It was the kind of party you’d fantasise about attending when you’re young—and then you grow up and realise you’re unlikely to ever rub shoulders with Brad Pitt at a black-tie event. When Breitling sent me an invitation to a lavish gala where one of the most desired male movie stars of the past three decades would be present, my inner teenager let out a scream of delight—and my adult self wasn’t far behind.
So it was with great excitement that I joined a crowd of 500 high-society watch fanciers late last year at Beijing’s breathtaking Phoenix Centre as Breitling—a Swiss watch manufacturer known for its prestigious, high-performance timepieces—announced its presence in China.
The centre, already famous around the globe for its sweeping exterior and dramatic all-glass interior, looked particularly spectacular that night, lit entirely in Breitling blue and decorated to represent the sea, air and land. It had an almost other-worldly aura.
Actor Daniel Wu arrived looking dashing, along with surfer Sally Fitzgibbons and photographer and filmmaker Peter Lindbergh, joining myriad personalities from the worlds of fashion, high society, sport, music and film, including Japanese designer Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi and actors Shin Se-kyung, Qi Wei and Li Zonghan.
Glamorous as they all were, nobody could upstage Brad Pitt. Tall, blond and absurdly handsome, he looked as magnetic in the flesh as he does on the big screen. And when it was my turn to interview him—and sneak in a selfie—I found myself uncharacteristically star-struck, so much so that my quivering finger meant Peter Lindbergh had to take our photo.
Pitt chatted easily about his love for Breitling and his life-long obsession with watches. “The first luxury watch I ever bought was a Breitling,” he said in that lazy drawl we know so well. “I was 26 and had been in the business for a few years. I didn’t have a car yet. I felt like Breitling matched me at the time because I like technical things like precision instruments.”
We discussed the allure of watches and why, for so many men, they are an essential tool for self-expression. “I do like a watch very much,” says Pitt. “I guess it’s a man’s only expression, or jewellery, so to speak. It’s the only thing a man really adorns himself with. And something about a watch, it’s not just decoration, it’s a tool. Finely made watches like these just have a gravitas to them—they feel damn good on your arm.”
At the gala, Breitling took the opportunity to introduce the watches in the new Premier family, which highlights the brand’s connection to the environment. Breitling is known for its links to the air and the sea, having played an important role in aeronautical and naval warfare for the Allies in the 1940s.
As well as showing its new collection, Breitling also introduced two pilot’s watches to be launched this year, both of which commemorate the legendary single-engine Curtiss P-40 Warhawk plane. Incredibly, a nonagenarian who had flown the fighter during World War II was also in attendance.
“I like a sense of history—something retro, as I think the trendy word is,” says Pitt. “Something that calls back to its history but also speaks to the moment and maybe the future. I think the Premier collection does that very successfully, because it originally started in the ’40s. It’s still technical like all of Breitling’s stuff, but there’s this other classy elegant-ness to it that wasn’t there before.”
Pitt greeted Daniel Wu and Peter Lindbergh like old friends. The trio had worked together on Breitling’s 360° #squadonamission campaign last year, a collaboration during which Pitt had recognised similarities between their careers, watchmaking and his new incarnation as a movie producer.
“What I love about what we do is that we get to tell stories,” says Pitt. “As an actor you’re telling a story, as a director you’re telling a story, as a photographer you’re telling a story. To produce is putting those elements together to tell that story. So it just felt like a really natural extension of what we do.”
Like Breitling, though, Pitt’s real passion lies with the environment and the future of the planet, and once we touch upon sustainability the conversation becomes more serious.
“We must lead the way towards a more sustainable way of thinking, building and living,” he says. “We all have things we’re moved by in our own lives and the simple math is that if each and every one of us just took better care of the people around us—the people we’re in contact with every day—the world would be a much better place.”
And with that, he returned to the party, lifting all our spirits with his dazzling Hollywood glow.
This story first appeared on Hong Kong Tatler.