That evening, Georges Kern, Breitling’s newly-minted CEO, walked on stage with an angel who, at some point on his journey earthwards, had lost a wing. Not a case of carelessness but Kern’s way of signalling that the big clean-up had begun. Or as organisational guru Marie Kondo would have it, tidying-up isn’t something to be dabbled in, doing a little each day. It takes a clean sweep. And a little forethought. After resuscitating IWC during his sixteen-year tenure from 2000 to 2016, and following a brief stint as number-two of Richemont, in 2017 Kern took the reins at Breitling – motivated by the opportunity to become a shareholder in the brand, which the Schneider family had sold to CVC Capital Partners in spring 2017. The enthusiastic 54-year-old Franco-German had no end of ideas. He spent his summer rifling through the archives, surfacing in September with the desire to… make it simple!
Early 2018, Kern set off on a tour to inform press, retailers and collectors around the world of his new strategy. Speaking before 600 bemused guests in Zurich, he announced his decision to make a clean sweep of the past. In his own words, “I’m not an intellectual. I like simplicity. The brand has to be legible. We have to work on making it less complex.” And so out went the wings and in came a drastic reduction in the number of references. When Marie Kondo wants the same result, she gathers everything into the middle of the room, takes stock of the amount all these objects represent then, rather than choosing what to discard, decides what to keep (not the same thing). A single criterion prevails over each choice: Does this item bring me joy? Georges Kern’s method is no different, though with a slight rewording of the question: Does this watch bring me revenue? Hence why there are now three collections at Breitling, the long-standing Navitimer, Superocean and Chronomat covering land, air and sea, completed by the new Premier collection, dedicated to elegance.
Reinvent the legend
It’s always the way whenever a new boss comes along. He (or she) marks their territory. Another case in point, Patrick Pruniaux set about a change of tack on his arrival at the head of Ulysse Nardin in 2017. A watch industry veteran, with experience at TAG Heuer, LVMH’s Watch & Jewellery division, and a stint at Apple for the launch of its smartwatch, chances were the new CEO would bring a wind of change to the brand’s products. And? We can only assume he too has been watching Marie Kondo. In her Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, the Japanese consultant promises to help American families enjoy a home that is tidy and, more importantly, brings them joy. For Patrick Pruniaux, this has meant giving Ulysse Nardin customers a new collection that adds a touch of glamour to an existing base. Younger sibling to the early Freak watches, the Freak X reprises many of the original’s aesthetic and functional features, but does it differently: diameter has shrunk from 45mm to 43mm, it’s affordably priced and, the cherry on the cake, it fits right into the brand’s more punchy communication campaign.
Like Marie, Cyrille Vigneron believes in decluttering. Ms. Kondo, who has understood the complex relationship we have with our possessions, has devised a form of behaviour therapy that forces us to ask ourselves how we feel about the objects in our lives. Similarly, Cyrille Vigneron, who in 2016 took the top spot at Cartier, has grasped the importance of giving customers a coherent rather than infinite choice. Henceforth, the brand is building on its blue-chip and iconic watches: Panthère, Santos, Baignoire….
Too much of a tidy thing?
According to the KonMari method, if an item doesn’t spark joy, we bin it. If it does, it stays. But there is a limit to how much tidying-up should be done, as brands that have brought in new lines to erase old ones have found out, and as Audemars Piguet discovered at January’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Having mothballed its Jules Audemars collection of classic watches, it launched Code 11.59, an urban watch with a surprisingly (mostly) round shape, and unleashed a beast in the process: bashing sessions on social media, incomprehension on the part of Royal Oak fans, violence, foul language… Should Audemars Piguet have left Jules Audemars on its pedestal rather than sustain such a volley of insults? The future (of the Code 11.59) will tell. In the meantime, as Marie Kondo would say, it’s all a bit of a mess.