Father and Son

While it worked as a song title for Cat Stevens, will the paternal dynamic spell success for giant of watchmaking Jean-Claude Biver? According to him and son Pierre, it will, and it is – and it’s better than ever before.

When Jean-Claude Biver announced the launch of his own self-titled watch brand earlier this year, the news was delightful — if unsurprising. The latest in a madcap line of watchmaking adventures, the advent of the JC Biver maison seemed like a fitting epilogue for an epic career of horological thrills and spills. A key figure in the resurgence of post-quartz crisis mechanical watchmaking, his purchase and revival of Blancpain in the 1980s, along with the transformation of Omega, Hublot and Tag Heuer and eventual role as head of the watchmaking and jewellery division at LVMH, cemented his legacy as an horological and marketing great. Did we really believe that the Luxembourg-born septuagenarian’s 2018 retirement would last? There were certainly doubts. But did we think his comeback would be in partnership with his 22-year-old son Pierre? Well, that was a surprise.
Changing the brand name to simply ‘Biver’ shortly after the new venture’s announcement, it seems like Jean-Claude’s marketing juices are still pumping — taking the focus off himself and redirecting it back to the family name, Jean-Claude is as shrewd as ever. And as for the watchmaking? Taking a traditional approach in all respects — Biver timepieces are only available for purchase at brick-and-mortar locations — these extravagantly-priced timepieces are a love letter to all that was and continues to be good and pure in Jean-Claude’s career. Coming straight out of the corner swinging, the brand’s first watch — the 42mm Carillon Tourbillon Biver — has hours, minutes, tourbillon, carillon minute repeater and micro-rotor all powered by the proprietary automatic Calibre JCB-001, a combination of some of horology’s most daring feats. And as for the cool CHF350,000 (almost Dhs 1.5 million) needed to buy one? While some have criticised Biver’s établisseur approach, sourcing parts from partners rather than producing everything in-house, the man himself has stressed that it’s a smart way to work, allowing more agility and experimentation.
While for those in the watch industry Jean-Claude Biver seems to be eternal, his own thoughts have certainly turned to the legacy he leaves behind. GMT GCC spoke to both father and son to understand more about their dynamic — and what we can expect more of in the future.

JCB and Pierre Biver

GMT GCC: First of all – how are things going at Biver headquarters? Is everything moving forward as planned?
Jean-Claude Biver: We have to admit that everything we have done was planned very carefully, and that today we are more or less where we should be. In other words, we are quite pleased with the current situation, which enabled us to deliver the first watches in mid September.

Let’s talk family. Biver is a family business in every sense. What makes your father-son partnership work?
JCB: The most important factor of your success is certainly the complementary feeling and perception of our business. Thanks to the young age of Pierre we have the vision of the future and thanks to my experience we also get the perception of the past. Once you understand the future and also the past, you are not so far away from a successful concept

Pierre — how aware were you of the world of horology in your childhood and teen years?
Pierre Biver: First of all, I was born into the watchmaking industry, so I’ve been aware of it all my life. For me, it’s something very instinctive and natural, so much so that, in my teens, I wanted to detach myself from the industry and watches, as it didn’t seem very exciting. Ultimately, it was as I grew up and matured that I realised just how much watchmaking had to offer someone passionate about beautiful things; so finally when the time came to go into watchmaking I realised how lucky I was to have my father to find me opportunities and for what he had been able to pass on to me, his knowledge, during my youth.

How did you feel about your father’s calling at that point?
PB: I was extremely excited by this challenge and very quickly, when the excitement wore off, I felt the gravity and weight, the responsibility of such a project.

When did watchmaking begin to call to you?
PB: In my late teens. When I passed my maturité fédérale, my father gave me a Blancpain watch from that time, the day before the exam, and said: “Here, I’m giving you this watch to congratulate you on passing your exams.” Imagine the pressure. I was still very young, and I was rather interested in ‘fashion’ watchmaking, or watchmaking for a look. Suddenly, I had a 38mm white gold watch with a white dial and a manual calendar in my hands, and that’s when I realised the beauty and timelessness that’s only found in traditional watchmaking.

Jean-Claude — how is it to work day-in, day-out with your son? Have you always been close or has this experience brought you closer together? How is working with your child different from other types of colleagues? Does he give you a sense of pride?
JCB: It’s just a wonderful experience with a lot of action and also a lot of emotion. I feel so privileged to be able to learn the future thanks to my son Pierre. I even believe that the combination of past and future gives us a unique interpretation of our business concept.

Horological families have typically done very well in business — from the Stern, Audemars Piguet and Hayek dynasties, to brother-sister combo the Scheufeles, right down to young brands such as Maurice de Mauriac in Zurich with its Dreifuss brothers dynamic. Why is this such a winning combination in watchmaking? Is it to do with Swiss watchmaking culture — family businesses are often a complex beast in other parts of the world. Or is there another reason why watchmaking families just seem to work?
JCB: Watchmaking is still a small, but also very prestigious, business compared to most businesses. When you think that the annual revenue of the Swiss watch industry is close to US$40 billion each year, whereas the revenue of Apple alone was close to US$400 billion in 2022… The majority of the revenue of the Swiss watch industry is done thanks to less than 20 brands of which the five biggest ones are still in private hands.

Pierre — does it feel like a big responsibility to be playing such a key role in ensuring your father’s legend and legacy is secure? Or are you too busy having fun with it to feel such a pressure?
PB: Of course I feel enormous pressure and responsibility, even more so because I have so much respect for my father’s career and success. However, I’ve managed to turn that into motivation and find pleasure in trying to take his legacy to the next level.

Jean-Claude — how does it feel to be passing your knowledge on to the next generation?
JCB: To be passing over my knowledge in general and even more in particular to my son is not only my first priority, it’s my biggest responsibility, biggest motivation and biggest privilege.

Finally — the Carillon Tourbillon Biver is a masterpiece and truly a watch for the appreciation of watchmakers. What more do you have in store for us? Anything you can let us in on?
JCB: Our brand has a very clear ‘innovative concept’ and a very ambitious 10 year plan, in order to become one of the leaders of fine independent Swiss watchmaking brands.