One of the Last of the Independents, Breitling, Vies Sale to a Conglomerate

John Travolta and Breitling

Bloomberg reports that Breitling is in the early stages of selling itself to a luxury conglomerate. This comes as the Swiss watch industry has been grappling with the longest downturn in exports since monthly records began in 1988, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Reduced demand in Asia has spread to Europe and the U.S. this year, leading brands such as Vacheron Constantin and Cartier to cut jobs.

Breitling is one of the remaining family-owned watch companies of significance left, owned by the Schneider family since 1979. According to Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel quoted in Bloomberg, Breitling’s 2015 revenue was about SFr370m, or US$364 million, accounting for about 5% of high-end Swiss watch sales.

Breitling’s watches start at about 2,500 francs and the brand probably sells about 5 percent of Switzerland’s higher-end watches, claims Weber. Breitling famously recruited trained airline pilot John Travolta as an ambassador and sponsors its own aerobatics team. Flying high in the 1990s, Breitling has since lost ground to a number of pilot watch inspired brands in the last decade, especially after its move upmarket with pricier watches featuring in-house movements such as the most recent Chronomat 44. Earlier this year Chronoworks was priced at just under US$40,000.

South African owned Richemont will be an unlikely suitor, given its ownership of IWC and Panerai. However, the Swatch Group, LVMH or Kering could be possible candidates or possibly the China Haidian Group that already owns Eterna and marine inspired Swiss brand Corum. LVMH owns TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith, while Kering has Ulysse-Nardin and Girard Perregaux.

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