Carillon Tourbillon Biver
Carillon Tourbillon Biver
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.
Because the role of technology is to serve the philosophy of the founders, the Bivers have defined certain ethical and aesthetic codes, both traditional and contemporary, they can identify with. This first model, presented in the spring of 2023, is a distillation of watchmaking culture aimed at the enlightened watch lover. Each element, from the dial to the hands to the bracelet, tells a story within the history of horology, creating a bridge between the past, the present and the future.
A watch is not an object like any other: the connection between the object and its wearer is a powerful one. Jean-Claude and Pierre Biver, who are both passionate collectors, are keenly aware of this. It is why they have also integrated symbolic elements into the architecture of their timepieces that make them unique. This notably comes through in the dials made from natural hardstones – silvered obsidian and sodalite. They were chosen for their attributes which have been recognized for thousands of years: sodalite offers courage and confidence and is also soothing because it has a protective aspect, whereas silver obsidian is comforting, confers dynamism, optimism and is very stimulating.
The minute repeater is both a rare collector’s item and an object of curiosity, because, beyond embodying the art of watchmaking, it carries messages that are more subtle, even spiritual.
of the Biver
with Phillips, in association with Bacs & Russo
“Phillips in Association with Bacs and Russo is honoured to bring to market the unique Biver prototype, the very first carillon repeater with tourbillon produced by the brand and the personal watch of Jean Claude Biver. Undoubtedly a pioneer throughout his distinguished career spanning many of the industry’s most iconic brands, Jean Claude Biver has built relationships across every facet of horology and with collectors globally. This offering ensures lovers of watchmaking have an equal opportunity to purchase this important cornerstone of the brand and to establish a long and close relationship with its founders that includes the ability to order any future reference in this unique configuration with silvered obsidian dial, rose gold bridges and titanium case.”.
“After 50 years in the watch industry, it is with great pride that I can present to the world my very first wristwatch bearing my name. This is the result of decades of experiences, doubts, love and passion for not only horology, but collectors globally who have supported my every endeavor. As such, I offer this watch through Phillips so that any individual, perhaps someone that I know or will know in the future, can be part of not only my brand but my legacy. This watch will remain unique in specifications and reserved for the first and closest friend of the brand. I will miss this piece, but I look forward to seeing its journey as well as the journey of my brand as it passes from generation to generation. I hope it will be cherished by the future owner!”
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.”
with Jean-Claude & Pierre Biver
What do you want to bring to the watchmaking world by creating a new brand? Jean-Claude Biver:
“We give birth to the soul of the watch.”
What I would like to bring to the world of watchmaking is soul. I want our brand to deal not only with watchmaking technology, but also with the art of watchmaking. The art of watchmaking, like any art, has a soul within it and this soul was transmitted to the object by the artist. Fifty years ago, when I was working for Audemars Piguet, we used to talk about the ‘hands that make the miracle’. It was said that these hands give birth to the soul. This philosophy is the main reason for the existence of the Biver brand. Because my ultimate wish is to reconnect with the hands of the miracle that I first came to know fifty years ago. This was the beginning of my wonderment with watchmaking.
The second reason is my wish to step out of the spotlight and let others shine. In other words, to share my knowledge, my philosophy, my doubts, my failures too, because failure is a formative experience. I wish to pass this down to the young people we have hired and, first and foremost, to my son because, thanks to the existence of the Biver brand, I see him every day.
The third reason, which could be coupled with the first, is to satisfy my passion. It’s a bit selfish, but I am passionate about the time I spent at Audemars Piguet and Blancpain, and the time I spent with Jacques Piguet. It’s a memory that I don’t want to forget and that I want to bring back to life. I want to relive and share these enchanting times that enriched me and shaped me: I want to rekindle that fire!
Are you that artist who lights the fire? J-C.B.:
The real artists are those who are working with me. I may be the one who decides where we build the fire and what wood we use to build it, but I am not the one who will light it. I will choose a clearing sheltered from the wind, safe from danger. I’ll bring the wood, but it is the others who will make the fire.
My role is more like that of an orchestra conductor than that of the concertmaster. I don’t know how to play an instrument, but I do know how to harmonize the sounds from each, as I have for fifty years. I have never been anything else. I even claimed one day that it was pretentious to create a brand and put one’s name on a dial when that name is not that of a watchmaker. I even said I would never do it. But I have evolved.
What made you decide to put your name on a watch brand? J-C.B.:
What made me decide was the history of watchmaking. Watchmaking was born when the term ‘manufacture’ did not exist. In the beginning, there were only independent watchmakers. For a long time, brands bought movements from Lémania, Valjoux and LeCoultre. We develop our components and movements, with support from the best in their field and the benefit of their experience. We also have our manufacturing done where it suits us best, and thus by those who make no compromises in providing the best quality.
