- By Arthur Touchot
Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo is honoured and delighted to present Jean-Claude Biver: A Retrospective. Share, Respect, Forgive, a traveling exhibition of the industry titan’s private collection.
While most watch collections are composed of the owner’s favourite models, and Mr. Biver's certainly is no exception, his is that more special because it contains watches that he has been personally involved in creating, launching or promoting, and which have not only marked his exceptional career, but have changed the watchmaking landscape all-together.
These include the Royal Oak, Mr. Biver's first marketing challenge, watches from Blancpain and Hublot, two brands which he rescued and turned into powerhouses of the luxury sector, and watches made by independent watchmakers that he has met, supported and befriended along the way.
Together they illustrate the journey one of the industry's most influential figures, from marketing whiz-kid, to company owner, and architect of LVMH's watch division, and perhaps most importantly, to mentor, friend and supporter for generations of brand managers, watchmakers, and retailers.
Below are just of few of the incredible watches and stories that will be presented during Jean-Claude Biver: A Retrospective, Share, Respect, Forgive opening later this week at the Hotel La Reserve in Geneva, Switzerland.
OMEGA - Constellation
It may not be a six-figure vintage Patek Philippe, but this little yellow gold Constellation from Omega is arguably the most precious watch of the collection, and at the very least can claim to be the first. It was given to Jean-Claude Biver at the age of eight to celebrate his communion, though it wasn’t until turning eighteen that he first put it on his wrist.
PATEK PHILIPPE - Ref 96HU
Perhaps the most historically important watch in Jean-Claude Biver’s collection is the following, apparently unsigned world-time. It is in fact one of the first ever “Heures Universelles” wristwatches completed by Patek Philippe. It is cased in a Ref. 96 Calatrava case which remains in very well-preserved condition. Only two are known, both discovered a couple of months apart and later sold by major auctions houses in 2011.
PATEK PHILIPPE Reference 1518 in pink gold, with pink dial
The most eye-catching watch of Jean-Claude Biver’s collection is without a doubt this incredibly rare and wonderfully well-preserved pink gold Patek Philippe Ref 1518, with a matching pink dial. This is a watch that clearly brings Biver great joy, judging by the smile on his face every time he looks down at the watch. And it’s no surprise. The Reference 1518 is considered by many the absolute grail vintage Patek Philippe – it is the brand’s first serially produced perpetual calendar chronograph, and it inspired one of the greatest watch families ever – and this amazingly rare pink on pink version is among the "best of the best".
PATEK PHILIPPE - Reference 2499 in yellow gold
The successor to the Patek Philippe Ref. 1518, the Reference 2499 is more than “not bad” but when you own a collection of extremely rare vintage Patek Philippe, you might allow yourself to say that about this spectacular yellow gold version of a 2nd series. In any metal, and whatever the series, the Reference 2499 remains a grail for the vast majority of watch collectors, and as Biver says, no collection is complete without this reference.
PATEK PHILIPPE - Reference 1579 in platinum
Reference 1579 was predominantly manufactured in yellow gold and rose gold, with a very small number produced in stainless steel and even fewer in platinum. This is one of those “very few”. In fact, we only know of three models. This one features an exemplary case, with the instantly recognizable "spider lugs". This unusual feature propelled this watch to one of the most impressive case designs of the 1950s, and it remains one of the most iconic chronograph ever made by Patek Philippe.
PHILIPPE DUFOUR - Simplicity in pink gold, N°180
Jean-Claude Biver met Philippe Dufour while the two were at Audemars Piguet, more than 40 years ago, which makes this particular timepiece, already an incredibly important watch, a very special addition to his collection.
One of the last ones made during the original run of 200-pieces, the present example (N° 180), in pink gold, with a white lacquer dial and blued Breguet hands is everything Biver looks forward to in a watch: it is rare, beautiful, and it preserves the wonderful traditions of Swiss watchmaking.
REXHEP REXHEPI - Chronomètre Contemporain N°1 in platinum
Given Jean-Claude Biver’s interest in Philippe Dufour watches, it's no surprise that he's also a fan of Rexhep Rexhepi. The young watchmaking, who was classically trained by Patek Philippe, recently launched the Chronomètre Contemporain line, and Biver quickly put his name on the list for one. However, he received one way sooner than expected.
Biver received the watch - the first platinum example ever made - on his 70th birthday from The Hour Glass, Asia's leading retail group of luxury watch brands.
ROLEX - Reference 6542 in yellow gold
The present yellow gold Rolex GMT-Master Reference 6542 is a very rare, and atypical vintage Rolex in many ways, so it might be a little surprising to learn that it was Biver's first. The watch was bought for his wife, who cherishes it but wears it only on very special occasions due to the fragility of the bezel. An exceptional example of the reference, it remains is extremely well-preserved condition.
ROLEX - Cosmograph "Zenith" Daytona Reference 16520 with Mark II bezels.
In recent years, and thanks to the influence of his son Pierre, Jean-Claude Biver has added a unique trilogy of the so-called Mark II bezel "Zenith" Daytona Reference 16520s in stainless steel, which may at first look like regular Reference 16520s expect for the inclusion of the "225" graduation on their bezel. These were made for just a very short time, during the experimental phase in the production of the reference, and can only be found on L-series models. They are therefore extremely rare, and Biver has been able to acquire three with different dial variations.
HUBLOT - Bigger Bang Tourbillon prototype
This single-button, all-black chronograph is perhaps the most important watch in Jean-Claude Biver’s collection and the source of what he considers his greatest success with the resurrection of Blancpain. The present prototype would guide Hublot's collection for many years to come - and in many ways still does. Biver calls this “his lucky watch” and he’s worn in on many important model launches and says it is one of the watches he would never part with, as it is a part of him.
PATEK PHILIPPE - Reference 5106J with date made for Only Watch 2009
Made for the first edition of Only Watch, in 2009, the present Patek Philippe Reference 5106J led the charity auction's results - a position it has kept for the past ten years - thanks to the generous winning bid presented by Jean-Claude Biver that contributed in raising more than $2 Million on the night for Duchenne muscular dystrophy research. The watch now belongs to his son Pierre.
Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo cordially invites all watch enthusiasts to the grand opening of the exhibition, to discover these pieces for themselves. The exhibition is open to the public and entry is free.
Aurel Bacs, Senior Consultant Bacs & Russo and James Marks, International Specialist and joint exhibition curators, commented: “Jean-Claude Biver is a larger-than-life man and one of only a small handful of visionaries in the Swiss watch industry who must be credited for having brought true innovation, created thousands of jobs and likely one of the best ambassadors the world of horology ever had. We are incredibly honored to call him a friend and be entrusted with this unique and largely unseen selection of highlights from his personal watch collection, spanning a century of watchmaking and many of the rarest brands, most fascinating complications and, very importantly, personal watches that marked his 45-year long distinguished career. We are very much looking forward to welcoming enthusiasts around the globe in the coming months on 3 continents where Jean-Claude Biver will personally be present and engage with collectors during panel discussions and lectures”.
Exhibitions Details: 7-9 November at the Hôtel La Réserve in Geneva, Switzerland
Thursday 7: 10am-9pm
Friday 8: 10am-6pm
Saturday 9: 10am-5pm
Sunday 10: 10am-4pm
The exhibition will go on an international tour, with stops scheduled in Hong Kong and New York during our upcoming end-of-year sales, before heading to London during the first months of 2020.