The Life of Ernest Schneider, Fourth Generation CEO of Breitling

A quiet departure

On May 5, 2015, Breitling Chairman Ernest Schneider passed away.

Schneider was a former soldier, but no one could have imagined that his military career would lead him to take the helm of a leading watch company and establish the strong position it has today.

Ernest Schneider

Ernest Schneider (1921-2015)

Early Life of Ernest Schneider

Ernest Frederick Schneider was born in Fribourg, Switzerland, on April 15, 1921, the fourth of five children. His father was a federal railway employee at the Fribourg station, and his mother was the daughter of a shoe repairman.

Military career

After completing secondary school and graduating from the Fribourg Cantonal Technical School (today's Technical School), he joined the Fribourg Signal Corps in 1941. Promoted to NCO and officer, he was attached to the 7th Infantry Regiment (Fribourg Regiment) and served at the front for a long period during the Second World War. He was then posted to the Arms Factory (Fabrique fédérale d'armes) in Bern, which led to his professional career in command of the Signal Corps and to the Fribourg Signal School, where he served as deputy technical assistant to the commander. In 1959 he was promoted to major and commanded the 15th Fusilier Battalion and soon became a member of the general staff of the 10th Fortress Brigade.

Shift to the watch industry

In the early 1960s, when Schneider was around 40 years old, his father-in-law, Theodore Sphaero, who was a watchmaker, passed away. This prompted him to take over the management of Sicura, a watch manufacturer based in Grange, Switzerland.

He served in the Swiss Army from the age of 20 and had been a career dedicated to the military, but he was able to lead Shikra with his experience as an engineer and his natural leadership skills. Shikra grew successfully as a company that offered watches reflecting the latest trends at affordable prices.
SICURA 1974 Advertisement

A Shikra advertisement from 1974. Around this time, Shikra made simple mechanical movements with digital displays popular.
Shikra 1975 pamphlet
According to a 1975 Shikra brochure, at the time the company had four assembly plants, one case manufacturing plant, and one jewelry factory.

The company had 450 employees and produced over one million watches per year.

They were able to increase production by building factories in areas with a surplus of labor.

At the time, most of the watches produced had mechanical movements, with some being electromechanical, but quartz movements were not yet available.

In 1977, Shikla's advertisements showed the company producing watches with quartz movements and LCD displays. Later, in the 1980s, Shikla introduced the Stunt Watch, a watch equipped with Shikla quartz movements.

Shikura Shikato

An advertisement for quartz watches from 1977. Sikara used the brand Sikato for its LCD display watches.

SICURA Solar Quartz

Released in 1977, this model is equipped with a solar-powered quartz movement and LCD display from Shikra. 

Overcoming the Quartz Shock

In the mid-1970s, when Japanese-made quartz watches began to appear in large numbers on the market, the traditional Swiss mechanical watch industry was dealt a major blow and the company's performance deteriorated.

So Schneider managed to survive this situation by producing their own quartz watches. The Stunt Watch produced at this time is known as a masterpiece.
Stuntwatch Shikra

A man named Ernest Schneider is credited with being the man who navigated the turbulence of the Quartz Shock of the 1970s better than anyone else.

He was skilled at quickly sensing what the public wanted and adopting it.

This includes not-so-expensive fashion watches, inexpensive watches with digital displays, colorful, multi-functional, large-diagram diver's watches, and quartz watches.

On the other hand, Schneider never gave up hope for the future of mechanical watches.

When he was offered the opportunity to acquire a traditional and prestigious mechanical watch brand, he must have realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The Rebirth of Breitling

In 1979, Breitling, a Geneva-based watch manufacturer, was in financial difficulty and on the verge of collapse.

So Schneider bought Breitling and tried to revive it.

His strategy was to take advantage of Breitling's brand power, especially its popularity among pilots.

In the wake of the quartz crisis of the 1970s, everyone was prepared for the demise of mechanical watches, but mechanical watches continued to grow steadily.

In the face of a growing shortage of mechanical watchmakers, Ernest Schneider made a bold decision: in 1980 he bought the La Chaux-de-Fonds-based company Querec.

The company was known as a manufacturer of complicated watches and employed highly skilled watchmakers. Kellec was later absorbed into Breitling.

After much trial and error, Schneider's new Breitling launched three products: the Chronomat, the Aerospace, and the Emergency.

Breitling Chronomat 44 Firecce Tricolore Ref. AB0110

Breitling Chronomat 44 Firecce Tricolore Ref. AB0110
Breitling Aerospace Avantage Ref.E79362

Breitling Aerospace Avantage Ref.E79362
Breitling Emergency Ref.E56311

Breitling Emergency Ref. E56311 [These products were the result of collaboration with the Italian Air Force aerobatic team, the Frecce Tricolori, because they provided technical and design advice.

Schneider has managed to breathe new life into Breitling by introducing new models.

On November 29, 1993, he closed the doors on the Shikra brand and Shikra merged with Breitling, changing its name to Breitling.

A bridge to the future

In 1994 Schneider settled in the south of France, not far from the military airfield of Salon-de-Provence, home to the French Air Force's aerobatic team.

Schneider, a pilot himself, wants to live there and be close to the team's famous formations and pilots, and be inspired by them.

Ernest Schneider

With his daughter and son-in-law at their home in the south of France, where he runs a successful wine and olive oil business, demonstrating his multifaceted business acumen. At the same time, his son Theodore Schneider gained experience in the watch industry and as a helicopter pilot, helping out his father.

Of course, his son continued the efforts to make Breitling a global brand.

Theodore himself developed his ideas and creations in the modern factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, which now produces its own movements, and today Theodore is CEO of Breitling.

A life of conviction and passion

Ernest Schneider's career is a perfect reflection of his extraordinary talent and entrepreneurial spirit.

Ernest Schneider
Schneider was also a pilot (he's wearing a Breitling hat in this relatively recent photo).

To succeed, he needed intuition and vision, but above all else, he needed firm conviction, courage to act, and the ability to express himself. I would like to pay my respects to this great man of the watch industry.