As one of the watch industry’s most successful icons Jean Claude Biver is until today an inspiration to many other leaders, working with some of the world’s most established brands.
With a career spanning five decades, he has become a legacy in the industry and is renowned for turning brands around and putting his unique outlook on some of the world’s most successful watchmakers. Throughout his career, he has worked on the board of Directors at Swatch Group, as CEO of Hublot, CEO of TAG Heuer, and as Head of Watches and Jewellery at the LVMH Watch Group, producing impressive turnarounds and results at all. His experience spanning over five decades has given him a unique outlook on the industry and has taught him many lessons. In 2019 at the age of 70, Jean Claude Biver announced his retirement from the industry, but there was always this feeling amongst his colleagues and watch collectors that it wouldn’t be the end of his professional journey for him.
Then, earlier this year at Watches & Wonders Jean Claude announced along with his son and now partner, Pierre, the launch of Biver Watches. An ultra-high-end exclusive watch brand that brings together all his knowledge and experience, as well as the youthful influence of his 23-year-old son. Biver has called upon the best experts in each field of watchmaking to create museum-quality timepieces that will meet the needs of those customers looking for something unique and exclusive. As the brand reveals the first novelties in the collection, we had the honour of talking with Mr Biver to find out more about the brand and how he is transferring his wealth of knowledge and success to his son.
You are a legacy in the industry and an inspiration to many others – why did it take until now to launch this?
Why did it take 50 years?! That’s a good question! I started in 1973 as a young employee at Audemars Piguet and I stayed there until 1979. Then I joined Omega in the product development department. In 1981, I acquired the brand Blancpain, which was at that time, a dormant brand. From 1982 onwards I redeveloped Blancpain from nothing. When myself and my partner purchased it, nothing existed anymore – the factory had been sold, the furniture was sold, and there was no stock – we only bought the name, and it was only registered in Switzerland and that’s how we acquired it at such a low price. Then in 1992, after ten years I sold the brand and joined Swatch Group, where I stayed for ten years. In 2003 I had the opportunity to buy a stake in the shares of Hublot and I developed this brand from 2003 to 2019. And in 2019, when I was 70 years old, I thought it was time to retire. That was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made because, at that point, I was not aware that you cannot retire from a passion. The Passion or love for what you do is stronger than anything and if you try to separate from it, it’s like retiring from life, and nobody wants to do that!
So, I realised that this was the time for me to start again and do something that I have always dreamt of; to create a very small, exclusive, extremely high-quality brand. Similar to what I did with Blancpain at the beginning, but this time I didn’t want to do it alone, I wanted to work on it with my son. And I wanted to share my knowledge, my mistakes, and my success with him and that would give me additional motivation. It is a privilege for me to be able to transfer my passion to him and it gives a very important meaning to what I’m doing now.
What is one of the biggest lessons you have learnt along the way?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is to always come back from setbacks. In life, there is always another success in the horizon, but you need to focus on that and move away from the defeat to use it as something that will enable you to move to the next step.
What do you think Biver Watches is bringing to the industry that is not already out there?
The foremost element is the extraordinary quality that exists in the invisible parts of the watch. With ninety per cent of watches today, there is a focus on perfecting the elements you can see, to have all these parts in the best finishes possible. But the elements you cannot see don’t have as much attention and on the contrary, I believe that to be a truly luxury product that respects the art, even what you cannot see should be decorated as if you can see it. And that’s what makes it art. And so, all of the parts in our watches even the invisible parts will be designed as though they are visible.
How was the feedback at Watches & Wonders?
The feedback in general was excellent, but you must always be careful of the feedback you receive. Everything I hear is very positive because nobody dares to tell me the truth or criticise me because of who I am! So, people are being in general very positive. Nevertheless, because I have the experience, I take the positive elements with a lot of attention and care. But what I must say is that people were impressed by the concept of mastering the invisible. All our screws are black polished, even if you cannot see them. We need forty minutes to assemble each screw. We have 70 screws in each watch, and each screw needs 17 additional minutes to be black polished, this is what made people say “Wow”. It’s something that’s never been seen before and it’s very special. Only a few brands can afford to work in this way.
I need to add that you also don’t see the soul of a watch, but the soul is there. If you master a project that’s of the highest quality possible, it creates perfection, it gives the watch a soul, and if you have that, you cannot go wrong. I am only interested in perfection, whatever the price. Long after the price is forgotten, quality remains.
How would you assess the watchmaking industry today?
The watchmaking industry is going through a big evolution because slowly people are discovering small artisans and brands and they are discovering that small is beautiful. People are questioning what real art is and what is marketing! They are slowly becoming more aware and looking for real art and real brands and that is something I believe we are seeing happen before our eyes. There is a high demand, but the higher demand, the more people will be saying they want something different or unique. This is a trend that is taking over at the moment, and it is what we want to tap into with our brand. We want to be a brand that creates art, that makes special pieces. We want our clients to be able to come and talk to me, we can go to them if they want to buy a watch, they don’t even need to go to a shop. We are working on human relations and offering personalised services and I think people are hungry for this.
How is it working with your son and how do you complement each other when you’re working together?
We complement each other thanks to the difference in age and experience. My son is 23 years old, and I am now 74. That means I must learn from him. I need to learn from the younger generation, I already know how people of my generation think, so what should I learn from them? But from the young generation, I believe I can learn a lot about their tastes, their philosophy, how they behave, and what they want – the young generation is our future, and I cannot live in only the past. Because now we’re together every day, I am influenced by my son, I learn from him, and he learns from me, so I think it’s the perfect coupling. He brings the knowledge of my new generation and if I combine that with my knowledge then you are complete. Once you master the past and the future there are no limits to what you can do.
What is a lesson you would like to transmit to your son?
The most important element that I want to teach him is to be honest, true and to always respect nature, yourself, your friends, and your family and even to respect your enemies. Respect is the biggest sign of love you can give. The second thing I want to teach him is not to worry about mistakes. You must always turn mistakes into positives. Always forgive and never accuse someone else of causing your mistakes. You can only learn if you make mistakes. And the third lesson I’m giving him is to share. These are the essential elements of life, and your life cannot be fulfilled if you don’t follow them.
What is a message you would send to your fans and customers in the Middle East?
The message I want to tell them is the great feeling I always get when I arrive in the Middle East and that’s the feeling of light and happiness from the people. That’s the reason I love the region, the light, the smell, the food, and the people, I just love it!