Jean-Claude Biver: The Tourbillon
Jean-Claude Biver was born in Luxembourg and spent the first ten years of his life there. His family moved to Switzerland, where he succeeded in reviving the fortunes of the watchmaking industry.
3 key moments
The young Jean-Claude developed a passion for watches as a result of three key moments in his life: his first communion, when he received a watch which was immediately placed in a safe until he turned 18. Secondly, the loss of this precious watch during a skiing trip. And finally, when he saw a watch with a visible mechanism on the wrist of Jacques Piguet, during a fondue meal. He says that the mechanism reminded him of the steam machines he had admired as a child in the windows of toy shops. He therefore decided to make his career in this industry, so that he would never actually have to “work”.
A stroke of genius
After graduating from HEC Lausanne, Jean-Claude Biver began working at Audemars Piguet, and in 1982 Biver and Jacques Piguet purchased from UBS the rights to Blancpain, a brand that had been dormant since 1956, for barely 18,000 Swiss Francs. At that time, the quartz revolution was underway, threatening the future of the Swiss watch industry. The future CEO immediately understood that although the whole world was wearing quartz watches, the demand for traditional watches was still high. Using the idea of “retro-innovation”, he capitalised on Blancpain’s strength: classic, round watches, without any fancy or eccentric designs. A charismatic leader, he is capable of winning over an audience, reseller or an amateur by telling captivating stories interspersed with communicative bursts of laughter. For him, success can be summed up in three words: sharing, respect and forgiveness. And failure in one word: his divorce in 1989, which led him to sell Blancpain to the Swatch Group.
Charisma & mechanisms
Biver joined the Swatch Group Board and turned around the Omega brand. In 2003, he turned his attentions to “Hublot”, a brand specialising in blending materials such as gold, rubber and carbon. Success was followed by the Big Bang and the recession, and in 2008, the brand was sold to LVMH, although he stayed as Chairman. In his opinion, the watchmaking sector has undergone three revolutions: first the arrival of quartz, then the launch of
Swatch to rival Japanese watches, and finally the detachment of the watch from its function. Time is everywhere these days, at no cost. Watches have therefore become an art, an emotion, a dream and at times a “status symbol”. Fifty per cent of Swiss production is now exported to China! Hublot currently employs 380 people.
In addition to his business formulas and his talent for communication, Biver’s secret lies in his incredible capacity for work. His encounter with the future President of the Swiss Confederation, in the early 80s, was a key moment. He had just taken over Blancpain, and was seeking to obtain subsidies usually reserved for the redeployment of watchmakers to the micro-electronics sector. The meeting was arranged for 5 o’clock in the morning. Jean-Pascal Delamuraz harangued the young entrepreneur: “Biver, do you know why you’re here? In the Risoux forest, there are guys like you, behind every tree. Do you know how you’re going to beat them? By getting up every morning at 5 o’clock. The bad news is that you won’t get a subsidy, but the good news is that by getting up so early, you will succeed.”