Jean-Claude Biver Wise words from Dr. Biver
We take a sneak peek at a new biography about one of the leading names in the watch industry.
The (re)launch of Blancpain
With Jacques Piguet, once we had bought Blancpain, we had very little money left. So when we went to visit customers we slept in a camper van rather than at a hotel and we showered and shaved in railway stations. We had to use tokens to get three minutes of water. We had to be quick!
The first Blancpain exhibition at Baselworld
At this Baselworld (...) we decided to show NOTHING! It was, of course, very provocative. (...) We created uproar: the show management knew very well that if everybody did the same thing there would be empty showcases everywhere! So we gave our word that we would only do it once, otherwise we would forfeit our entitlement to a stand. And the next year we presented ONE watch!
Renoir in Japon
Japanese industry is largely based on technology and their watchmaking industry followed this path, too. But when you produce technology you are producing obsolescence. Technology is necessarily overtaken every year as new inventions appear. Unlike technology, art never becomes obsolete. A painting by Matisse or Renoir may not be liked by the new generation but it can never be obsolete.
Although he was the oldest person in the group he was often the most creative, the most provocative. He had the most improbable quality of being a master of the industry, trade, marketing, negotiation and finance! He had a lot of intelligence and a lot of class. He was always three steps ahead of you. He was a great visionary. In short, an exceptional man.
The first million-dollar watch
The one-million-dollar watch came about on the basis of a sketch and a phone call made from my car. One of my stone-setting friends offered to produce a watch that would be a world first since all the stone setting would be invisible. (…) I agreed and immediately called Tina Zegg, our customer in Monaco, to tell her: “I am going to make a unique watch, a world first, a watch that will cost one million dollars. I’ll sell it to you.” She replied “That’s quite a price; give me 15 minutes and I will call you back.” A quarter of an hour later she called me back and bought the watch. In a quarter of an hour I had ordered the watch and sold it. All by telephone. With no paperwork. This is the old-school way among watchmakers, diamond-traders and bankers: a verbal order has the same value as a written one. It’s great when your word alone allows you to do business, without needing 60 pages of contract.
Management, Biver style
Every quarter I organised what I called “the mistakes meeting” with my closest colleagues! Each had to explain one or two mistakes that they had made. Because spontaneously acknowledging your errors is difficult to start with, to “prime the pump” I offered 1000 euros per mistake! There were five of us, so at two mistakes per person per quarter we identified forty mistakes per year that we would never make again!
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