With Breitling’s Thierry Prissert and the Cockpit B50

Katie Wudel

Breitling Thierry Prissert, Thierry Prissert
The speed-loving President on the Cockpit B50, Emergency II-Plus & why the Apple Watch is good for Switzerland

This article originally appeared in Our Minutes.

At just 45 years of age, the Paris-born tastemaker took the reigns in 2010, following a remarkable career in luxury, fashion, and high-end retail at Folli Follie and luxury swimwear brand Vilebrequen. In the past four years, Prissert has expanded Breitling’s North American enterprise on an impressive global level.

In a freewheeling conversation, Prissert shared his thoughts on Breitling’s most hotly anticipated models and the future of the brand—along with watchmaking’s fate in the era of wearable tech.

How have the races treated you so far?

It’s very, very fun! It’s good to see our clients enjoy the racing, their eyes big.

My eyes have never been bigger! On our drive this morning, I got the sense that you have a need for speed. Do you fly planes like Vice President Jean-Paul Girardin?

No, I’m not a pilot, but I have always been attracted by speed, and the only thing you can do when you’re not a pilot is driving. So I enjoy driving, but the world of aviation can be exhilarating even as an observer—even more if you’ve had a chance to be in a plane with an amazing pilot showing you speed and tricks. David Martin, our aerobatic Breitling pilot, is pretty unbelievable.

Breitling Thierry Prissert, Thierry Prissert, Transocean Chronograph Unitime, Breitling Transocean
Thierry’s Breitling Transocean Chronograph Unitime

Tell me about Breitling’s partnership with Bentley. I loved seeing the Breitling for Bentley pieces at Basel this year.

We celebrated last year the tenth anniversary of our partnership. Bentley has a very long racing history. In the first part of the twentieth century, the brand had a great race team and race car. They wanted to work with us when they were willing to start racing again at Le Mans. We said, we’re in the world of aviation, but speed and precision is important to us, too. We sponsored the car and in the second year, they won the race! We decided to collaborate on a collection every year.

There’s a lot of similarity between us. Dedication to performance, elegance, design, speed, comfort. What I love about a Bentley car is that it’s a mix of sportiness and agility, but also comfort and luxury. I think our watches are a little bit like this too. We’re different from the rest of the luxury watch industry, with a watch that is for adventurous people, a little more sporty at times, a little more outdoorish, that’s also an instrument of precision.

We had an amazing chance to take some of our clients last year to visit the Bentley factory in England, and it’s unbelievable some of the similarities that you would see in a luxury car manufacture like that and our manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds. I always say, it’s great to take a consumer to see how we make our watches. You know, they run 24 hours a day using 350 components—seeing the technology and technicality behind that changes your perspective. The same to see all the work that goes into a high-end car like a Bentley.

Since we’re talking about in-house movements and what goes into them, which movement in 2014 are you most excited about?

As you know, on Thursday we announced the Cockpit B50 here in Reno. Not a lot of companies in the Swiss watch industry can say that in five years, they’ve launched an in-house mechanical movement {2009: Caliber 01, a self-winding chronograph movement} as well as an in-house quartz movement {2014: Caliber B50, a SuperQuartz movement, 10 times more accurate than standard quartz}. It’s great to have a digital watch that’s certified by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC). I’m very proud of Jean-Paul and his team—they’ve designed a watch to show pilots we have their needs in mind.

It’s great to see a pilot like Mark Kelly wear the watch because—as he says—when he’s in the cockpit, it’s tough to see a watch dial, so you have to stop what you’re doing to see the time. Now, with the Cockpit B50, you just tilt your wrist and you illuminate the watch instantly to read the time in every condition, in every environment, at 3,000 feet.

But the B50 is also perfect for non-pilots like me. You can recharge it yourself with a cable and the dual time zone is also great for me. I go a lot to California or the Midwest or Denver or Switzerland, traveling through several time zones. For me, I picture myself with the Cockpit B50 being able, with a touch of the crown, to change my second time zone to my first time zone. Today, I ended up doing this with a mechanical chronograph by hand, and it was simple. But it will be cool to instantly switch it.

Your Thursday announcement of a quartz watch with a lot of—some might say “smart”—functionality was fantastic. Of course, there was another big watch announcement this week. How do you think the Apple Watch is going to impact the industry going forward?

