It is not often that a successful businessman in pharmaceuticals gives it all up to buy a watch brand which value was based on its unique heritage, the mastery of its artisans… and little more. But that’s exactly what Pascal Raffy did in 2001, as a reaction to her eldest daughter’s complaint about never seeing her dad. That drastic career turn changed the dynamics of his family life and the fortunes of Bovet 1822 forever. Our Editor Julia Pasarón went to their headquarters at Château de Môtiers, on the hills over Neuchâtel, Switzerland, to interview Pascal as the brand celebrates its 200th anniversary.

    It is not often that a successful businessman in pharmaceuticals gives it all up to buy a watch brand which value was based on its unique heritage, the mastery of its artisans… and little more. But that’s exactly what Pascal Raffy did in 2001, as a reaction to her eldest daughter’s complaint about never seeing her dad. That drastic career turn changed the dynamics of his family life and the fortunes of Bovet 1822 forever. Our Editor Julia Pasarón went to their headquarters at Château de Môtiers, on the hills over Neuchâtel, Switzerland, to interview Pascal as the brand celebrates its 200th anniversary.

    Bovet’s Mille Fleurs pocket watch, circa 1830. It is worth noticing the exquisite enamel work on the caseback, as well as the highly decorated movement. Bovet was the first watchmaking house to use an exhibition back to protect the movement.

    Pascal’s fascination for watches comes from his grandfather André, who was an avid collector. “He was a great appreciator of craftmanship mechanics,” Pascal recalls. “Every Sunday after lunch, together with my cousins, we’d have a kind of lesson about the details of watchmaking, with the help of a magnifying glass.” As a kid, he found some of these afternoon “lectures” a bit boring but it definitely implanted in him the seed of love for watches. He tells me a story that he reckons was pivotal in cementing his horological passion. “With the arrogance of youth, I fancied myself quite the watchmaker so I took one of my grandfather’s most valuable timepieces to make some changes on the dial because I didn’t like how much printing was on it,” he shares. The watch at the time was worth CHF300,000 by the way. “I pulled it all apart,” he continues, “the caseback, the movement, the hands…  and when I tried to put it back together, I couldn’t. I even damaged many of the parts in the process.”

    Embarrassed, Pascal went to his grandfather, confessed and expressed his deepest regret for what he had just done. He was aware of both the monetary and the emotional value of the watch, so was expecting a big reprimand. To his surprise, the great gentleman his granddad was, looked at him with infinite patience in his eyes and said, “It is alright Pascal, when we educate children, we invest in feelings and in money.” It took a whole year to restore the timepiece. “When I saw it back with each of its 600 components perfectly assembled, realising the beauty and elegance in it, the fact that it took so much time and the work of so many people… that is when I truly fell in love with watchmaking.”

     

    “Papa, I never told you, but my dream is to join Bovet.”

    –  Audrey Raffy

    It appears that his passion has rubbed off on his eldest daughter Audrey, who joined Bovet a couple of years ago after finishing her law studies in the U.S., receiving a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago (after a BA from the University of Miami). It was Audrey who precipitated his father’s change of career with her comment to her grandfather about missing her dad. “The only thing that can truly freeze your blood is something coming from your blood,” says Pascal, “so when my father told me how my daughter was feeling, I stopped it all and changed business. Suddenly I had an orderly life and I was coming back home every evening to be with my family.”

    As Audrey achieved flying grades, Pascal offered to help her get a job in one of the law firms he worked with. To his surprise, she replied, “Papa, I never told you but my dream is to join Bovet.” Pascal realised that over the years, his daughter had been listening and learning all by herself. She knew the collections inside-out, she had observed all the different artisans working at Bovet – and remember most of their names – and had taken in a lot about the craftmanship of the brand. She started with the team based in the United States representing her family and the House of Bovet at many events, she is the brains behind their social media and also the company’s General Counsel. The pride that I can see in Pascal is difficult to translate into words but suffice to say that for a moment, I worry his chest may explode. “Maybe one day her siblings Alexandra and Amadéo will join the company too, but I don’t want them to feel under pressure. I want them to follow their own path.”

    Bovet’s watchmaking atelier is located in Tramelan, just an hour from Môtiers.

    In a way, I don’t understand why, when he bought Bovet, he didn’t just simply hire an experienced managing director and sat back. “Oh! There are plenty of reasons,” he exclaims, “You need true passion to steer the journey of time that is the House of Bovet. I am not saying a hired CEO or MD couldn’t do it but to me, this is like my own child.” He points out how important it is not just to have a clear vision for the business, but also to have appreciation and love for the artisans that create these extraordinary timepieces and for the rest of the team. “There are 97 people at Bovet – 98 with me – who give everything every day. It is a true honour to work with them and to look after them.” The way he speaks, I realise that this is a mission that can’t be accomplished with “hired guns”. This is a journey of love, time and wisdom… and knowing how to strike the balance between the three. “We are all a family, and it takes the whole family to make each and every one of our timepieces,” adds Pascal. “The principle applies to everybody, from the top management that comprises nine people; and it will apply to Audrey, Alexandra and Amadéo when they take over the leadership of the company. They are aware that they’ll have to do it together with the whole team. They can’t do it alone.”

    Left: Miss Audrey, winner of the Ladies Timepiece award at the GPHG in 2020. Right: Grand Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter Two Red Gold, winner of the Mchanical Exception award that same year.

