“While certainly useful and distinctive,” ablogtowatch.com writes, “this offbeat bracelet attachment may not be to everyone’s taste, adding further complication to an already intricate design.” In other words, the Breitling Super Chronomat B01 44 is ugly, and the tiny quartz watch on the bracelet is a joke. Or is it?
Have we reached the point where all luxury mechanical watches are pretty much a muchness? Where the only way a brand can extend its reach is to resort to gimmickry? Yes and no.
It’s important to keep in mind that Rolex owns the Swiss luxury watch market. Morgan Stanley estimates that Rolex’s market share hit 24.9 per cent in 2020. “By that count, one in every four dollars spent on a luxury wristwatch is now spent on a Rolex,” watchpro.com observes.
The race to the top isn’t even close. For context, Morgan Stanley has Omega in second with 8.8 percent. Cartier’s next with 6.7 per cent. Breitling, which grew its market share during the pandemic according to the bank’s research, manages a modest 2.4 per cent.
When you’re at the bottom of the market share league table – fighting to at least maintain your position against an ever-expanding field of worthy competitors – you need to do something to gain attention and, hopefully, sales.
As we’ve pointed out many times, increasing the number of SKU’s – the shotgun strategy – has been the default response for the entire industry. Breitling has no less than eight different collections. The Chronomat family now has 35 members, including the aforementioned Breitling Superchronomat B01 44 – unless you count the two-faced entry twice.
Retailing for $10k. That’s a lot of money for an unlimited production 44m watch from a B list brand – especially for a watch that qualifies as a “novelty.” But again, novelty is the name of the game these days – even if you’re Rolex. Despite selling everything it makes, The Geneva watch brand felt obliged to introduce some distinctly quirky timepieces. If Breitling had held pat, they risked being left behind.
Well that’s one theory, enabled by technology that allows manufacturers to create minor variations without major expenditure. It assumes that media exposure equals buzz equals sales.
I’m not buying it, literally and figuratively. I file the trend under “a drunk looking for his keys under a street lamp because the light’s better.” Swiss watchmakers have ignored the benefit of direct, focused, interactive communication with consumers.
I’ve bought watches from Sinn, Vacheron, Grand Seiko, OMEGA, H. Moser & Cie., IWC, Movado, Yema, Seiko, Citizen, NOMOS and more. Not ONE has contacted me directly. Ever.
Instead, I face a daily barrage of new product. Some of it is absurd. Not to be outdone by Breitling’s “two watches for the price of one” come-on, Ulysse Nardin has just dropped a “razzle dazzle” Freak X. Based on abandoned World War II naval camouflage (designed to confuse enemy gunners), the new X scales new heights of illegibility. It’s a limited edition – as if they could sell more than 30 pieces – for $27,300.
Will they sell? Maybe. Will the watch suck R&D and marketing dollars from the brand’s mainstream products? Certainly. Did you know that Coke sells less Coke since they introduced their seemingly endless formulations? And then went out and bought water and health drink companies to protect their market share?
Even Mondaine, makers of the Swiss railways watch, feels obliged to make non-railway brand extensions to stay afloat/expand their market share. In fact, they should create a separate brand for their non-railways watches. Because the tighter the brand, the stronger it is.
What is a Breitling? Is this watch instantly and coherently recognizable as a Breitling? That’s the question the company should ask itself every moment of every day – before they even begin designing it. While I’m sure the watchmaker would answer “yes” for the Super Chronomat B01 44, I respectfully disagree. It’s a toy that distracts from watches that qualify.
On the other hand, Rolex. Every Rolex is a Rolex (save Cellini which should be terminated with extreme prejudice). You’d think their success would inspire their mainstream competition to follow suit. If so, you’d think wrong. The current watch glut – as opposed to Rolex’s unavailability – tells you all you need to know about that.