I’m so happy you asked that question. I do think Apple and Breitling are in two different worlds. For younger people, a $350 or $400 watch is still expensive, and you have to have your phone on you to use it. But we’re going to have millions of kids all over the world—before they can afford a so-called “real” timepiece—who will wear a smartwatch.

It’s very positive. I’m happy that the younger generation is going to learn how cool and nice it is to feel a watch on the wrist.

And not just check the time on their phone.

Yeah! I hope that they will soon aspire to have a Swiss watch, hopefully a Breitling. Of course, we’re selling beautiful timepieces that are very precise instruments. But it’s also something you got from your family; you’re proud of showing it off; maybe you received it as a gift or you bought it for yourself because you’ve been successful in your job.

Personally, before I was in the watch industry I always had Swiss watches, and I was happy in the morning to open my little box and choose between two or three to wear. Is it going to look good today in my work environment? Will I be in a fun environment on the weekend? I think the Apple Watch is a different tool; it gives you time but mostly allows you to connect to the phone in your pocket. We’re selling a little more to our clients when we put a timepiece on their wrist.

It’s like when people ask me the question, “Do you think checking the time on your phone or iPad is a problem?” I say, I have an iPad, I have an iPhone, I read the time sometimes on my phone, or in the morning, I look at the clock because I don’t sleep with my watch. But the first thing I want to do when I get dressed is put a Swiss watch on, because I think it looks cool.

Now that you’ve been with Breitling for a few years, do you find that your taste in watches has changed?

It’s changed tremendously. There are a lot of great companies making beautiful watches. But I think when you’re lucky to be from the inside like me, you become a little biased. You discover the way a company treats its employees and clients; how it makes its watches. I’ve discovered the entire world of Breitling and how we make our watches and my tastes have evolved. I always joke that I’ll always be happy to wear my Breitling even if one day I don’t have the chance to work for the brand any longer.

Once you experience the DNA of a brand, you see if it fits you or it doesn’t fit you. I would love to go a plane and ride today, and all of that excitement and thrill is really the Breitling world for me. The speed of the car this morning fits me too. The Breitling world fits me.

We are also privately owned, and long-term, I know there’s one direction, they’re going to service my watch well, and the brand isn’t going to be influenced by the stock market one day. If I were to buy a watch—knowing all this about Breitling—I would feel comfortable with my purchase. (If I like the design, and how the watch looks.) Which, actually, I like how our watches look too.

We always love to discuss technical aspects—it’s important that we offer precise instruments and are working to have all of our watches certified by COSC—but we have to also understand that for the majority of our clients, their main interest in the watch is how it looks. I think the B50, especially the black one, looks so sharp—though some people will like the aluminum. But I’m like any other client. I’m interested in the features, what the watch can help me do and calculate, but I also want it to look sharp!

Cockpit B50, Breitling B50
Cockpit B50

Besides the Cockpit B50, there’s another SuperQuartz watch out there that everyone’s waiting for. What’s going on with the Emergency II?

Our US customers have given us their names, their addresses; they’ve put down deposits (which we never wanted to take in the first place because we don’t know when the watch will be authorized to be sold in the US market). You know, it’s the only watch with a personal locator beacon that communicates with satellites in emergency situations. It’s a life-saving instrument, reassuring for a lot of people who do tremendous, adventurous things—on a boat, on a mountain, in the air. They’ll have that peace of mind that it can communicate to a satellite. It’s just unique.

I know the watch is available in Europe. So what’s the hold up in the US?

It’s not a manufacturing issue, it’s an authorization issue. We’ve gotten the green light from the satellite organization worldwide that says it’s fine, the watch is approved, you can market it. But the rule is, in every single country, they may have additional testing, or additional paperwork. In America, they’ve asked for another step of administrative paperwork and testing. We’ve done all the testing and have the results; now it’s just a question of presenting the paperwork to the Washington, D.C. administration office. And it’s likely going to take a few more months, we think, but we have to comply with each country request. Because of the impact of a potential rescue—the responsibility of having to come get you—in order to buy the watch in a country, you need to be a resident in the country. So you can’t buy the watch in England if you’re an American citizen or resident.

