Georges Kern knows Hong Kong through and through, and it’s Cathay that’s helped him get there.
“I’ve travelled to Hong Kong… I don't know how many times!” says the CEO of Swiss luxury watchmaker Breitling. “I've always appreciated the phenomenal service and it's always a pleasure to fly Cathay Pacific.”
We first flew Kern into our home hub in the days of Kai Tak airport when he was working for TAG Heuer. He soon become CEO of IWC Schaffhausen and later was promoted to Head of Watchmaking, Marketing and Digital at Richemont – and now, as CEO of Breitling, celebrating Hong Kong remains key to his business.
“Hong Kong is an important city for the watch industry, and it’s a key market for us,” he says. At Cathay, we share his high opinion of our home hub – which is one of the reasons we’ve partnered with Breitling on an exclusive limited edition of just 200 individually numbered pieces of the Breitling Navitimer B01 Cathay Pacific Limited Edition – our own take on a true classic of aviation.
“The Navitimer is an icon. It's probably the most recognisable watch at Breitling. And it's probably one of the most recognisable pilot’s watches in the industry,” says Kern.
It was first introduced in 1952, as a watch specially designed for civil aviation pilots. The slide rule integrated into the bezel made it into a flight computer long before calculators ever made it on board, allowing pilots to perform all necessary flight calculations. Of course, with the advent of the modern flight computer, the Navitimer is no longer the essential in-flight tool it once was. It’s evolved from functional tool to design icon – but that’s hardly affected its charms.
“I'm wearing a dive watch that’s waterproof up to 300 metres. Nobody's diving to 300 metres!” laughs Kern. “But that's not the point. The function is part of the story of the product, and that’s why it's so important. It's always a combination of look and function. In the case of the Navitimer, the function made the look.”
But Breitling isn’t resting on those laurels – or those looks. Fresh for 2022 and its 70th anniversary, Breitling re-issued the Navitimer with a design updated for the modern age. The watch features a domed sapphire crystal, evolved slide rule, contrasting finishings, an open caseback, and is equipped with the COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 01 movement. And there’s one more standout feature: the winged logo of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which graced the original Navitimer and makes a return here. “It’s an anchor to the past,” says Kern, “Everybody's talking about that logo and we have a great story to tell.”
This year marks our own 76 years of history – a legacy of aviation and of connecting people to meaningful people, places and experiences. This collaboration is the next step in that legacy, and an encapsulation our evolution from a world-leading airline into a premium lifestyle brand.
With a limited run of just 200 individually numbered pieces for this timepiece, we wanted to create something special. We chose an approach that’s subtle and refined – one which complements the classic design vision of the Navitimer.
On the face of the 43mm Navitimer B01 Cathay Pacific Limited Edition, the iconic Cathay Jade hue presents an elegant contrast to the white sub-dials – both offset by a rich brown leather strap. It’s like the Navitimer itself: elegant but chic, retro but modern. On the back, you’ll find engraved our iconic brushwing, the words “Cathay Pacific Edition” and its individual number out of 200. Kern himself is a big fan. “The Cathay Jade green is beautiful. It’s a very cool retro touch which works even better with the Navitimer.”
This isn’t a timepiece for a tuxedo, but the modern age. “I would qualify it as casual-chic,” says Kern. “One of the big post-COVID trends is the casualisation of luxury,” he notes, pointing out that casual, inclusive, and sustainable luxury lie at the core of Breitling’s values – while drawing parallels to aviation itself: “I know that airlines are working now with sustainable and synthetic fuels, and that will be the future.” (You can read more about Cathay Pacific’s landmark Corporate Sustainable Aviation Fuel programme here.)
Cathay and Breitling coming together is a design match and a philosophical alignment alike. “For us, it is very important that we are a local brand,” says Kern. “We want to have an attachment to local communities. Hongkongers fly with Cathay Pacific: flying and partnering with the airline of Hong Kong gives us that local connection.”
And, naturally, it gives us a very interesting watch to add to the collection.