Jean-Claude Biver Talks Soul, Technology, and Defining a Watch Brand

WatchesOct 06, 2021

Jean-Claude Biver Talks Soul, Technology, and Defining a Watch Brand

The watchmaking legend was the most recent guest on “The Accutron Show” podcast.

Jean-Claude Biver was the most recent guest on “The Accutron Show” podcast.
New York—Podcast “The Accutron Show” debuted a little over a year ago, facilitating conversations with cultural tastemakers.
Hosted by entertainment reporter Bill McCuddy of Fox News, journalist David Graver of Cool Hunting and The New York Times, and editor Scott Alexander of GQ and Playboy, The Accutron Show debuts new episodes the first Tuesday of each month. 
Embodying the tagline “It’s not a timepiece. It’s a conversation piece,” the podcast has featured conversations with chef Daniel Boulud, tattoo and multidisciplinary artist Bruno Levy, and fashion designer Timo Weiland, who are outside the world of watchmaking.
This week, however, The Accutron Show did a deep dive into watches with legendary industry mastermind Jean-Claude Biver. 
In the episode that debuted Oct. 5, called “Crafting the Soul of Watches With Jean-Claude Biver,” the hosts explored Biver’s personal philosophy and approach to watchmaking. 
Biver’s experience with watches began at the age of 8 when he wore an Omega Constellation, a gift from his grandfather, for church and religious occasions. Other than that, it lived in the family’s safe.
When Biver was 18, the watch became his to keep. But he lost the prized possession skiing, which solidified for him the idea that a watch isn’t simply a device for telling time, but “a piece of emotion, a piece of art, a piece of beauty, a piece of love, a piece of culture, a piece of tradition, a piece of status,” he said on the podcast. 
Through the years, Biver aimed to “put soul” into watchmaking, something he noted is associated with the handcrafted nature of a mechanical watch, the energy and expertise each watchmaker brings to their craft.  
 Related stories will be right here … 
“We are fed up with rationality,” he said of a watch’s sentimental resonance over its functionality. “We want dreams, we want emotions.” 
That doesn’t mean Biver hates high-tech devices designed to be practical, like the Apple Watch. 
On the contrary, he admires its technology, and said it too can “have soul” if there is a sentimental attachment to it, like if it’s a gift from a loved one, for example.
He also was never against quartz watches, he said on the podcast. “I’m very open minded. Every technology is welcome and should be respected.”
Quartz, however, “has nothing to do with art,” Biver said, or “mastery [of]… the watchmaking art,” but rather with technology. 
The problem with any technology, is that it will eventually become obsolete, but a mechanical watch made by hand will never be obsolete, he said. 
It is art and “art is connected to eternity,” Biver said, noting that artists like Mozart, The Beatles, and Pablo Picasso endure, becoming even more popular with time. 
Asked about reissuing watches of the past, Biver made an important distinction. 
“You cannot repeat the past. You can preserve the past. You need tradition and innovation. If you just copy, where is the innovation?”
For all the companies he headed throughout his career, from Omega to Hublot, he has stuck to the philosophy of leaning on a mix of tradition and innovation to form new models. 
For the brands he headed, as well as any new brand today, Biver advised that all must be clear on their mission.
“What is the reason the brand exists?” he asked. “What is the message? One extraordinary example is Hublot.” 
Biver joined that company in 2004. The brand’s heads at the time couldn’t identify a particular message or mission, other than crafting beautiful Swiss timepieces by hand. 
The message Biver honed in on was: “Hublot is the fusion between future and tradition.” 
In the 1980s Hublot had created a gold watch with rubber bracelet, a mix of high and low that was very innovative at that time. He realized Hublot’s genius was its ability to fuse disparate elements and emphasized this message. 
Among the many gems The Accutron Show’s hosts uncovered was that Biver is so dedicated to respecting watch customers that during his time heading Hublot, he was the recipient of the queries. 
He would personally respond to them, taking at least an hour each day. He said it allowed him to receive valuable feedback. 
Biver even had the unorthodox practice of taking employees to the local cemetery to commune with people who had worked for the watch brand and were likely buried in the same village where Hublot has been headquartered for over 100 years. 
“We might get a message from these people,” Biver said. “We will get a feeling … All of these people have given us so many hours of passion. That leaves a trace. It’s like love. Love leaves a trace. Love never disappears.” 
Other podcast highlights included getting James Bond to switch from Rolex to Omega, the most “soulful” things to collect other than watches, the connection between watchmaking and farming, Biver’s biggest failure, and why the current craze for vintage watches isn’t a bubble. 
Accutron’s podcast is available to listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and YouTube, among other platforms.
Now in its second season, the show has reached No. 42 in Apple Podcast’s “Society & Culture” category. 

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