I know we have some anxious customers, but once it’s authorized, they’ll have a watch that will be a life-saving instrument, approved by all the authorities.

Is there anything else exciting coming up for Breitling?

One thing I’m tremendously excited about is in 2015—it’s sad but we have to think ahead. Life goes by too fast! The Breitling Jet Team is coming on an American tour, up to twenty-five air shows across the United States! They’ll share their formation flight of seven L39 planes with millions of people. The “welcome to our world” slogan is going to be very much personified by meeting our pilots, or if you’re really lucky, getting a ride in a plane (because we will try to have passenger flights). A US tour has never happened in the history of Breitling. It’ll be great to show the American people the team in action.

And of course, we’ll have a watch to celebrate the American tour.

Cockpit B50, Breitling B50
A model of the L39 planes flown by the Breitling Jet Team

Katie Wudel is the Managing Editor of Our Minutes. Katie is a timepiece enthusiast and freelance writer contributing to such distinguished literary journals as McSweeney’s, Tin House, Prairie Schooner, and more.

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Atlanta-based R&B singer CLenz (Ricky Balboa) of the Dukes Of Daville reached out to TimeZone with his fresh single and new music video, “TIME”. The song is about how time waits for no man and begins with a nod to Rip van Winkle as the singer dozes off in a clock shop and journeys through time. With his smart lyrics and catchy hooks, CLenz we appreciate the shout-out and wish you the best.

“Time”

WHO TURNED THE LIGHTS OFF
DOES ANYBODY KNOW WHERE WE’RE GOING
I CAN’T SEE, MY HANDS ARE TIED AND MY FEET ARE FROZEN
SO MAKE MY DAY, CAUSE I CAN FEEL TAKING MINE AWAY
I’M DYING SLOWLY AND MY HAIR IS TURNING GREY

CHORUS:
IT’S WAY TOO SOON
AM I DELIRIOUS, AM I CONFUSED
IT’S WAY TOO SOON
I’M JUST CURIOUS
WHERE DOES THE TIME GO

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Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge in Marblehead

Katie Wudel

Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge Marblehead, PCYC, Panerai Regatta
Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge in Marblehead
(Photo by Robert Monk Davis)

This article originally appeared in Our Minutes.

The weather’s brilliant for Italian watchmaker Panerai’s fifth annual weekend sailing with the Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta in picturesque Marblehead, Massachusetts: the skies blue, the winds gentle but resilient enough at about 8 knots.

Donald Tofias, whose beautiful 76′ vessel named Wild Horses is about to race, has an eloquent description for exactly this kind of meteorological pleasantness: “It’s a Panerai Day!”

Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge Marblehead, Wild Horses Panerai, Panerai Regatta
Wild Horses
(Photo by Cory Silken)

My feet clad in boat shoes, my wrist in a white-dial Luminor, I climb into a small spectator boat with a few other observers and representatives of Panerai. In twenty minutes, we’ll be out there on the Atlantic along with nearly 60 racing boats, but for now, we’re floating in Marblehead’s charming harbor, dotted by literally hundreds of gleaming vessels. (Interested in a mooring? You’ll have to get in line—there’s a 20-year waiting list for these coveted “parking spots.”)

Our guide today is Dudley Welch, a gracious, good-humored man with his own wind-powered sailboat called Jubilee. He spots a friend on the water and waves, calling out: “I’ve gone to the dark side!” He’s joking, of course, but the sentiment seems to ring true around these parts—“the dark side” refers to the motor powering our boat. There’s an unavoidable passion here for boats fueled only by wits, sails, ropes, and wind. The captain of our ship revs the engine and within just a few minutes, we’ve caught up to and passed by most of the boats on the race course, which is kept secret until just moments before gunfire signals the regatta’s start.

This push-and-pull—between modern technology’s efficiency and the old-world values of ingenuity, persistence, and craftsmanship—should feel familiar to any fan of mechanical watches, treasuring the whispers and clicks our timepieces make when they’re wound. A quartz watch—or, for that matter, a cell phone—keeps impeccable time, generally more accurate than even the most expensive mechanical watch. (That is, of course, until the battery runs out. Or, for those in a nautical state of mind, the gas.)

