It’s easy to trace Bentley’s modern-era renaissance to the launch of the 2003 Continental GT, and not only because it marked the unofficial beginning of Volkswagen stewardship. The Conti also featured a dashboard clock made by Breitling—the start of a collaboration that has become the longest-ever partnership between a watch brand and an automobile manufacturer.
2019 marks Bentley’s 100th anniversary, and we’re celebrating with a series of stories detailing the fascinating history of the iconic marque.
The Major Eras • Continental GT Road Trip • A Century of Bentley Design • The First Beautiful Bentley • Blower Bentleys • Bentley + Racing • Classic Bentleys for Every Budget
Shortly after the clock’s appearance in the car, Breitling’s first watch dedicated to Bentley was showcased in the spring of 2003. In June of the same year, Breitling created a limited-series chronograph called Bentley Le Mans, celebrating the marque’s triumphant return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although the link between the two companies might have seemed like “badge engineering” at the time, with almost two decades of hindsight, it has proven to be a natural fit.
“Before even partnering with Bentley, Willy Breitling (the late son of company founder Gaston) was driving cars from the British manufacturer,” Breitling CEO Georges Kern said. “When Bentley asked Breitling to design the onboard clock for its new flagship model, the latter’s chronographs, counters, tachometers, and onboard chronographs were already being used by drivers. It’s almost as if they were predestined to cooperate. And the very fact that the partnership has been so prolific, enduring, and of such great quality, it is because we are authentically sharing core values, and through time we both evolve by focusing on a future shaped by our passion for innovation.”
There was something ineffable about the original Breitling for Bentley chronograph collection. The watches were big and brash with a lot of wrist presence. Early models were simply massive, like the 48.7mm Breitling for Bentley 6.75, which you could have in either steel or gold. For better or for worse, it set off the large watch craze of the early aughts that continues to this day.
The Breitling factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, keeps churning out new Bentley-themed models, though they’re smaller and more subdued than the original lineup. “In terms of their DNA, the main codes are still firmly in place,” Kern said of the range’s evolution. “The difference is that the new models will no longer be mono-products such as Breitling for Bentley, but instead limited editions taking aboard events, news, and brand stories while being linked to our existing watch lines.”
The Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Bentley in British Racing Green was a harbinger of the new direction, with an engraved plate inspired by the dashboard of the 1929 “Blower” Bentley. Hot on its dials was the recently launched Premier Bentley Centenary Limited Edition (shown), created to celebrate Bentley’s 100th anniversary. It features a brown leather strap inspired by Bentley’s modern seat design and a brown burl elm dial that evokes the wooden inlays of the supercharged Bentley 41/2-liter 1930 No. 9 Le Mans race car.
There are still Breitling clocks in Bentley dashes, and if you have your druthers you can option your Bentayga with the Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon for the princely sum of $168,100. Do the math, and that pencils out to about 15 percent more than the original sticker price of the 2003 Continental GT.
As for the future? Up next is a more modern, sporting watch evoking the story of races and Bentley’s track record. “We are continuing to write new chapters that tell our shared story,” Kern said. “As of now, what I can say is that we will annually integrate a new Bentley Edition within our existing core lines. Bentley is a legend of our past, present, and future.”