Although partnerships between professional surfers and watch companies remain ubiquitous (brands like Nixon, Swatch and Freestyle built their identities as the timekeepers of choice for surfers), Breitling continues to stake a growing claim as the first luxury manufacturer in the space. Breitling’s entrée commenced as the brand transitioned from family-owned to private equity-acquired in spring 2017. New CEO Georges Kern began cultivating a personal friendship as well as a professional relationship with surfing’s most decorated athlete and entrepreneur, Kelly Slater. An 11-time world champion, co-founder of an environmentally friendly apparel company called Outerknown and the driving force behind the Surf Ranch (a manmade wave pool that boasts competition level surf in central California) Slater bonded with Kern over their shared passion for sustainability.
From this bond and like-mindedness, the Breitling and Outerknown first launched the Superocean Heritage II Chonograph 44 in 2018. Debuting last week, the Superocean II Automatic 44 is a modern 44mm stainless steel case that vaunts water-resistance to 1000 meters and includes an automatic helium release valve at nine o’clock. Trimmed and slimmed from the first edition, its lug-to-lug length and thickness are impressive, although there are already murmurs of a thorough and truly surf-friendly redesign for the third version (ie: even slimmer with a stopwatch). While the first execution came in a very apt ocean blue, this reference is greener—Kelly green to be exact—with a matching matte, olive ceramic bezel.
Most importantly, the second Breitling + Outerknown edition features an Econyl strap woven from recycled nylon threads spun from salvaged, discarded fishing nets, known as ghost nets. Slater himself notes that more than half a million tons of these such nets exist in the ocean. Having previously worked with Econyl on select products in the Outerknown clothing line-up, Slater introduced them to Kern. The result is an 18-strap collection, each color-matched to existing dials within the Superocean and new Avengers lines. They’re available in six different colors and four different sizes with the option of a stainless steel or DLC-coasted stainless steel buckle.
“First off, there’s no silver bullet with sustainability,” says Outerknown CEO Mark Walker. “And secondly, you’ve got to start somewhere. There’s this idea of sustainability shaming where if you’re going to commit to being sustainable you have to do everything at once. If you do 10 things a day and currently one is sustainable, then tomorrow you start doing two and a week later you start doing three, that’s how we make positive change.”
Consider this the first wave in Breitling’s ocean of change. Kern has already announced his plans to make the brand carbon-neutral in the next three years, something he reaffirmed by sharing his aversion to gratuitous watch packaging. “I don’t understand this whole packaging thing. Nobody’s buying a watch because of the wooden box,” Kern says. He plans to rid Breitling of such superfluous wrapping promptly.
Walker, Slater and Kern agree that it’s unlikely for one company to transform the world or people’s habits. They do, however, understand that each of them represents a powerful platform with engaged audiences. Deploying a message of sustainability wave by wave or watch strap by watch strap creates a digestible, albeit significant, notion that consumers can positively impact the issues plaguing our oceans.
After catching his first-ever wave alongside Slater, Kern nurses a few cuts on his feet and explains that sustainable luxury is a concept that inherently makes sense to surfers, and is gaining momentum throughout the watch industry. “There’s a whole new group of people interested not necessarily in the act of surfing, but in the lifestyle it represents. Luxury, for me, is not solely based around exclusivity,” says Kern. “People want nice things that don’t kill the planet.”