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Breitling Takes Flight With Mr Michele Travierso

The writer and aviator takes to the skies to celebrate the launch of the Swiss watchmaker on MR PORTER

It’s the morning after the 40th birthday party the night before. Understandably, Mr Michele Travierso is a tiny bit tired. He’s in his hometown of Milan right now, but the writer and keen aviator recently flew in from Shanghai, his home for the past decade, via his MR PORTER shoot in Lake Como, where he took the team for a spin in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk seaplane. Talk about juggling commitments, not to mention time zones. Still, it makes him a fine candidate to celebrate the launch of Breitling, the Swiss watchmaker that for more than a century has catered to the sky-high demands of pilots and more recently to the globe-surfing modern gentleman adventurer – on MR PORTER.

In the images here, Mr Travierso wears the Breitling Navitimer 8 B01 Chronograph 43, one of the latest iterations of the classic chronograph that was first launched by the brand in 1952. With its reverse-panda (white on black) dial and scalloped bezel, a Breitling signature, it’s not only a handsome watch in its own right, but symptomatic of the stylish shake-up that the brand has recently undergone under new CEO Mr Georges Kern. Breitling has been making chronographs since 1884 and has always been well-regarded for its technical, professional-spec tool watches. But its latest pieces, under Mr Kern’s leadership (the Navitimer range is the first), have a certain restraint and elegance, drawing upon the brand’s rich archive and taking visual cues from the styles of the 1950s and 1960s.

“Breitling invented the modern chronograph,” said Mr Kern at the launch of the Navitimer in February 2018. “The intrinsic power the brand has is unbelievable. Building on that heritage, I wanted to start with a pilot’s watch to bridge what Breitling is today and what it will be tomorrow. This is a product that is inspired by historical elements, but it’s not a vintage watch. It’s a modern watch based on clear design codes of the past that will always remain.”

Pilots have always relied on Breitling’s watches, and Mr Travierso has fond associations with the brand. “I remember Breitling used to advertise in Italy’s most popular aviation magazine back in the day,” he says. “It was just about the time it launched the watch that had a small distress beacon in it [the Breitling Emergency]. You could twist the crown and pull out a small, very James Bondy wire. This was the aerial and it would send out an emergency beacon. That really caught my imagination, and I’ve never forgotten it.”

The Navitimer Aviator 8 has fewer Bond-like features, but for pilots, it’s the chronograph that’s particularly important. “Since the advent of mobile phones, fewer people wear wristwatches,” Mr Travierso says. “But a pilot absolutely needs one. We’re all drawn to the chronograph because it looks cool. It looks manly. It’s a trusted piece of design. But – even in the age of ubiquitous GPS – they still teach old-school navigation skills. All you need is a map, watch and compass, the key tools for the original aviators. When you do long flights without GPS, you really understand the importance of an easy-to-read chronograph for flying.”

Mr Travierso should know. He’s had his head in the clouds, so to speak, for most of his life. “I was obsessed with aeroplanes from a very young age,” he says. Between the ages of four and 16, he lived near Lake Como and these days it’s the place he loves to fly most (“The view over the mountains is breathtaking”). “There is a picture of me, aged about four, and my older cousin at the glider club with my grandfather. He was a pilot in WWII. Fifteen years later, I got my gliding licence at the same airport, Alzate Brianza.”

His grandfather didn’t tell many stories of his wartime experiences – “he was very tight-lipped, for different reasons” – but among Mr Travierso’s proudest possessions are the Italian Air Force veteran’s leather flying cap, his uniform, golden cufflinks with the eagle wings and his old kneeboard, where pilots clip their navigation plans.

Despite his parents’ reservations and with money an issue, the young Mr Travierso spent as much time as possible at the glider club, desperate to gain his wings. “I washed planes, pushed planes, launched gliders, talked to the head instructor endlessly,” he says. “He could see I had a passion for it, so he put me up for a flight scholarship, which paid for half the cost of my training.”

  • Breitling SuperOcean Héritage II B01 Chronograph 44mm Watch With Black Bezel And Off-White Dial Coming soon

By the end of his teens, Mr Travierso had his gliding licence, but his dreams of joining the Aeronautica Militare were scuppered by childhood illness. “I had leukaemia when I was a little kid, which got me out of the draft, so there was no way I could fly for the military,” he says. “And for commercial airlines, the job market was pretty bad and it was too costly for me at the time, so I postponed it. The job market has picked up in the past few years, so I have decided to have a go. I started my private pilot’s licence two years ago, and I finished last year. Now I’ve just started my commercial pilot training.”

Even for a man as driven as Mr Travierso, that might take some time. As well as his writing day job, he has an interest in tech and has founded a start-up. Atomosoar is software service that provides weather data for the drone industry. Development is at a crucial stage, so he’s wisely keeping details under wraps. But suffice it to say, from Amazon delivering parcels by unmanned aerial vehicles to humanitarian projects airdropping essential medical supplies to remote African clinics, the peacetime use of drones is only set to increase.

As for his own favourite magnificent flying machines, Mr Travierso plumps for both the classic and the futuristic. “Much like every kid in the universe, I had a fascination with the Spitfire,” he says. “But in the course of my writing, I’ve also developed a keen interest in the future of aviation, so I’ve written a lot about electric aircraft. I really like the Arcus E, the electric version of a very beautiful, sleek twin-seater with wings that look exactly like a seagull. It’s just fantastic to look at and to fly – and without any emissions.”

Given all those obligations and interests, Mr Travierso acknowledges that “time management is a bit of a challenge for me, especially as I’m wearing three professional hats. I’m hoping the right timepiece will make me better at that.”