A Watch By Any Other Name…
Horological heavyweight Jean-Claude Biver reveals why he came out of retirement to launch his eponymous brand with son Pierre.
When I was younger, I wanted to leave the watch world as fast as I could.” So states Pierre Biver—yes, that Biver—over tea in his large familial suite at Geneva’s famed, waterside Four Seasons Hotel. “But it ended up being something that was inside me. It’s like a second nature to me. So eventually I ended up in the watch industry.”
More than that, Pierre has this year debuted an eponymous brand with his father, the irrefutable and acclaimed horological disruptor, Jean-Claude Biver.
The same Jean-Claude Biver, who after 49 years in the business and a feted path of achievement across brands such as Blancpain and Hublot, announced his retirement in 2019. “He had spoken to me about wanting to do a brand,” offers Pierre, as his father enters the lounge room. “And I wanted to hop on that adventure with him, to learn from him with the experience, and work on products. And here we are today.”
As for the alleged retiree, who when we last spoke was set on a quiet life as a cheesemaker: “My passion, watches, was also my job,” says Jean-Claude. “So everything, my life, getting up at five o’clock in the morning, or eight o’clock in the morning, travelling, or holidays, my passion was constantly with me, and suddenly I said, ‘Passion, please, I retire. You go away.’ And it was not possible to do that. I didn’t realise during the first three, four months—I was happy, holiday, travelling, blah, blah, blah. And suddenly it’s like if you play golf every day, after 10 days you want to do something else. And after a few months I said, ‘Fuck, I need my passion again. But I didn’t want to go back to my previous job, to my previous employees. And I said, ‘What else?’”
He and his son initially looked at buying a brand. “At a certain moment I said to Pierre, ‘If we buy this or this brand, the awareness of those brands is close to 0.1.’ We would have to spend a lot of money on that. So maybe we should take my name. We saved the money, and the money we saved we invested in the production facilities. And that’s how we came to make our own brand.”
It was in March that the Biver brand was launched, just days ahead of this year’s Watches and Wonders, at an intimate gathering of key watch figures held at the family farm-cum-workshop.
The debut is the Carillon Tourbillon Biver, a striking 42 mm piece (approx. $822,000) that brings together a tourbillon and minute repeater, using the JCB-001 movement with a power reserve of 72 hours. It’s offered in titanium or rose gold, or in a combined rose gold and titanium outing. The complexity here runs from the unique stones used in the dials—silver obsidian and sodalite—through to a three-hammer minute repeater and beyond. At a Genevan watch auction in May, the piece’s prototype sold for approx. $2.09 million.
Pierre, like his father, speaks with a firm passion about the Biver brand and watchmaking more broadly. “I love the magic. The mechanics. The aesthetics. For me, watches are great when they are able to transport you, transport you into another persona, another country, another climate. If it’s rainy outside like it is in Geneva these days, you wear a nice full rose gold Nautilus and suddenly you’re in the Caribbean. That’s my pursuit in terms of watchmaking. I pursue to find and to have experiences through the watches.”
And what did he learn about his father while working side-by-side? “He has this extravagant character, a man who can scream ideas off the top of his head and make them happen the next day and all of that. But, in fact, he’s actually very different at work, and behind the scenes, everything is thought through, everything is planned, he’s like a chess player. And that’s really impressive to see, because it’s not the image you get from the outside.”
As for this brand cementing Jean-Claude’s ultimate legacy? “If I can stop my career, or even my life, at that state, I think I will have succeeded,” says the Big Man. “My success will depend now on how we are developing my own brand. So now we are linked. I was linked with passion. I’m again linked with passion, plus linked with the brand. So finally I am more linked than ever…”
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