By: Lisa Liddane
November 23, 2014
The former Space Shuttle and combat pilot lends his credibility to Breitling’s timepieces.
As ambassadors of luxury timepieces go, Mark Kelly is as antithetical to the prevailing celebrity mold as it gets. He travels without an entourage, can walk into South Coast Plaza and blend into the crowd – as he did recently, and does not pose in any advertisements for Breitling.
Perhaps that’s a good thing.
The retired astronaut and decorated Navy pilot brings to the 130-year old Swiss brand two important things that actors Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman and Leonard DiCaprio, for all their onscreen talent, bankable pulchritude and high-wattage glamour, cannot provide to the watch brands they represent: gravitas, authenticity and credibility.
Kelly’s résumé includes flying 39 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm and traveling more than 22 million miles through space, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“Mark Kelly has such a great reputation for integrity – he’s an all-American space hero,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer of the Luxury Institute, a boutique research and consulting company. Breitling, which calls its timepieces “instruments for professionals,” has had a long-standing relationship with the aviation industry, Pedraza said. Kelly is the ideal brand representative who appeals to a specific segment of luxury watch customers who prize accuracy, innovative technical features or aviation-related components.
Kelly visited the South Coast Plaza Tourneau boutique, which has a dedicated Breitling wing, to launch the new Cockpit B50, a chronograph specially developed for pilots. He sat down with the Register to discuss his history with Breitling and how watches are practical instruments of measurement for him. Here are highlights from that conversation:
Orange County Register: I understand you were wearing a different watch brand during your first space flight.
Mark Kelly: I wore a different one, which shall remain nameless, a pretty high-end watch that didn’t work.
OCR: What happened?
MK: It had a little issue. The second hand got stuck on the minute hand (chuckles), which is not a good thing when you need the second hand to time something at an important part of the space flight … that was the only time I wore that watch.
OCR: Did you buy a new one?
MK: I got a Breitling from a friend of mine.
OCR: What did you know about Breitling at the time?
MK: I always wanted one. I knew it was a watch for aviation and was very reliable and probably wasn’t very well known as some of the other brands, but it’s a product that’s really made for pilots.
OCR: The accuracy of the watches seems to be a big selling point, and I would guess that for you, it is.
MK: Yeah, it is, especially in my career as an aviator … time was incredibly important. In the airplane that I flew, you needed to be able to constantly do the math in your head, but use the watch, your distance and your airspeed to figure out, are you behind or are you ahead of getting the target on time … you would break it down into six second increments. Why six seconds? Do you know why?
MK: Because it’s a tenth of a minute, it’s easier to do the math. The accuracy of the minute hand and the second hand is key to being able to do your route. And it’s sort of like that for space flight, too. You need an accurate watch because you’re doing a lot of critical things on time.
OCR: You’ve worn Breitling since about 2006. As a veteran, pilot and an astronaut, did you ever imagine you would be a face of a luxury watch company?
MK: No (laughs). When I had my first Breitling watch I had no relationship with the company. I just wore them. Before my last flight (into space), the Association of Naval Aviation contacted me to ask me to fly a Breitling watch that was going to be given to President Bush “41″. It was the centennial year of naval aviation, so I took that watch into space, took a bunch of pictures in space.
The plan wasn’t set on who to give it to. There was a thought about giving it to President Obama, the current president. People went, well, President Bush is a naval aviator. At the end of the day, they decided to auction it off and they gave the money to a school in Pensacola that uses Naval aviation to teach kids math and science. It went to a much better cause. The watch went for like, $60,000.
OCR: As for the new Cockpit B50, are there any features in it that you find interesting?
MK: If I was flying in combat again, that’s the watch I would buy. It’s a SuperQuartz movement, thermocompensated … it’s incredibly accurate. If you turn your wrist, the light will come on. So imagine you’re flying an airplane at night, you don’t have to take your hand off the throttle … it has a regular alarm that’s a tone, but also has one that vibrates like your phone so you can feel it. It’s nice to use in space where it’s so loud – all the fans, pumps and everything.
OCR: How many Breitling watches do you have now?
MK: Oh, I don’t know. I have several … most are locked up in a safe.
OCR: Which one is your favorite?
MK: The one I’m wearing – right now. … This is a Navitimer 1461. It’s got dates, days of the week, the month and it’s got the moon phase. It’s really kind of cool. It has to be reset only once every leap year (or every 1,461 days). So you really have to adjust it only every four years.