A TimeZone Interview with Jean-Claude Biver

CEO of Hublot SA

by Mike Margolis

Interview conducted April 2005
Jean-Claude Biver

MM:  Mike Margolis - TimeZone.com
JCB:  Jean-Claude Biver

MM:   Welcome to timezone.com, Mr. Biver! For those readers who are not familiar with you, can you please tell us a little bit about you, and your history in the watch world?

JCB:   In 1975 I went to the Vallée de Joux after having finished my degree in Business of the University of Lausanne. I went to the Vallée because I enjoyed the nature and the life style of this retired region of Switzerland close to Geneva. While living there in a wonderful farmhouse in which Louis Elysée Piguet, the famous watchmaker, used to produce its Minute Repeater and other complicated movements, I met a lot of the inhabitants of the Vallée and a lot of them where watchmakers. One of them was the grandson of Louis Elysée Piguet, Mr. Jacques Piguet who was running the movement factory Frederic Piguet.

I fell in love of his watch which was a skeleton ultra-slim watch and asked him if he would see any opportunity for me to join the watch making world. Thanks to his father Mr. Frederic Piguet I got the unique chance to meet Mr. Georges Golay, chairman and CEO of Audemars Piguet. A few days later I had a job at AP,and had the unbelievable and unique chance to be offered one full year of stage inside AP. I learned with the production manager how to make a watch, how to manage fine regulation, to learn with the Product Manager how to design a watch and with the Salesman how to sell watches. I got the infusion into my blood of the love of fine watches. I already had the love of the Vallée, and the love of it’s people, and now I had the love of their Art : “The Watch making Art” You see I really am one of the rare Managers to have received the full dimension of the Art of Watch making into my blood and into my heart.

I worked with passion at AP till end of 1979 when I started to have some frustrations because I was of the opinion I could do better if I had the full power and trust, which I did not have. Although my job as Sales-manger Europe was successful and well paid, I decided to join my brother and my friend Fritz Ammann to Omega. Omega was struggling and I got the responsibility of the Luxury Gold Division, from product development to sales. It was an incredible international experience, but my nostalgia from the very fine Watch making Art did stay and pushed my out of Omega end of 1981 in order to go back to my Vallée and join my old friend Jacques Piguet and buy the oldest brand in the world: Blancpain.

We bought Blancpain end of 1981 and started to develop the brand from zero in 1982 with the concept that we would never make a quartz watch, because we would stick and develop only and exclusively the traditional Watch making Art. As in the old days of watchmaker-master Louis Elysée Piguet. Some family problems lead both Mr.Piguet and myself to sell our brand to Mr. Hayek in 1992 who gave me the opportunity to join the Board of Directors of Swatch Group. I remained CEO of Blancpain till 2002 and undertook the restructuration together with Mr. Hayek of Omega. My input was mainly in the Product and Marketing field of Omega and even today we can see the influence of our input from 1993 to 2003.

In 2004 I took first a sabbatical year during which I tried to help my friend Franck Muller for a couple of weeks and in June of the same year I had my start with Hublot as Member of the Board and CEO of the fine and small watch brand Hublot.

MM:   Many watch aficionados credit you single handedly with saving the mechanical watch industry from the quartz movement. Can I get you to take some credit for that?

JCB:   Remember in 1980 the whole Swiss watch industry was orientated to develop and present in its collection Quartz watches. Even prestige brands like PP, AP, VC had in those days a proportion of 70% more or less quartz movements in their collection. The Swiss watch industry had it’s biggest crises and many watchmakers couldn’t find a decent job and as a consequence left the industry.

So when we came out in 1982 with the statement we had never made a quartz watch and that we would never make one, the statement made a lot of noise. The entire philosophy and concept of Blancpain was based on the revival of the traditional Art of Watch making. Even the old farmhouse, where Louis Elysée Piguet was born and lived, and the organization of the daily job of the watchmakers where faithfully inspired by the tradition. As soon as we were meeting the success, all the other brands started to reintroduce mechanical movements in their collections. The resurrection of mechanical watches was on track and we can admit and state today that myself through Blancpain was the drive or it.

MM:   After such a successful career with Blancpain, why did you leave there?

JCB:   I encountered some family problems and succumbed to them and sold the company. If it was a certain emotional loss for me, it was certainly not bad at all for Blancpain, because being member of Swatch Group gave to Blancpain an incredible access to the mechanical technology and enormous power in the distribution and organization.

MM:   Well, I do understand why you left, but after having had such success with Piguet and Blancpain, why Hublot? Mr. Crocco makes a nice watch, but it's not really known in the world of haut horloge so much as as it is with fashion people.

JCB:   Hublot as you say is a nice watch...But more than a watch I recognized in Hublot the incredible actuality and strength of it’s concept: the fusion of Watchmaking Art through a mono-product strategy. The link between tradition and vision. Not only, exclusively tradition (like Blancpain) and not only design or vision, but the fusion of tradition and future. I believe in this fusion not only in Watch making Art, but also in other fields. In fact I believe a tradition remains alive not only through its repetition, but much more through the contribution of the present and future.

So from today on we will work on the field of "Fusion" and I want to make Hublot the reference of "Fusion" in the Watch making Art. Can you believe how wonderful it will be to use the tradition and to marry it with our today’s and tomorrows visions, using all the means of today in order to transform the tradition and to improve and develop the tradition. That is and represent a real milestone for me in my career. I am very confident that every collector will in a certain number of years recognize our work and will also buy Hublot watches. By the way it has already started. For the first time we have many collectors wanting to buy our Big Bang. And we have many new outlets all over the world, which till recently never sold Hublot watches, that are now buying and selling our line.

MM:   We at timezone.com are very honored to host the first factory authorized watch forum with Hublot. Not only do we link to the www.hublot.ch website, but the www.hublot.ch website links to timezone.com as well, an industry first. Can you tell us, why timezone.com?

JCB:   Because Timezone is the best site for the collector and the watch freak. Those people are our future customers and we want them to be the first to understand our concept, our philosophy, our products and our "Fusion". I am personally honored to be able to talk to the Timezone people and I will answer as many questions as possible directly myself and I would like for every new “Fusion” in the watch making Art, inform and advise first our Timezone privileged customers.

MM:   A traditional closing to every timezone.com watch interview always ends with the same question...Can you please tell us what watch you're wearing today?

JCB:   I am wearing the first Big Bang in steel and Kevlar and rubber with a beautiful finished Jaquet chronograph tri-comp ax movement, with a Hublot styled rotor. A watch that is powerful, strong, different, and were you discover the longer you wear it its hidden secrets of details which we tried and succeeded to master. As a sport-watch and fusion-watch I believe that this Big Bang will make all the sports-watches from today look different and that Big Bang is the first masterpiece of a new generation of watches.

MM:   Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

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All photographs provided by Hublot

Copyright 2005, Mike Margolis
All Rights Reserved