Dashing designer Duncan Quinn – aka DRIVEN’s own 007  – has long been a collector of vintage Breitling watches.

The other day the Swiss watchmaker, which produces special models for Bentley, invited him on a tour of its inner workings; here’s his report from the field:

For some reason I’ve always loved Breitlings.

Our man Duncan Quinn goes behind the scenes with the Swiss watchmaker

Even though I love to hate some of the nasty ones from the 80′s and 90′s where they went all Russian mafia on me prior to refinding the Chronomat and deciding to advertise it using John Travolta and his pilot’s license credo (below).

Personally using Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction would have spoken to me more, and I’m sure it would’ve sold more watches.

Click to enlarge

But I suspect that may be my penchant for gangster chic and my secret desire to consume a pile of “Royales with Cheese” with a .44 parked next to the plate.

Perhaps in another time, in another life…

But seriously. Breitling has always been the Lamborghini of fancy watches to Patek’s more Ferrari-like mainstream exotica and Rolex’s steady dependable Porsche that everyone has.

Breitling has always been the Lamborghini of fancy watches

And in a similar vein to Lamborghini I wasn’t sure Breitling’s renewed vigor had really done that much for them creatively.

So I had to go have a look for myself.

When you know a brand as bright, quirky and interesting its not so much fun anymore when suddenly things all reset and you find you’re not their guy anymore.

Courtesy of Breitling; click to enlarge

Thierry Prissert, President of Breitling USA, was kind enough to buy me a coffee and far too many pastries prior to giving me a guided tour of the new US flagship store on 57th Street in Manhattan which opened in January 2011.

Bedecked in bright and colorful pieces by Kevin Kelly and Francois Bricq it’s a playful place with some serious timepieces.

The design is certainly sleek and the ergonomic touches plenty. And the watches range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The watches range from the sublime to the ridiculous

But I guess you can never please all of the people all of the time so what for me was poison is probably meat for somebody else….

The really interesting thing was to learn that Breitling is still a family owned artisinal company waging war against the likes of LVMH, Richmount and Gucci Group, the holy trinity of “luxury” brands.

Courtesy of Breitling; click to enlarge

In order to up their game they’ve spent the last few years quietly beavering away developing and now producing their very own in house movements.

Indeed they are one of the few Swiss watch makers who can truly claim their watches are “Swiss”. 100% of every Breitling is made in Switzerland.

By law you only need to make 65% of it there.  So you can imagine what happens elsewhere.

One of the few Swiss watch makers who can truly claim their watches are ‘Swiss’

Also, you may raise your eyebrows at the thought of a watch brand making the movement in the watch being such a great achievement, but you’d be surprised how many brands just buy the movements in bulk from a certain supplier owned by Swatch.

After a tour of the flagship store and consuming my weight in pastries we jumped into the Bentley Continental Flying Spur (below) that awaited us outside to zip up to the Breitling US office in Connecticut.

It spoke reams to me that everyone working there seemed to have been part of the Breitling family for decades.

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I was lucky enough to have the guy who teaches their watchmakers how to repair all the watches have me strip and remake a very very simple watch.

Needless to say that gave some insight into the intricacies involved in doing this right.

Bentley Continental Flying Spur whisked us to Breitling HQ

These guys make a point of making sure their customer service is second to none.

Attested to amusingly enough when I spotted a watch in for repair with a police report wrapped around it.

As soon as you buy a Breitling if you register it with them they keep a record.

Then if the watch is ever reported stolen and then turns up for repair they alert the police and get the watch back to the original owner.

© Duncan Quinn; click to enlarge

I thought that was rather cool.

Also good for me to know was that my own vintage pieces (top photo) were being looked after by the right man.

When you buy a Breitling if you register it with them they keep a record

I had asked if anyone else was authorized to repair Breitlings other than them, and it turned out that even Breitling themselves send the vintage watches (over 20 years old) to Mark Heist in Philadelphia where I have sent mine for a long time.

After witnessing the new collection I asked if I got to have a choice of three.

Alas they weren’t willing to part with them but now at least I know what to put on my holiday list for this year….

– DQ