Ever since it was announced just about a year ago that the legendary Jean-Claude Biver and his son Pierre were planning to launch the eponymous Biver watch brand, the watch collecting world has been chomping at the bit. I’ve been writing about watches for a long time, which gives me some unique insights into the watch world and into the people in this world. Easily one of my favorite people, and most likely the favorite of everyone who has met him and spent any time with him, is Jean-Claude Biver. A true legend, Biver has led many successes over the years and is credited with bringing certain brands, like Hublot and Blancpain, to iconic status.
Having battled cancer and a bad accident that had him laid up for months, having regularly led his cows up and down the mountains to make some of the most incredible cheese you will ever eat, and having built not only top-notch brand successes, but also an international following, the 74-year-old Jean-Claude Biver is still not ready to sit back and enjoy.
Prior to the recent Watches & Wonders Geneva exhibition, Jean-Claude and his now 23-year-old son Pierre launched a new line of watches designed to reflect the sound of time. Because I was in Geneva for the exhibition, and because I have known Jean-Claude Biver for nearly 40 years, I was one of a select international group of journalists invited to his workshops for the initial unveiling. Later in the week, we met again, so I could get a closer look at the watches and to better understand this next chapter in his life. I have also met and interviewed Pierre Biver before, but seeing the two of them together on stage during the unveiling was truly amazing. The power of the energy between them, the excitement and the genuine love for one another and for the brand they were launching came through magnificently.
The first edition of what are destined to be true collector watches: The Carillon Tourbillon Biver. Retailing for $550,000 and housing a complex three-hammer minute repeater, titanium-caged tourbillon and micro-rotor the three initial versions underscore Biver’s long love affair with the chiming watch and with his desire to endow a timepiece with soul.
“What I would like to bring to the world of watchmaking is soul. I want our brand to deal not only with watchmaking technology, but also with the art of watchmaking. The art of watchmaking, like any art, has a soul within it and this soul was transmitted to the object by the artist,” said Jean-Claude Biver. Later, during a private interview, adding “A watch is emotional, a watch is spiritual, a watch has a soul it carries with it and this is what we are doing here, we’re giving birth to the soul of the watch.”
When someone like the 74-year-old Jean-Claude Biver, who has almost 50 years invested in the watch industry, launches a timepiece, everyone takes note. Among the guests in attendance at the farmhouse and workshops: a host of CEO’s from brands like MB&, H. Moser & Cie. and even Kari Voutilainen. In fact, the attendee list read like a virtual Who’s Who in watchmaking – underscoring the deep respect the industry has for Biver.
Without having a manufacture, the Bivers naturally turned to the best specialists in the industry to build their watches. From dial makers to makers of hands, cases, bracelets and more, the new watches took shape – morphing from Biver’s mind to reality.
Jean-Claude Biver has always had a love of minute repeaters that chime the time – noting the hours, quarter hours and minutes with hammers that hit a gong using different pitches and tones. But the traditional two hammers was not enough for a Biver watch. Three hammers are employed in this complicated watch to accomplish the best possible sound. In fact, the automatic caliber, JCB-001, created with Cercle des Horlogere, is wound by a meticulously decorated micro-rotor, consists of 374 individual components and 44 rubies.
The 42mm watches are offered in titanium or in rose gold, or in a combined rose gold and titanium version. The cases are made by EFTEOR and each watch has something uniquely special about it that goes beyond the sound and complexity of the watch. The dials (by LM cadran) are wafer-thin slabs of genuine stone – no easy feat to accomplish but necessary in order to render each unique. For the gray version, Biver turns to silver obsidian (said to offer comfort, dynamism and optimism) and for blue, the brand uses Sodalite (said to impart courage and confidence as well as having a protective aspect).
“We chose these stones for their spiritual attributes, for the energy they radiate,” says Pierre Biver. “It’s also a way to reconnect with the energy of the Earth. We also opted for a tourbillon with a titanium cage, which makes it lighter but also more challenging to decorate, as well as modern bridges; and to power the watch we have a micro-rotor.”
The watches are finished with a specially made five-row link bracelet that is super supple and catches the light just right with every move of the wrist. The bracelets are created by UM2 while the deployant clasp is by Chatelain. Adding to the desirability of the watches, they are highly wearable thanks to a water resistance of 50 meters. Each watch carriers the JCB Seal, which connotes the highest standards of finish in artisanal watchmaking.
Biver Watches is a journey that not only bonds father and son, and not only cements Biver’s name further in watch history books, but also gives all of us faith, and hope that we can keep our passions alive. When I spoke with Jean-Claude about this new venture at the age of 74, he remarked, “You cannot retire from your passion.”
As usual, he inspired me. In fact, I know that that I will never retire from my passion. Expect to see more writing from me — not necessarily always on watches.
(Portions of this article by Roberta Naas first appeared on her column on Forbes.com.)