Starting on Time: The Early Years of Luxury Watchmaker Jean-Claude Biver

Credited as having single-handedly saved the Swiss watch industry from the quartz movement, Jean-Claude Biver is a man whose name has become synonymous with quality instruments for telling the time. He brought the Blancpain and Omega brands back to life, and, since 2004, has been heading up Hublot, one of the world's most renowned watch companies. When he is not busy doing that, he also produces his own line of exclusive cheese. Biver was born on September 20, 1949 in Luxembourg. When he was ten years old, his parents moved him to Switzerland, where he attended school at Saint Prex. Interested in business, he would go on to earn his business degree at the University of Lausanne. However, it was the subsequent years that would prove to be the most formative and life-changing for the young Biver.

After graduation, Biver spent much of his time in the Valée de Joux, learning and absorbing the culture of watch-making.

"I went to the Valée because I enjoyed the nature and the lifestyle of this retired region of Switzerland close to Geneva," recalls Biver. "While living there in a wonderful farmhouse in which Louis Elysee Piguet, the famous watchmaker, used to produce its Minute Repeater and other complicated movements, I met a lot of the inhabitants of the Valée and a lot of them were watchmakers. One of them was the grandson of Louis Elysee Piguet, Mr. Jacques Piguet who was running the movement factory Frederic Piguet."

Thanks to Jacques' father, Biver was introduced to Georges Golay, Chairman and CEO of Audemars Piguet (AP). "I fell in love with his watch, which was a skeleton ultra-slim watch and asked him if he would see any opportunity for me to join the watch-making world," recalls Biver. "A few days later I had a job at AP, and had the unbelievable and unique chance to be offered one full year of stage inside AP."

During his year with AP, Biver learned the art of watch-making. "I learned with the production manager how to make a watch, how to manage fine regulation, to learn with the product manager how to design a watch, and with the salesman how to sell watches," he says. "I got the infusion into my blood of the love of fine watches."

After one year, however, Biver believed he could do better. "I worked with passion at AP until the end of 1979 when I started to have some frustrations because I was of the opinion I could do better if I had the full power and trust," he says. "Although my job as Sales Manager for Europe was successful and well paid, I decided to join my brother and my friend Fritz Ammann at Omega."

Biver was hired as Product Manager at Omega, in charge of the Luxury Gold Division. Omega was struggling at the time and the responsibility given to Biver was great. "It was an incredible international experience," he says, "but my nostalgia for the very fine watch-making art did stay and pushed me out of Omega at the end of 1981 in order to go back to the Valée and join my old friend Jacques Piguet and buy the oldest brand in the world: Blancpain."

Blancpain was the true beginning of Biver's career, a career that would breathe life back into the world of luxury watches.

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