It’s also a challenge from an entrepreneurial standpoint. We want to show that we can do great things thanks to a collective of subcontractors, partners and skills that we bring together.
The brand is called Biver, the name you both carry, but will you also put the names of the people you want to recognize somewhere? P.B.:
We want to bring together the best of the best for our project and involve them, each in their own field of expertise, throughout the process. Only a dial maker will be able to explain the complexity of our dials, only a case maker will know how we have pushed the technique further, only a hand maker will demonstrate why ours are complicated.
The craftsperson survives only by their skills. There is much more dynamism, quality and creativity in small workshops.
In essence, what you are doing is reviving “établissage”, the practice of outsourcing components and assembling them centrally. But in what way are our times favorable to a revival of this spirit? J-C.B:
We live in times where people are looking for individualization: they want to be treated differently and no longer want to be just a number. Customers are increasingly looking to set themselves apart through exceptional objects that only they have the privilege to buy and own.
You are a family business, so how do you complement each other? J-C B.:
Our respective age is no doubt the key area in which we complement each other. I’m 74 years old; Pierre is 22. You can imagine that a 74-year-old has a lot to envy about a 22-year-old, if only the vision, the future. The future belongs to Pierre, not to me. Who better than him to understand his generation? He is part of it! When I was younger, I was a hippie and I fully understood them, while my parents couldn’t make head nor tail of them. Pierre brings in the new century. I don’t need the past because I embody it. I need the future.
And I get it through Pierre, because I listen to him, because I believe him, because I understand him, because he is my son.
is essential. That’s why you must surround yourself with young people: it’s the only way to keep from getting old! If you are only surrounded by people of your own age, you will grow old. Young people keep you in the flow, in the spirit of the future. The fact that my son works with me, enriches me. At the same time, indirectly, I enrich Pierre with my experience. The future and personal experience are two crucial elements for moving forward: you need the knowledge of the past, but you also need the understanding of the future.
On top of that, the fact that there are two of us allows us to double our forces. I have a lot to learn from my father. He has a vision of the whole project. I need to refine my knowledge of manufacturing. I want to get to know our supplier network better, understand how they work, how to work with them.
This will allow me to take the relay baton so my father can focus on other things. I will be able to grow alongside him, learn how he handles the markets, communication, press, all the areas in which I still have little experience. By dividing up the tasks between us, we become more efficient.
In more concrete terms, what are you each bringing to this adventure? J-C.B.:
I bring the pragmatic knowledge of the past. In 50 years, I have accumulated experiences that serve me every day in this business, and Pierre has the opportunity to share my experience. Just as I have the privilege of sharing some of the visions that Pierre’s youth brings to me.
I’m the opposite: I can come with new ideas because I haven’t been formatted. My ideas challenge my father’s fifty years of experience, and from that new things are born. I also bring my background to this adventure. During the two years I spent working for Phillips in London I was able to deepen my knowledge of the history of watchmaking. I came into contact with very beautiful pieces on a daily basis. This had an important impact because this is one of the sectors of watchmaking where my father has not been active, except as a collector. This experience allows me to share knowledge with him in a substantive way. I try to follow in my father’s footsteps and glean as much as possible from what he has to offer.
It is a privilege, not only for me, but also for all the people involved in this adventure. The keystone of the project is my father and even if he emphasizes the assets of my youth, he has very innovative ideas. He has this great ability to know how to listen to people of all stripes and trades, his door is never closed, he takes into consideration our opinions, and this is important.
Who is the more disruptive of the two? J-C.B.:
We both are, each according to his own domains. The most disruptive in bringing ideas from the past and transforming them is probably me. The most disruptive in bringing ideas from the future is Pierre. But disruption, whether it comes from the past or the future, is always disruption.
It’s very difficult today to see exactly where an idea is coming from. Having grown up with my father all my life, I have benefited so much from his attitude, his character. We never stop discussing and debating this project. His ideas are mine; my ideas are his.
Your first watch is a minute repeater. Why this choice ? P.B.:
The choice has its roots in my father’s history and the watchmaking world. When he started working at Blancpain with Jacques Piguet, he could feel the strong influence of watchmaking in the Vallée de Joux and in particular from Louis Elisée Piguet, who was Jacques’ grandfather. They moved into his house and used some of his designs. Louis Elisée Piguet is highly underestimated: he is one of the greatest watchmakers in history. He contributed substantially to the most prestigious pocket watches of the time. Blancpain also made history with minute repeaters whose bells were cut from steel plates found in Louis Elisée Piguet’s attic. It’s a continuation of history.