Donald puts it this way: “It doesn’t matter who wins or loses today. Yachting is the winner. It’s about the spectacle, the camaraderie of the owners and crews, and these beautiful boats. It’s the beauty, the pageantry, the feel and sound of a wooden boat out on the water.”

It’s hard not to get romantic about a yacht race when it’s a “Panerai day” and you’re just meters from a startling variety of vintage and classic sailboats. Valiant, at 64′ with a crew of approximately 15, strikes an almost fearsome attitude with its massive black carbon fiber sails.

Others are frankly tiny—the 110 class boats fit at most a crew of three. I spy a few such adventurers out there, clinging—to my inexperienced eyes—in a precarious manner to the exterior of their ships, using their own bodyweight as a counterbalance against the force of the sea.

Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge Marblehead, PCYC, Panerai Regatta
Valiant leads the charge
(Photo by Robert Monk Davis)

So how on earth are there so many different kinds of boats competing against each other? Panerai, devoted to keeping the spirit of classic sailing alive, has invited a wide variety of boats to race, some of them historic creations that have been meticulously restored; others a kind of boat called “Spirit of Tradition,” which above the water line are authentic to their time (perhaps the 1920s or 30s), but below, have been refined with modern equipment.

The regatta in Marblehead is what’s known as a pursuit race. Whichever boat reaches the finish line first wins—but not all boats depart the starting line at the same time. The regulations have been changed for 2014—this year, boats with similar physical specifications have been grouped together into categories: Grand Classics (large vessels), Corinthian Classics (medium vessels), Day Racers (smaller vessels), and Grand Prix (Spirit of Tradition and performance modified classics).

The boats determined to be slowest start first. On our spectator boat, there’s no music playing, but we do have a soundtrack—out of the radio spills a narrated countdown leading up to each boat’s starting time. Our captain steers us very close to the action. It’s a nail-biter. At one point, a boat favored to win misses the mark and loses precious time turning around to do it again. Later, a boat’s sails crinkle right next to us (a sign they haven’t been pulled taut enough for these conditions). The deflating fabric crashes dramatically in the wind.

The regatta takes place in two phases over the weekend. On Saturday, the course is upwind toward Gloucester, which provides a good tactical first leg. Sunday’s course sends the competitors on a reach toward Nahant and back, with the fleet tightly making turns around the markers, testing the prowess of the skippers and crews.

Sunday evening, the awards ceremony is held at the Cornithian Yacht Club. From start to finish, the ceremony is a heartwarming display of the kind of camaraderie so cherished by Donald. Everyone cheers on everyone else. Many of the trophies have been hand-carved by Bruce Dyson, Vice Commodore of the Eastern Yacht Club.

Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge Marblehead, PCYC, Panerai Regatta
Spartan (left)
(Photo by Robert Monk Davis)

Spartan, a 72′ NY 50 owned by Victor Paul, is called up again and again, and takes first place in the Grand Classic Division, which with just two boats is the smallest class. Cara Mia, a 43.5′ NY 30 owned by Alfred Slanetz, earns first in the Corinthian Classic Division. Good Foot, owned by Ross Weene and Eli Slater, is one those small 110 boats at just 24′ and ranks first among the Day Racers. Donald’s Wild Horses is first among eight other boats in the largest division, the Grand Prix.

Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge Marblehead, Wild Horses Panerai, Panerai Regatta
Donald Tofias for team Wild Horses receives the Panerai Watch Trophy for the Marblehead Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta

Of course, the most coveted prize is a Panerai Radiomir Black Seal 3 Days Automatic (PAM 00388), to be presented to the regatta’s Best Overall Winner: Wild Horses. Donald shakes the hand of Corinthinian Yacht Club’s Commodore Ken Adam and Panerai’s representative Michele Gallagher with tears in his eyes.

“It took me 10 years to win this,” he says.

Panerai Radiomir Black Seal 3 Days Automatic PAM388, PAM388, Radiomir Black Seal, Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge Marblehead, Panerai Regatta
The grand prize – Panerai Radiomir Black Seal 3 Days Automatic PAM388

Donald has been participating in the Panerai Corinthian Yacht Club Classic essentially since the beginning, and he’s been sailing and racing since he was six years old, when his father came down one weekend with a big cardboard box strapped to the roof of his car. Inside it, there was the jangle of cut plywood and little brass screws: an Alcort Sailfish kit. With Donald’s family, he put together the 12′ boat in just a couple of weeks. Six years later—against the wishes of his father—Donald bought and built a 14′ Super Sailfish from another Alcort kit, to get a little more speed out on the water.