    Pascal’s efforts have been rewarded not just by Bovet’s increasing number of devoted customers, but also by the industry itself, in the form of many prestigious awards. The House of Bovet is not strange to them; as early as 1855, during the Universal Exhibition held in Paris, Bovet won the gold medal in the luxury category for a pair of enamelled watches commissioned by the Emperor of China. At the GPHG in 2018, Bovet won the Grand Prix de l’Aiguille d’Or and in 2020, the Mechanical Exception prize for their Grand Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter Two Red Gold as well as the Ladies Timepiece award that same year for the Miss Audrey. Pascal himself has been the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Middle East Watch & Jewellery of the Year Awards. “The awards feel good, don’t take me wrong, but at Bovet, what we do, we do it for the pleasure of our collectors, with sincerity and integrity,” Pascal comments, “and to recognise the work and mastery of our family of artisans.” I can’t help but asking him what he was feeling as he walked towards the stage the first time he received an award for Bovet. He doesn’t take even a second to answer, “I saw the faces of my wife, my children and of all the people that make up the Bovet family. And I was praying that the nerves wouldn’t make me forget anyone. Those moments are not to speak about yourself, as you are just the captain of the ship, just one of the many sets of hands that make our watches possible and unique.”

    A luxury brand like Bovet needed a true address and the Château de Môtiers, which used to belong to the family that founded Bovet, looked like the obvious choice except for the fact that Pascal had no idea about its heritage, and at the time (early noughties), the last thing in his mind was to buy a castle. It was only when the authorities of the canton of Neuchâtel approached him and asked him to buy it that he learnt about its history and just like that, the modern House of Bovet was reunited with the ancestral home of its founders. “This was a family with more than 200 years of history. Everything around here makes reference to the Bovet name, from the mountain in front of us (Mount Bovet) to the valley which is called Boveresse,” says Pascal excitedly, “probably this was one of the families to be in this area since the Middle Ages and as such, they must have had all sorts of jobs and businesses before becoming watchmakers. So, the castle is symbolic of our address, of where the company comes from; and I am very proud of it. One has to be proud of their roots.”

    Bovet’s headquarters at Château de Môtiers, on the hills over Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

    It is also a question of identity. After 200 years, identity is what keeps the soul of a brand. As Pascal says, this doesn’t mean to be boring, “One can innovate and create exceptional mechanical pieces like we do using the latest advances that technology offers us but nested into craftmanship.” An innovate they do. Since Pascal took over, Bovet has filed 19 patents. A perfect example of this kind of excellence is their award-winning Récital 22 Grand Récital, a nine-day flying tourbillon, tellurium-orrery and retrograde perpetual calendar that astonished collectors and experts when it was unveiled in 2018. This timepiece encompasses Pascal’s values of fine watchmaking, involving masterful techniques and timekeeping, decorative arts, and customization in harmony with traditional manufacturing procedures. As it was said of it at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), the Récital 22 Grand Récital combines all these values “to give collectors the noblest and most poetic expression of time evidenced throughout the celestial trilogy introduced by Bovet, culminating with the new limited edition Récital 22 Grand Récital.”

    Left: Récital 22 Grand Récital, winner of the Grand Prix de l’Aiguille d’Or at the GPHG, 2018. Right: Orbis Mundi, a watch that shows all 24 time zones at a glance.

    This year, to celebrate two centuries of fine watchmaking, Bovet released their Orbis Mundi, another watch that captured the imagination of anyone that understands the A-B-Cs of horology. Much to the delight of globe-trotters, the Orbis Mundi solved the problem of showing, in an easy-to-read way, the times in the different world locations relevant to the wearer. By developing a major advancement in the setting and using of the world time function, the watch shows all 24 time zones at a glance, thanks to its top-of-the-world display. Furthermore, all functions are set using just the crown. “We spent two years to make this watch a reality,” says Pascal, “It was the artisan watchmakers in our atelier that said, ‘Mr Raffy, we will do it as if you were looking at the sky, and we’ll divide Earth in 24 segments.’ Uncanny, somehow a simple enough idea, but one that nobody had ever done before.

    Over the last two years, the luxury market has changed a lot, especially with the decline of high-net-worth individuals from China and Russia, who made for a large percentage of the sales of many western luxury brands. Pascal doesn’t seem worried though, “Balance is everything,” he says, “so we have never let a single continent represent more than 25 percent of our market, and both our boutiques and retail partners know it and respect it.”

    The Battista Tourbillon features a brand-new movement using Bovet’s patented double face tourbillon, running at 18,000 vibrations per hour.

    A way to expand is through partnerships, like the one they have with Rolls-Royce or with Automobile Pininfarina, a journey that started in California 13 years ago when Pascal met Paolo Pininfarina and which has resulted in the Bovet Battista Tourbillon, developed to accompany the Battista, a new breed of all-electric hypercar that marks the future evolution of possibly the most famous design house in Italy. Celebrating the past of both brands, the watch is a true tribute to the car, from its tri-dimensional appearance to the E-Heart that in the car indicates the state of charging. In the watch, there is an E-Heart-shaped aperture of the Big Date on the front, and on the back, it shows Bovet’s patented differential winding mechanism.

    Pascal’s imagination and ambition knows no boundaries. For next year, he is planning the unveiling of a watch “like you’ve never seen before. It will redefine the expression of time for the next 30 years. It will have nearly 1,000 components and it will be revealed on the 21st of June, which is the first day of summer and also the day I took over the facilities at Bovet, back in 2006.” I try to push him to tell me more, but he just smiles mysteriously and looks out of the window.

    I for one, can’t wait to find out what the House of Bovet has in store for watch lovers all over the world. But whatever it is, I know it will pay homage to Pascal’s dearest principles: determination, wisdom, respect and sincerity.

    Words: Julia Pasarón

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