HOW VINTAGE WATCH COLLECTOR FRED MANDELBAUM IS HELPING BREITLING SHAPE ITS FUTURE BY LOOKING BACK AT ITS PAST.
Breitling is on a mission to reconnect with its roots and shine a light on the icons that had an immense influence on the watch industry today. Fred Mandelbaum, an avid vintage watch collector that goes by @watchfred on social media , knows a thing or two about the heritage and the history of the brand and was personally approached by Breitling CEO Georges Kern to help bring the brand back to the forefront of the market.
Below he reveals what makes a good watch collector, reflects on the mistakes that Breitling made in the past and how his experience and creativity will play a role in reinventing the future of the brand.
How do you see Breitling moving forward and how is revisiting the archives is part of that?
Breitling has the richest heritage of any brand and for many years a lot of that was slightly overlooked. Breitling was very successful in one segment of their original market, always an innovator in a grand scheme of watch design and watch manufacturing. During the quartz crisis all the watch companies were affected. The introduction of electronic watches almost killed the mechanical watch, and when Breitling re-emerged they decided to go into a specific niche of aviation and not try to conquer all the market that they had before. So a lot of Breitling heritage was there, but slightly forgotten, so what Georges Kern did when he took over was that he saw that potential of taking the very successful manufacturing of the aviation watch and making it relevant and appealing to a much wider audience. This is what we’ve been working on for the last year, to excavate all those roots and rebuild the brand in a wider field. Very often many of the watch companies today, have to invent history because they don’t have it.
How important are the roots of the brand to succeed in today’s market?
If you’re an artificial brand you have to invent your roots. Breitling is very different, they were the ones expanding the market, innovating in the market, leading the market, and having others follow their lead. In 2050, let’s say, there will be people who collect smartphones, and their core of their collection will be Apple iPhones by Steve Jobs because he was the one who made the smart phone what it is. Very similar in chronographs, Breitling had the role of ‘Steve Jobs the innovator’, innovating in technology and design. If we look at the chronographs, whenever we see a new fashion emerge, we can always follow that fashion and find Breitling to be the first to do that. Disruptor, trendsetter, this is what Breitling was and this is what it’s aiming to be again. We are trying to find those roots and innovate, and bringing them into the 21st Century.
How did you develop your passion for collecting?
I’ve been in electronics since the early days of computer revolution. I was designing computers and everybody around me were wearing Quartz watches. So being surrounded by printed circuit boards, I wanted something different, my personal interest was in mechanical design, but it wasn’t the right time for it. So I started to collect and wear mechanical watches and that was the beginning of a love affair. My first good watch was expensive then for me. It was a Jaeger LeCoultre Memovox. My second Memovox from the 1950’s I found to be a bit more stylish.
Do you follow the roots of watches you collect?
I follow the roots of everything I’m doing! My second brand was Vulcain, it was the called ‘the watch of the president’ as all the American presidents received a Vulcain Cricket watch. Back then I was working in the production planning of circuit boards and assembly of systems so I said to myself “using a stop watch makes little sense” so I bought my first chronograph in 1985/86 because I needed it in my daily routine.
How many watches do you own?
I don’t answer this question because numbers of watches are totally irrelevant. You can have 2,000 watches and not even one good watch.
Let’s rephrase, how many Breitling watches do you have?
I have a large quantity but I’m not proud at all of how many I have because it sometimes shows certain addiction and that’s something we normally tend not to admit. What is relevant about my collection, it’s really not the size but the scope and quality of it. Every watch I collect needs to be A. technically relevant or relevant in watch design. B. it needs to be absolutely original which isn’t easy and C. it needs to be in impeccable condition.
What do you advise aspiring collectors?
Don’t think about investing in watches, only buy watches you fall in love with, the ones that speak to you, that feel right on the wrist and that make you smile. Then as you start to learn about watches you have to develop your own style. I know people who invest in millions of watches but they buy the wrong style and you never know what really makes them interested besides the value of the watch collections. These are poor collectors, I pity them because they invest a lot of money but they don’t develop their own style. Try to find your own style, try to “dress for success” on your wrist.
What is your motto?
Be yourself. I’m specific in who I am and feel comfortable being myself and this should be expressed in everything you do and any watch you put on your wrist, or whatever it is. Be self-assured in your own style and then you’ll buy the right watches.
How important is comfort over style?
The watch industry, including Breitling, forgot that a watch has to fit you like a shoe. You can have the most beautiful shoe, but if you’re uncomfortable in it, then you’ll never love it. The watches that were produced in the last 20 years were shouting very loudly, forgetting that they’re actually built to be worn on the wrist and be comfortable and with the Premier watches that Breitling has now launched we are going back to that. They fit your wrist like the most comfortable elegant shoe you can imagine.
Is there a specific Breitling watch that you’d like to add to your collection?
This is the second time it’s happened to me during the Breitling event. A friend called me yesterday. He’s an American professor who has been living in Tokyo for 30 years, and he called to say that he had seen watch. There are two models from Breitling that I’m still hunting for and one of the two he saw in the shop and sent me a picture so I will have it in my collection in a week.
If you could co-design a watch with Breitling, what watch would you like to see come to light that’s not part of today’s assortment?
We will do two things in the future. We will take roots of design and modernise, then on the other hand we will re-issue iconic watches in the precise form and function that they were originally. They will be limited and hard to get, but they will be sublimely beautiful. One such watch is almost ready and I have part in designing it.
How would you describe Breitling in one phrase?