No doubt the first thing to impress itself on visitors to Breitling Chronométrie, the brand’s production facility in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, is the ten-metre high statue in the reception hall. While one might expect it to portray Léon Breitling, the man who founded the brand in 1884, the figure towering above the somewhat mystified spectator is in fact a Chinese soldier in khaki uniform, gripping a machine gun. “This is the symbol of Breitling,” announces Jean-Paul Girardin, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, without a flicker of a smile. “It was commissioned by Mr Schneider, Breitling’s proprietor, from a Chinese artist and friend. He wanted an artwork that would symbolise our values. Initially his friend was somewhat reticent, given the subject, but now here it is.”
Not that Breitling has bellicose intentions: the concept behind the statue illustrates the self-same principles (some would say virtues) to which the brand has adhered for décades: rigour, professionalism and efficiency. Function takes precedence, not least in the brand’s “instruments for professionals”; a principle which everything else serves to highlight, including the building’s architecture which follows a purely industrial logic, although the pared-down aesthetic of the whole lends harmony to order. Thus China’s answer to G.I. Joe blends seamlessly into a decor that also incorporates Pop Art canvases that would make comic-strip pilot Buck Danny feel at home, and busts this time of the man himself, Léon Breitling, in eye-catching shades from green to pink.
Calibre B01, a giant leap
Breitling Chronométrie, which is the brand’s third entity alongside its head office in Granges and the engineering division, Breitling Technologie, in Geneva, sprang from a long-term view of production, and a deep-rooted desire for independence that would take the form of an in-house calibre. “Back in 2002, we received a letter informing us that Swatch Group would be reviewing its supply of ébauches and parts,” commented Jean-Paul Girardin. “The message was clear: we had to find an alternative. Which we did, soon after, in Geneva where we met specialists with the ability to develop an in-house calibre. This led to the launch of Professional Flight Instruments, later renamed Breitling Technologie. The brief exactly corresponded to the brand’s philosophy: to develop a robust and reliable chronograph movement with an open architecture, 70-hour power reserve, and which could be certified by Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres.”
Five years, over half of which were spent fine-tuning the factory in line with the brand's ambitions.
A full two years in development, the first prototype for the B01 calibre marked the beginning, in 2006, of a long and painstaking industrialisation process that would take a further three years. The Breitling Chronométrie factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds was the obvious choice for production. After the takeover in 1997 of Kelek, which specialised in assembling and casing movements for the brand, and having outgrown its original and now outdated site in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Breitling acquired land for a new production unit on the edge of town. The building opened for business in 2001. Six years later it tripled in size to accommodate the B01 project. The movement was revealed to the public at Baselworld 2009 inside a Chronomat. All in all, it took Breitling five years to achieve manufacture status with a movement that now lends itself to five versions including a 24-hour display, a dual time zone, and a worldtimer. Five years, over half of which were spent fine-tuning the factory in line with the brand’s ambitions.