The news broke out about a month ago as he was speaking on RTS. Jean-Claude Biver is about to launch his “small family brand, for passionate people, and very exclusive watches.” The 72 years old man stepped down from the head of the LVMH Watch Division in September 2018. Millions of people look forward to retirement, not Jean-Claude Biver. There is no finish line for people like JCB… One of the most prominent figures in the watch industry, his 50-year career brought him from Audemars Piguet to Blancpain, Omega, Hublot and more recently to TAG Heuer and LVMH. The Geneva watch week was the perfect opportunity to meet him and his son Pierre to discuss their plans regarding JC Biver Watches.
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME Watches – Why are you launching JC Biver Watches, a new high-end independent watchmaking brand?
Jean-Claude Biver – Like all projects there is not one single reason why. The first one is that you cannot retire from a passion. To retire at 70 is not possible for me. This is not something for an entrepreneur. You retire from a job, not from a passion. The second reason is that my son is just as passionate about watches as I am, and this is a unique possibility to pass over this passion, everything that I have learned. Last, developing a brand is like being the head of a family. It’s something that keeps me alive, the responsibility that goes with it has a meaning.
All this explains why we are launching this project. If Pierre had told me “I want to come a doctor,” there are chances I would have never gone into this project.
You have managed brands with different positioning. What about this new brand JC Biver Watches?
Well, this is the ultimate positioning. The 5 brands I have managed gave me the will to always aim higher. It is just like for sports, you aim for the best! I like the idea that the invisible, these invisible details are at the core of the project. I have often worked with brands where the visibility was the way to stand out from the crowd. With high-end luxury, it is about the invisible, the hidden parts of the components, those that are never visible, that needs to be perfect. This is supreme luxury. What the client never sees. But of one day you have the chance to open the watch, you realize everything is finished to the max. For me, it is the idea to end up my career to a climax. This is something that I was missing.
Shall we expect a perfectly finished three-hander or complicated watches?
Both, the finishing of an extra-flat three-hander must be on par with that of an ultra-complex minute repeater. There are no differences. This is a matter of philosophy.
Will you present several products at the same time?
We will go step by step. We cannot come with a full range of watches right away. This requires years of work. So we will present one product after the other.
How will you organize with regards to development and production?
We are going to set up a mixed structure. Some things will be managed in-house, others will be managed with partners. Somethings that will be managed with partners in the short term will not in the future. Others not. But working with partners is an enriching experience. You have to bring together the best experts.
Will that be the same for movement development?
The first thing we have done is to hire three movement constructors. This is a lot, and this is unusual. To me, this is at the core of our project. It is essential to design, from an intellectual perspective, the projects. This is crucial. More than anything else.
Any other partners in movement development and production?
Of course, this is enriching and the people capable of developing movements are some type of community. Movement constructors talk one with the other. It is like a family.
Will you build a manufacture or production site for JC Biver Watches?
Yes, we will be in Genolier.
What about the distribution model?
It is coherent with the rest. We will have 12 to 15 retailers. There will be no way to buy except from these partners. We sell to retailers, not directly. This is extremely conservative and protective. This is unusual today but extremely sound. Particularly for the client. Our partners will have full support from the brand and vice-versa.
You have often launched disruptive marketing initiatives? What’s the plan with your brand?
What will be disruptive, is that everything will be about the product. We will stay away from Marketing initiatives. It will be all about the product, the craft, the client. It will be very sharp, very focused but on the product. It is just like for the distribution, we have an approach that is completely different from most of the brands.
What is your ambition in terms of volume?
If we end up someday selling 50 watches per year that would be fabulous. But this is not about financial objectives, it is about creating beautiful watches and about our clients. We want to do things differently.
When can we expect to see your watches?
March next year, which is already extremely early. We will present a carillon minute repeater, automatic with micro-rotor, which is unique. The production will be limited obviously…
How will you be working together with your son Pierre?
Pierre Biver – We work together and naturally I am learning a lot. This is very organic. There are fields where I am very involved personally, in particular the product which is a passion for me, but we work together. This is extremely enriching
The family dimension of the project is essential. The ethics of the projects, the values are essential. We have a project that is driven by passion, by our values, by the desire to meet clients’ expectations, to create something together. This is very special to start a family project together, to be there at the beginning.
Are you planning to work with a designer to create the JC Biver Watches?
Jean-Claude Biver – Mijat. This is a natural fit. Up until now, I have never needed anybody else. We do not need to speak to understand each other. I just need a few words, a sketch and he understands. It is simple, straightforward and effective.