With a history dating back to 1822, Swiss watchmaking House BOVET has almost 200 years of history.
Known originally for its pocket watches, the house has built a reputation on creativity and attention to detail using unique and artistic techniques to create highly complicated watches that are different to anything else on the market. Highly skilled artisans work meticulously with engraving, miniature painting, enamelling and many more painstaking techniques to ensure every watch reaches the standards of excellence and luxury that this house is about. BOVET produces its watches in small quantities to maintain absolute exclusivity for its collectors.
When Edouard Bovet founded the house in 1822, it was originally for the purpose of manufacturing pocket watches exclusively for the Chinese market. Yet after the great success in China, BOVET looked to the rest of the world and began manufacturing highly skilled timepieces, until 1939 when the house stopped producing for a while. Then in 2001 BOVET had a revival after businessman Pascal Raffy acquired it. Raffy, a fond watch collector himself and a proud owner of an exclusive collection of original BOVET pocket watches, vowed to bring the brand back to life. He purchased the stunning castle of Môtiers where he installed the BOVET assembly workshops and began creating timepieces once again. Today, Mr Raffy has a team of the finest artisans who continuously push the barriers of innovation while respecting the tradition and heritage of the house. Every timepiece is made under his guidance with passion and the most incredible attention to detail, making them exclusive and unique. Here we discuss with Mr Raffy the future of BOVET and the latest novelties.
What can you tell us about the strategy of BOVET moving forward after this period of crisis?
I think in every bad moment you have to find optimism. As the captain of the boat, you have to give positivity to people when looking to the future. I think what we did at BOVET during the period of confinement has brought us all together even with the physical distance of being at home. It has tightened the relationships between our team and we have discovered that some people have become even more talented and stronger in their personalities. Some have handled the situation better than others but this can be expected. I see everyone that is a part of BOVET as an extended family and I have discovered a beautiful relationship with all of them. It’s not ideal to be talking through screens, but at least we have all stayed in touch and we have stayed occupied. We have had the time to discover in our statistics from the last five years a lot of joy and we have realised how much we need to thank our artisans and watchmakers for everything they do.
We were supposed to present five big novelties this year and when the crisis hit we decided one month ago not to disclose anything for a while. But now in Switzerland, things are starting to move forward again slowly, so we have made the decision, to start unveiling two of the big novelties in June and this will surely please our artisans, partners and clients. Then we will see how things are for the three other launches and perhaps these will be disclosed around September, all being well with the situation.
Can you tell us anything about the upcoming novelties?
Last year we presented the Dimier Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One, this was a watch I first had the idea for in 2015. Then last year I said to myself, I would love to have transparency on a precision Moonphase, that you have to adjust only every 121 years and I wanted an extension of the Brainstorm Chapter One with the Brainstorm Chapter Two in a very sustainable and logical way, so we came up with the bright idea to have a GMT on a beautiful domed presentation with a precision Moonphase, a gorgeous blue/green dial and a hand-engraved movement. All parts of the movement, from all sides, are hand-engraved by our talented engravers and it makes the timepiece balance. It comes with a flying tourbillon with a magnificent display of a beautiful power reserve, which we have inserted at noon and it can be seen through the sapphire case.
We always have the pressure when we are creating a timepiece that until it is ready we don’t know how it’s going to look, but we are very satisfied with this one as it is beautiful. This watch is a logical move for us in the brainstorm chapter.
How is BOVET connecting with its clients during the lockdown period and what do you think they will be looking for from a watchmaker when this crisis is over?
I think the quality and loyalty we have first of all with our partners and distributors, including in the Middle East is really important. When you see the reactions of support and close relationships and mutual affection with have with our partners it absolutely helps at a time like this. For the collectors, of course, we don’t have the same ease of being able to travel, but we keep in touch with them and our partners enable us to do this. We have been sharing a lot about the timepieces including collections that we’ve had for a few years as well as answering questions on when they will discover the next step. Of course, we are all waiting for the moment when we can safely travel so we can meet again.
To answer the second part of your question, I have been saying for twenty years that tradition is not old-fashioned, values are important, making watches in small quantities with human manpower, and using artisans and sincerity in the timepieces you present. I hope that after this, all of these true values of life that I’ve been talking about for a long time will be at the forefront of people’s minds. I think we will see people wanting exclusivity and going back to what is real and authentic. They will want things with substance, good taste, and where you feel the human touch, and get more than what you pay for. I hope that we will go back to these true values.
What does BOVET do to offer an experience to its customers?
The first and most important thing is service. I have always said when you go to a luxury store it’s all about service. It is the smile, the welcome, and the transparency. Our collectors have seen a lot and they have the education and knowledge of our watches. So when you compare prices in the market and you take a magnifying glass and look very closely at the details of our watches, I think you’ll smile to know that the extent of finishing that we have at BOVET for the same price range of other offerings that are of course very much respectable, but I think we push things a step further with the detail in our timepieces.
I have always said that I want my collectors to be as pleased as I would be if I was buying a timepiece for myself. So when we talk about ourselves, we want the best and that is why at BOVET we want to give our collectors something that they deserve.
