The history of Bovet 1822 is continuously built upon by Pascal Raffy and his watchmakers, as discovered at this year’s SIHH
When conceptualising a new timepiece, Bovet 1822 owner Pascal Raffy carefully considers the maison’s historical heritage to ensure that each watch is timeless as well as cutting-edge. “I am in love with fine watchmaking,” he gushes when asked about his profession. “It’s important to always be proud of your origins and roots. You can marry these with touches of modernism, new materials, and new ways of design,” – an ethos that’s inescapably present in Bovet’s latest novelties, unveiled at this year’s SIHH in Geneva. Reliability, elegance and, of course, good taste is what makes this brand’s creations so exceptional, including the newly-launched Tourbillon Amadéo Fleurier Virtuoso IX. An all-new calibre is housed in a 46.30-mm diameter convertible case, which allows the wearer to transform the wristwatch into either a pocket watch or table clock, without the use of any tools – a convenient innovation that’s become a signature of Bovet 1822. Equipped with a fascinating new mechanism, the Virtuoso IX’s case back can also be opened simply by adding pressure on the crown, making it ideal for everyday wear.“We don’t break boundaries just to impress people,” says Pascal. “We like to surprise our collectors. This year, Bovet’s collection has been an honour to unveil in terms of mechanics. The way that we decorate the timepieces, for example, is much more dense. The dials are absolutely crazy.” The Virtuoso IX’s blue dial features eight layers of lacquer that are painstakingly applied to a guillochéd fan-motif base, resembling the enamel dials found on Bovet’s 19th-century pocket watches.
Prior to joining Bovet 1822, Pascal was an avid watch collector with a penchant for vintage timepieces. A French pharmaceutical executive, he was enjoying early retirement in 2001 when his investment banker friend mentioned the possibility of investing in Bovet. “Watchmaking is a selfish pleasure for me,” Pascal admits, explaining that the industry was too tempting to ignore. As was Bovet 1822, which desperately needed updating. “Bovet is a house with great heritage, butits vision wasn’t right.”
Swiss watchmaker Édouard Bovet founded the maison in England in 1822, with a focus on the watchmaking trade in China. At the time, the Silk Road was thriving, and there was an insatiable demand in Asia for fine handmade pocket watches, which Édouard hand-painted and made in identical pairs, so if one needed to be repaired in Europe, the owner would still have one to wear in the meantime. By 2000, the two men that owned Bovet 1822 were operating from a small office in Geneva, assembling about 140 watches each year. Pascal purchased the majority share (an eye-watering US$5million investment) in 2001 and used his knowledge as a collector to reinvent the brand. Although he increased the company’s production, he vowed never to produce more than 4,000 watches annually. For Pascal, his brand’s long-lasting appeal is rooted in its unparalleled quality. “It’s not just about the mechanics,” he says. “It’s the way we dress the timepiece. Fine art, craftsmanship, enamelling, stone-setting and pearls all come together in harmony,” – as do his artisans. “A team is essential to the success of a watchmaking brand,” he explains. “The human beings behind the watches are important: a project without them is nothing. You can build buildings with machinery, but never a sincere smile.”
Bovet 1822 is a revolutionary player in the watchmaking industry, and Pascal admits that it can be difficult retaining the brand’s aesthetic when introducing state-of-the-art techniques to heritage structures. “The biggest challenge I have is to not follow fashion, but instead offer – and with charisma – timepieces that suit the house.” Trying something new because it’s in vogue, he argues, is a mistake. “We refuse to be tricked by fashion. Tradition is what lasts, and it doesn’t have to be boring,” he says. He points to the Récital 22 Grand Récital on his own wrist, as an example. When revealed in 2016, the model revolutionised watchmaking design with its intricate display of astronomical indications. A sun is represented by the flying tourbillon and a hemispherical earth rotates on its own axis showing the hours of a natural 24-hour cycle. Despite Pascal’s evident affection, he refuses to pick a favourite Bovet 1822 model. “I have three children, and they are all different, but they have the same blood,” he smiles. “They are equally beautiful, and when it comes to collections, no matter what you decide in terms of the dials, the hands, the movements, or the decorative arts, you want to give the piece the maximum you can offer.”