Today, Jean-Claude Biver & Pierre Biver launched their watch brand, near Geneva, in a magnificent 18th century Swiss farmhouse (their new offices & workshops) in front of an audience of international media and industry personalities.
From left to right : Kari Voutilainen, Max Büsser, Luc Pettavino
From left to right : Edouard Meylan, Pierre Jacques, Ahmed Seddiqi
Jean-Claude Biver, after nearly 50 years in the watchmaking industry, and his 22-year-old son Pierre have together embarked on a new adventure: the creation of a highly exclusive and prestigious brand. To this end, they called upon the best specialists in each field (dials, hands, bracelet, case, etc.) to create museum-quality pieces of great prestige. The first chapter of this story, which is just beginning to unfold, is dedicated to a watchmaking complication that is close to their hearts: a minute repeater. Or more precisely, a minute repeater with a tourbillon and a micro rotor.
The sound of eternity
Because sound is a vibration that can be related to the world of emotions, it is through sound that the Biver adventure continues: with a minute repeater. This complication, both useful and poetic, manifests the sound of eternity. “Do different.” The way watchmaking industry legend and legendary collector Jean-Claude Biver and the lover of historical watches that is his son Pierre Biver see it, it means a return to the origins of horology. Doing things differently is also about choosing to start with complexity. That is why the first chapter of the book that is now being written is a minute repeater.
It is important to understand that, to Jean-Claude and Pierre Biver, technology is there to serve the philosophy of the founders, and not the other way around. “We want the minute repeater to be the cornerstone of the brand,” explains Pierre Biver, “made to a design we both could identify with, and with a movement that serves the aesthetic we defined. A contemporary watch, inspired by tradition and representative of both my father and me.”
But how do you make the minute repeater, a mechanism invented in the 18th century, contemporary? “With a new, different sound that is bound to have collectors perk their ears. We added a third hammer, which requires a very fine adjustment of the tempo to get the tone just right,” explains Pierre Biver. And so, during the creative process driven by father and son, the minute repeater evolved into a carillon. “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,” he adds.
When you take the time to look at all the details that make the Biver minute repeater unique, that’s when you begin to understand the relentless, uncompromising pursuit of perfection behind this watch. Even the smallest parts, including those that cannot be seen, have been decorated by hand according to the highest standards of artistry; they have been polished, satin-finished, grained, and flame-blued. It is in the finishing that one recognizes the Biver signature: a quest for invisible beauty. “We decided to decorate all the faces of all the components of the movement,” the Bivers say. “To achieve this, we had to push our partners to develop techniques for decorating certain parts of the pieces that were not originally designed to be decorated. The underside of the bridges, for example, is hand-grained, which is very rarely done.”
Another example: the stone dial – in sodalite – is domed, a challenge. “It is very difficult to make because of its infinitesimal thickness: the stone affixed to a gold plate is 1.15 mm high; counting the applied indexes, the total height is just 1.6 mm. The wafer-thin stone itself does not exceed 0.6mm. The difficulty resides in obtaining this domed appearance without breakage during the polishing phase.”
This watch is not one to reveal all its mysteries at first glance. Each one of its constituent elements holds meaning in the eyes of the Bivers. It gives us much more than the hour, the quarters and the minutes. This model is a distillation of watchmaking culture that is aimed at the enlightened enthusiast.
“It has a past-present feel: our dials are domed, a nod to the watchmaking of times gone by, yet our indexes are modern and curved. Our hands are dauphine-shaped with planed crests, the angles are polished and the top has a satin finish,” says Pierre Biver. Wherever the eye roams, there is something to catch it. Everywhere you look, plays of light and shadow tell a contrasting story. The movement of light over the watch evokes the passage of time, echoing the entire philosophy that underpins the Biver brand: to build a temporal bridge linking past, present and future.
The five-link metal bracelet is specially designed for the brand. But here the links seem to want to break away from the shadow to better enter the light. “It was constructed as an integral bracelet, but it’s actually interchangeable,” explains Pierre Biver. “As for the crown, which is the most direct connection between watch and wearer, we wanted it to be substantial, with a vintage vibe.” Through a loupe it can be seen that the fluting is polished, and the inner face of each tooth is micro-bead blasted.
Despite its preciousness – or perhaps because of it – this minute repeater was designed to be worn every day, everywhere and under any circumstance. The case is water resistant to 5 ATM (about 50 meters). “It is shower-proof, and the owner can take it into the pool, though we wouldn’t recommend wearing it to swim laps every morning,” smiles Pierre Biver. “It’s a way to dedramatize the minute repeater, to get it out of its usual context, and especially out of its box.”
“Even though they are very valuable, we want our pieces to be user-friendly, ‘use-friendly’ really, and for the collector to enjoy them on a daily basis. The choice of an automatic movement equipped with a micro-rotor makes this watch absolutely a daily wearer. We see technology as being at the service of our vision, but above all at the service of the client. The best way to bring a watch to life is to wear it,” he adds.
The Biver minute repeater is both a collector’s item and an object of curiosity. Beyond embodying the art of watchmaking, it carries more subtle messages. The watch has an energy all its own: in addition to the sound that emanates from it, there is also the energy of the stone that makes up its dial. Dials are made of hard stone: silver obsidian or sodalite. “We chose these stones for their spiritual attributes, for the energy they radiate. Sodalite is soothing and has a protective quality. Silver obsidian is about rebirth," explains Pierre Biver. “It's also a way to reconnect with the energy of the Earth.”
The beauty of the watch comes from a juxtaposition of contradictory elements: satin and polished finishes, straight lines and roundness, shadow and light, past and present, sound and silence. From this tension, a balance is born. All the components contained in this watch, all the materials, all the finishes, form a whole as alive as the two people who chose them and who entrusted to others – “the hands that make the miracle” – the task of constructing this minute repeater.
Paradoxically, as we look at the watch, we forget the passing of time. But does it matter? “A watch has value for us because of its spiritual aspect, because of the soul it carries,” says Jean-Claude Biver. “Because an object without a soul is a dead object. We want to give birth to the soul of the watch.”