It was 1959. The kit cost him every last penny he had: $482. Clearly, he’d gotten the racing bug. And it stuck with him: After twenty-five years in the commercial real estate business, Donald sold off the company in 1997 to sail full time, as well as build and sell boats with the W-Class Yacht Company.

Wild Horses is one of the most treasured W-Class vessels, a spirited descendant of the swiftest boats of the early 20th Century. It was designed by Joel White, son of acclaimed writer E.B. White, who authored the beloved Charlotte’s Web and The Elements of Style (with William Strunk, Jr.).

“I wrote my senior high school AP thesis on the essays of E.B. White, and have all the books he ever wrote,” says Donald.

2014 marks “10 Years of Passion” for classic sailing from Panerai, which has long been an authentically nautical brand, with roots in the Italian navy and an array of finely crafted submersible watches well-suited to the atmosphere of places like colonial Marblehead, with a history rooted in fishing and racing. Marblehead’s first regatta took place in 1845, and there’s a lively community to be found at any of Marblehead’s Boston, Eastern, and Corinthian Yacht Clubs.

To celebrate, Panerai will introduce the commemorative Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Titanio – 47 MM (PAM 00571). The limited edition watch features a commemorative case back and the brand’s in-house P.9000 movement. Its screw-down back and crown guard lever make it water-resistant to 300 meters, while a unidirectional rotating bezel allows wearers to time their dives. And the partly-skeletonized, luminescent hands guarantee excellent visibility even in very deep water.

Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Titanio PAM571, PAM571, Luminor Submersible, Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge Marblehead, Panerai Regatta
Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Titanio PAM571

The Marblehead race, which took place August 11-12, was just the beginning of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge – North American Circuit. It continued to Nantucket this past weekend for the 42nd edition of the Opera House Cup (overall winner: Goshawk captained by Wendy Schmidt took the Panerai watch, and Sumurun, skippered by Buzz Goodall, won the Opera House Cup), and will be followed by the Museum of Yachting Classic Regatta, held every year in Donald’s home base of Newport, Rhode Island over Labor Day weekend.

That Sunday, Panerai North American President Rafael Alvarez will present the Panerai titanium sculpted sail trophy to the Best Overall winner of the three-part circuit.

Katie Wudel is the Managing Editor of Our Minutes. Katie is a timepiece enthusiast and freelance writer contributing to such distinguished literary journals as McSweeney’s, Tin House, Prairie Schooner, and more.

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The 72 Pre-Selected Watches for the GPHG 2014

The jury of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) announced the 72 pre-selected watches. This 14th edition of the GPHG has attracted record participation, with all the major watch groups represented, along with a number of independent companies, in competition to win the Aiguille d’Or Grand Prix or one of the 16 other prizes that salute the year’s finest watch creations.

PUBLIC PRIZE
Vote for your favourite amongst the following pre-selected watches and automatically participate in the drawing to win this Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 XXL Petite Seconde worth 10’450 CHF.

You can view the pre-selection and register to vote at the GPHG website www.gphg.org. The winning ticket will be drawn and announced on stage on October 31st, 2014 during the GPHG prize-giving ceremony, to be broadcast live on www.gphg.org

Girard Perregaux Vintage 1945 XXL Petite Seconde, GP 1945 XLL, 25880-11-121-BB6A, GP 25880-11-121-BB6A
Photo by Al Armstrong

See also TimeZone’s William Massena selected for the 2014 GPHG Jury

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On September 1, 1995, a group of web designers in Singapore launched the www.timezone.com domain and TimeZone was born as the first Internet watch directory. It was a case of “build it & they will come” because soon, a small community of watch collectors and enthusiasts began posting to create the world’s first online wristwatch discussion forum. The rest, as they say, is history:

Happy birthday TimeZone, TimeZone September 1 1995

On behalf of everyone at TimeZone, we thank the entire watch community and everyone who’s supported us along the way.

Happy birthday, TimeZone!

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