Philosophically speaking, our first three pieces, before we move on to other models, are divided into three families: sound, memory and movement. The sound, which is proper to a minute repetition, is created by vibration and can be related to love, to the world of emotions.
We are working on a perpetual calendar, which is also known as a ‘mechanical memory’. Memory means heritage and legacy.
Finally, we will launch a chronograph that symbolizes dynamism, setting things in motion. A way of saying that we keep moving forward.
Our project is based on these three pillars: love, memory and evolution. We start with love, because it is out of love that we give birth to a child, it is out of love that I am here, it is out of love for my father that I want to work with him in the world of watchmaking.
Your whole approach is quite symbolic... J-C.B.:
It’s essential that it be symbolic! It is more than symbolic, spiritual even. And it is this spirituality that we want to give to the brand; not just by what it represents, but by the vibrations that the hands of artists and craftspeople give it. For us, a watch has value from its spiritual aspect, from the soul it carries. Creating this soul is as important as creating the piece. Because an object without soul is a dead object. We want to give birth to the soul of the watch.
I love mathematics and one can draw parallels between nature, spirituality and mathematics, which is an expression of life. When you look at a circle, which is the most perfect shape there is, it is ultimately an infinite number of points placed one next to the other. Giving birth to a watch is based on the same principle. There must be an infinite number of things that are coherent, that naturally fit together, for the watch to take shape.
From the initial idea to the creation, the process takes shape: the designing, the partners, the engineering, the watchmaker, the dial maker, the polisher, the beveler, how the components are fitted, decorated... All the details that we want to master go through a transmission gear of love. And that’s how the watch comes to life. We are trying to create a watch that will resonate with people and those who are able to perceive this will immediately understand the piece when they see it, because they share our sensitivity and our sensibility.
A watch is an animate object, a word derived from the Latin “anima” meaning the soul... Are you creating an object with a soul? J-C.B. :
That is our main raison d’être,
the reason for being, for our passion! Just as we are passionate about the technique and precision of the watch, we are passionate about its soul. I would like it to be said of me one day, long after I’ve passed, that I was able to give birth to the soul of watches.
Technically, today, everything is feasible: machines and engineers can do everything. We can of course innovate, but we can’t push technology much further. What is more difficult is to infuse a watch with life.
How do you propose to do that? P.B.:
By mastering everything that is invisible. Every single part is important, from the small screw that will be polished, chamfered, to the bridges, the wheels, the jewels, the dial, the decoration under the dial, the underside of the hands. Our watch is a sum of parts, each of which must have a soul for the watch to come to life. In the technical office, each part is looked at one by one, even the most ordinary one. And when we look at it, we must be able to marvel at it.
Who developed your minute repeater? P.B.:
Our minute repeater movement was developed by the Cercle des Horlogers,
a movement manufacturer based in Les Hauts-Geneveys, in the Swiss Jura near Neuchatel. We approached them because they are, in our opinion, the best in this field. We also work with Dubois Dépraz for other movements. And on our in-house team we have François Perez, a movement constructor who has become our production manager. He is our technical officer, and he can develop additions so as to help and support our partners.
The engine is important, but so is the face of the watch. Who designed it? P.B.:
The firm M-Design founded by Miodrag Mijatovic and his product design manager Philippe Girard, whom my father has worked with since the Blancpain days.
The dials are all made of hard stone: either silver obsidian, the symbol of rebirth; or sodalite, the symbol of harmony and peace. What do you wish to convey with this choice? P.B.:
We chose these stones for their spiritual attributes and for what they exude. For example, sodalite has the ability to soothe and even has a protective quality.
The appearance of a watch tells the story of its designer. How is it with your minute repeater? P.B.:
It represents the relationship between my father and me. It’s a mix of aesthetic concepts from watches of the past, brought up to date, with juxtapositions of sensuous shapes and more linear ones, concave and convex, satin-brushed and polished. There is a certain tension between each of the elements.
You wish to create watches for collectors, and in doing so you draw on your own experience. Can we expect you to fulfill a wish that has never before been fulfilled? J-C.B.:
What I’m most interested in is to create watches that carry a piece of eternity within them. After all, art is, by definition, eternal. Soul, eternity and art are linked. We will always find them in our watches. It is an extreme ambition, but it is my intention, my calling: to give birth to eternity through my ideas, through the work of artists and craftspeople.
I would like to add one thing: what is essential is that we will always be collectors, crazy-in-love with watches, whether they are signed by big brands or independents. We don’t follow a competitive logic, quite to the contrary: we are both watch fans! Today, we have the chance to create something that reflects who we are and manufacture it.