London/Geneva: Breitling, the Swiss watchmaker known for aviation-themed timepieces worn by actor John Travolta, is weighing a sale, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The process is still in the early stages, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the deliberations are private. The most likely suitors are luxury-goods companies rather than private equity firms, two of the people said. Breitling is being advised by investment bank GCA Altium Ltd, the people said. No final decisions have been made and the company could decide against a sale, they said.
A spokesman for Breitling declined to comment. A representative for GCA Altium didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The 132-year-old watchmaker is one of the larger Swiss watch brands that’s still independent while most others have been acquired by Swatch Group AG, Richemont, LVMH and Kering SA. Breitling’s sales were about 370 million Swiss francs ($364 million) in 2015, estimates Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel, and its celebrity endorsers have included Travolta, Russell Crowe and David Beckham.
“It’s certainly one of the jewels, even though it’s not on the same par as Rolex, Patek or Chopard,” said Jon Cox, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux. “It has a pretty strong brand position in the pilots’ neck of the woods.”
The Swiss watch industry has been grappling with the longest downturn in exports since monthly records began in 1988, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Withering demand in Asia has spread to Europe and the US this year, leading brands such as Vacheron Constantin and Cartier to cut jobs.
Breitling’s watches start at about 2,500 francs and the brand probably sells about 5% of Switzerland’s higher-end watches, according to Vontobel’s Weber.
Leon Breitling opened his workshop in 1884 in the Jura mountains. The brand modernized chronograph watches by separating the stop-start functions from the reset button, creating a way to measure sports competitions and flights without returning the hands to zero. The brand is also known for its Emergency wristwatch, which has a personal locator beacon that the wearer can trigger to alert rescue authorities.
Ernest Schneider bought the brand in 1979 and his son, Theodore, now runs the company. Bloomberg