In two years you will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the brand – what does having that much history mean for BOVET and how do you go about celebrating something like that?
For our 200th anniversary in 2022, we would love to have a big celebration. If everything goes well and there are no more catastrophes. When I look to the pocket watch timepieces of BOVET in my collection as I clean them every morning, they are still a huge inspiration for finishing and materials. I say to myself; ‘this house has been logical all through the years on decorative arts, using these skills to decorate a dial, a movement, a case, and it still has the ability to innovate.’ We are proud that we have not betrayed in any way, the soul of the House. We did not change direction because of fashion or trends. That doesn’t mean we can’t innovate; we have created 16 patents over the last ten years, but we still have that backbone of our DNA. If you see a BOVET timepiece of five years ago or one from today, you know immediately it’s a BOVET timepiece. The standard of excellence hasn’t changed. So we are very proud of this and our artisans are of course the first people who should be rewarded for this.
In your opinion what is the secret recipe for balancing heritage vs innovation?
From our point of view, I think the timepieces of BOVET are a continuation of our way of living. I’m sitting here in our fantastic castle and the nature that surrounds us is an absolute inspiration for colours. I am so inspired by trees, leaves and flowers but at the same time, with our materials that we innovate. We have 16 patents that are all about true engineering. If you take the Brainstorm case, for example, it has a very complicated shape, so polishing the sapphire is a very difficult process and also its the same to polish the Convex Bezel so we need to be able to go a step further by innovating but at the same time remain true to the traditions of the house. When you get the right balance between the two, that’s when it becomes poetry and emotion.
How do you ensure that the techniques used by the artisans at BOVET are passed down onto the younger generations?
Every day we have a new discovery at BOVET and it’s a joy. You have to invest in the youth who will absolutely open their talents within two or three years. We have to give them time, you should never put any pressure on an artisan, and they need the time to excel in their art. It’s very interesting to see these two schools of life – the experienced ones and the new ones – working alongside each other – it’s amazing. We have some young artisans, who are less than 30 years old, but if you see the way they engrave; it is pure talent. And of course, they love what they are doing and I always tell them if they have any new ideas to feel comfortable sharing them. For example, in the Brainstorm Chapter Two, when you see the movement from all the sides through the sapphire case – this was an idea of one of the young ladies who came to me and said ‘Mr Raffy, can I engrave so it looks like snow?’ So we tried it, she took her time and of course when we saw it, it was beautiful. It’s very delicate and so difficult to do. So with the younger generations, it’s all about time and patience.
In your own words, what makes BOVET Unique?
Uniqueness is related to luxury. For me, a luxury house must first of all have a very clear identity and I think that’s what we have, you can identify our watches as BOVET timepieces. Then there is the human aspect – everything is done by hand and must be done in small quantities – otherwise, it’s no longer luxury. Luxury for me means very rare. These are all the qualities BOVET possesses that make us unique.
Where does the Middle East fit into the strategy of BOVET and going forward what can we expect to see from the brand in the region?
I have to tell you I am delighted with our progress in the Middle East and I cannot thank our partners at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons enough. Without our partners we are nothing, they are the continuation of our brand and they are in tune with the values of the House when it comes to respect and tradition. What I love about the Middle East is the ability for surprise. If you present something valuable and take the time to explain the details I see curiosity and I love that. It’s also about the culture. For me, to be close to the partners and the collectors in the Middle East is a true asset and we are very lucky. I was in Dubai in January with my team and I cannot forget the treatment we received. I have very good memories.
What is there still to achieve with BOVET that you haven’t done yet?
So many things! I think my aim since day one 20 years ago has been to consolidate a true watchmaking house with true values and transmit to my children and my extended family of artisans with the same good spirit, education and talent. It’s always that quest of sustainability in the collections, not compromising on the finishing, quality, service and every morning we find a new idea to enhance what we’re already doing. Every day is a new beautiful challenge. This period, in particular, is so challenging for all of us but I think we know that the way we do things with fine artisans and true watchmaking is the way it should be done. We have to be patient at the moment while so many people are suffering, but step by step we will all recover and get back to normality.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the watch industry is facing today?
What is happening affects every industry around the globe. Everyone will face the same challenges at different scales of course, but it will be the same challenges for everyone. It is a serious situation that’s all about anticipation; patience and you have to be solid. I wouldn’t like to judge other houses, but you hear that the absolute majority of watch houses are feeling the situation seriously. Humankind has been set back to the real values of life and the economy has stopped for a moment and now it’s about learning step-by-step and hoping that these true values will take over because it’s a good lesson for humanity.
What’s the motto that you’re living by during this time?
It has always been the same; looking after my family. I love to work in nature in the mountains and that’s my balance of life, but my family, my children, my artisans are the most important. It was very natural for me to respect their privacy during this time but I tell everyone that if they need anything or want to talk they know I’m here for them. It’s my duty to do so. I love my balance of life, thanks to the people around me.
How would you describe BOVET in one word?
Uniqueness. Uniqueness in the offering, authenticity, quality and loyalty.