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CEO TALKS: Breitling’s Georges Kern on Transformation and Ownership

Women's Wear Daily -

When Georges Kern jumped ship in 2017 for Breitling, the watch world was stunned. Kern, flamboyant scion of a German jewelry family, had gained an international reputation as a marketing whiz. For 15 years, he had personified, with much razzmatazz and a heavy dose of Hollywood, the rise of the IWC brand owned by Compagnie Financiére Richemont. Moving to an established, but slightly sleepy, rival sports watchmaker best known for chunky aviator’s models seemed retrograde. Owned since 1979 by the reclusive Schneider family, relatively small and independent Breitling was overshadowed by behemoths like Rolex, IWC and Swatch Group’s Omega, making it a perpetual takeover candidate. Ultimately, Breitling’s buyer wasn’t another watchmaker, typifying an industry in rapid consolidation, but private equity. In its first foray into watchmaking, European group CVC Capital Partners coughed up a widely reported — and hefty — 800 million euros for an initial 80 percent, subsequently buying out the rest of the company. Kern’s move was all the more surprising as he had only recently been promoted to supervise all the Richemont group’s watch brands. That lined him up alongside Jérôme Lambert as a future leader of the world’s second-biggest luxury goods group, under the ever-watchful eye of executive

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