’s most off-road-capable car to date. With a price tag and options list not for the faint of heart, a lot of attention focused on the Breitling Tourbillon clock option costing a mere $160,000.
This mechanical wonder replaced the standard Breitling clock in the Bentayga and came with a gold case (choice of white or pink), a mother-of-pearl dial (choice of black or white), and diamond hour markers. Most unusual is that this clock has an automatic movement but cannot be detached from the Bentayga.
Don’t worry, the driver doesn’t have to “loop” the car every two days like Roger Moore did in the Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun, as the Breitling clock’s unique cradle serves as an automated winder. A special backlight system ensures that the driver can also read the time at night, making this probably one of the most over-the-top, yet coolest, options ever on a car.
Watch and car partnerships: do they actually work?
Incidental collaborations between a car brand and a watch manufacturer can be fun, but long-term partnerships hardly ever fully work out. My biggest issue with them is that I rarely like both the watch and the car equally. It is either one or the other, and apparently I’m not alone in this.
I do know a few Bentley owners and some Breitling connoisseurs, but I don’t know any Bentley owners that own Breitlings – or vice versa. And I don’t know anybody at all that owns a Breitling for Bentley. Perhaps they are too ashamed to wear it in my presence, keeping it as a guilty pleasure like I do with my Britney Spears CD collection?
The only given about watch and car brand collaborations is that they will all end at some point. Even the one that I still consider the benchmark in the industry, the partnership between Hublot and Ferrari, recently came to a conclusion.
This is not so strange as we are talking here about two separate companies, both for profit, that change their strategies, get new CEOs, and then one or the other doesn’t extend the partnership agreement as it expires.
It happens to the best, and it has happened to quite a few, even those that I thought were good matches. Jaeger-LeCoultre made watches with Aston Martin, which even included an innovative way to unlock your DB9, DBS, or Rapide, but the partnership ended after ten years. While I like both brands equally, I most likely would wear a regular collection Jaeger-LeCoultre over a co-branded Amvox with Aston Martin.
If you can afford both, you don’t need a particular watch to show the fact unless you really like the design.
This brings me to another issue: there is so little need for these types of watches. Of course they are luxury items to begin with, which anybody can live without, but apart from that someone who buys a Bentley probably already has a high-quality watch or two.
This also goes for any other brand. At the same time, when the Bentley-Breitling partnership was announced, I didn’t think that many Breitling collectors immediately went to their local Bentley dealerships to order one in celebration as ultimate examples of their commitment to the horological loves of their life. It simply doesn’t work like that.
For that matter, I think both Breitling and Bentley are better off focusing on their core businesses and perhaps finding fields in which collaborations can be more fruitful.
For argument’s sake
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that they both aspire to enter a similar partnership once again, which they may well do. I feel that the most important question for Bentley is: what are the criteria for success? Does the carmaker want very high-end watches that perhaps cost about as much as the car itself to add more grandeur to its name? Or does Bentley see it as a business case in which another revenue stream can be created? Or perhaps both?
In my opinion, the latter is the best option. That means that the watch brand Bentley collaborates with needs to have some volume and sells a substantial part of its collection at the same price as one or two options on a new Bentley.
Equally important is that this is combined with a stellar reputation in the luxury field. Rolex and Patek Philippe come to mind. However, Rolex is already heavily invested in the world of automobiles by sponsoring everything from Formula 1 to Pebble Beach. Rolex doesn’t need, and probably also doesn’t want, to commit to a single car brand.
The same goes for Patek Philippe, for whom it would mean a significant change in corporate strategy in which the venerable Swiss brand has more to lose than to gain.
A more serious contender might be Cartier. The brand has dipped its toe into car brand collaborations in the past, most notably with Ferrari.
Less known is that for more than two decades you could order your Lincoln Town Car in Cartier trim, which was the most luxurious version, although the influence of the Parisian jeweler always seemed quite limited to me.
The styles of Cartier and Bentley seems to be close enough to each other that that might seem natural. I can easily see Cartier accessories incorporated into Bentleys, and car elements incorporated in the watches and perhaps even jewelry. An important element for success is that the partnership goes beyond just creating a double-branded watch, but becomes a tangible part of the universe of each marque.
In that light, I also see two other brands as potentially promising partners. Hermès could be very interesting, as this brand doesn’t only make watches but was originally a leather goods company.
This makes more sense as the Parisian brand has already gotten a taste of the automotive world: American real estate mogul Manny Khoshbin is a distinct lover of supercars and his fetish, if you will, is to have them further customized by Hermès. This treatment was already applied to a Pagani Huayra and a Bugatti Chiron, not the most common cars on the block. The latest collaboration? Khoshbin’s McLaren Speedtail.
Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, might also be a good match. This brand is perhaps a bit too avant-garde in its current style of watches to please Bentley’s more conservative clientele, but I doubt if there is a single Bentley owner who doesn’t already own something from this famed brand.
As with Hermès, Louis Vuitton is also a master with leather (which sounds dirtier than I mean for it to), giving the collaboration more depth. How about a Monogram luggage set made specifically for the boot of your Bentley also incorporating the logos of those involved, including that of Louis Vuitton?
Or the toolset, which no Bentley owner will ever use, secured in a bag made from Epi leather? Vice versa, having some Bentley elements incorporated into a Tambour is also not such a bad idea.
How will Breitling move on?
For Breitling, it is a bit more challenging to move on to another collaboration with a car brand. The pickings are slim, especially if the watch brand wants to achieve some natural synergy in the partnership. But some options might work.
As Breitlings exude a robust kind of elegance, I think that Land Rover might be a nice match when its fling with Zenith is over. A Breitling Emergency that you can click into the dashboard of your Defender sounds like a match made in heaven. Although one would probably explore less remote places with it, like the Serengeti or the Sahara.
There are also quite a few possibilities in the Range Rover range: a Chronomat could easily capture the bold style of a Range Rover Sport SVR, while people who prefer to move around in a Range Rover Autobiography might enjoy a nice Breitling Premier with a complication or two.
If more volume is desired, BMW could be a good choice. Both brands share a history in aviation and might already have considerable overlap in clientele. Also having a small Breitling boutique in all the main BMW dealerships worldwide might be good synergy.
That Breitling will move on is in my opinion without question. Georges Kern, CEO of the brand, is too much a car aficionado not to. During his time at IWC he cemented the deal with Mercedes-AMG, which still continues.
What will it be? Time will tell.
What do you think will be the best match for new partnerships for Bentley and Breitling? Don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments below.