As Swiss maison Bovet prepares to touch the 200-year mark in 2022, owner of the house Pascal Raffy tells us how aesthetics have shaped the brand that collectors know and love today
In the year 1822, a young Édouard Bovet, together with his brothers, set out to tap into the flourishing watchmaking trade in China. Although bold in his vision – considering 19th-century China was not as open to the outside world as it is today – little did he know a legacy was in the making, one that would span years, decades and centuries and would be overseen by four successive generations of Bovets.
But decades and several other owning families later, Bovet saw a major turning point when, in 2001, ownership moved solely to the capable hands of a former pharmaceutical industry executive and passionate watch collector. Thanks to his successful anticipation of the changes the watchmaking industry would witness in the years to follow, owner of the house Pascal Raffy adopted a new approach to the business, while still maintaining the brand’s rich heritage. “Respecting the traditions of the house was important to me. Why would anyone go looking elsewhere for something that already exists within, something you can be proud of,” he says.
Although two centuries apart, both Édouard Bovet and Pascal Raffy shared a common passion for mechanical excellence, which manifested in the craftsmanship and artistry the brand is known for. Anyone today can instantly identify a Bovet watch with the signature decorative crown and the bow at 12 o’clock. In fact, it was these very timepieces that spurred Raffy’s passion for the world of haute horology.
“My grandfather introduced me to the fascinating world of watches when I was 10. He was a big collector of fine watches and Sundays were spent with him reviewing pieces from his collection. He would take us through the history and specific features of each piece to imbue an appreciation not only for watchmaking but for art in general. He always felt that it was impossible to secure education for the next generation if you did not respect art and fine craftsmanship.
“Pocket timepieces were among his favourites, a fondness I also came to share in later years. It was fascinating to learn how advanced features and mechanics existed in the watchmaking world of the 19th century, while also being incredibly aesthetic with settings of pearls, engravings and miniature paintings.
“This Sunday ritual went on for almost six years and while I have to admit, sometimes, it was a little boring, in the end, I started building my own collection. That’s when I began to understand horology better. And when I took over the house of Bovet, I fully understood what it meant to be a collector,” says Raffy.
One of the first maisons to blend decorative arts with fine watchmaking, Bovet remains a sought-after name among collectors even today, thanks to its remarkable designs. Precious stone setting, dedicated enamel work and engravings are the very essence of every Bovet piece, all achieved with an unsurpassable level of detail.
Such was Édouard Bovet’s expertise that as movements in horology became more subtle, he decided to reveal the magic beneath the dial by incorporating the first transparent caseback in his designs. His early creations are credited with taking watchmaking arts to the pinnacle of refinement, so much so that they caught the attention of the 19th-century Emperor of China, who became one of the brand’s earliest collectors. Some of these pieces now take pride of place in museums all over the world, contributing to the brand’s priceless heritage.
Almost 200 years later, decorative arts remain a firm feature in every collection. They are celebrated in every piece and collectors are also able to personalise their timepiece with a specific design.
“Appreciation of art is at the heart of every timepiece collector. It’s an emotional journey. The first time you hold a new watch, look at it or open the caseback to take a closer look, it either talks to you or it doesn’t. But you’re aware of the incredible effort behind it – how long it takes to master a calibre, a movement, to develop it and fine tune it – and you appreciate the craftsmanship at work,” he says.
Explaining why aesthetics is one of the most important pillars of Bovet’s almost-200-year old legacy, Raffy adds: “If I were to ask you to name 10 mechanical features that did not exist 200 years ago, it’s not something you will easily find. Yes, there are advancements and enhancements to those features but a huge majority of what we have today already existed 200 years ago. So where can we make a difference?
“Naturally, it’s in the aesthetics. And that’s also why we create a limited number of timepieces with every collection – to keep the designs unique. In fact, by doing so, you offer your collectors more than what they pay for. The majority of Bovet collectors I meet tell me how they appreciate not seeing a Bovet timepiece on everyone’s wrist, which is similar to an art collector’s perspective on acquiring a unique and rare piece of art.”
But keeping this tradition alive is no easy task. “It takes at least 60 artisans if you want to do everything in house – we rely on 140. Anything below that and it’s impossible. “There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes when crafting a new collection, right from ideating to prototyping and we do this as a team. The artisans work together as a family and share our philosophy.
“Only incredible talent can achieve the watchmaking we have and that’s what makes us not just a company but a house with a soul, with values and a respectable long-term vision.
“And I say respectable because you can have money exclusively as a value. Of course, it is a value, but while ensuring your house is wealthy, you also need to make a real contribution to the world, which we do through our focus on mechanical excellence and aesthetics. And this is also what appeals to our collectors.
“Every morning when we wake up, we have something to achieve, something to prove to the world. But a Bovet collector does not adhere to this social code. He doesn’t believe he must own a Bovet timepiece because it’s going to do well. It’s not a trophy for him.
“For a true Bovet collector, it’s more refined than this. He is someone who has nothing more to prove in life and has made his choices solely as an appreciation of art,” he adds.
Since the brand made its debut in the region, Bovet has only grown, both in popularity and its number of collectors. “The Middle Eastern market is very important to our brand. Thanks to Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, we’ve managed to build a strong foundation in the region and we are definitely looking into fine tuning our association to better cater to the culture of the Middle East. At least 30 percent of the pieces that are handcrafted every year for local customers are bespoke creations. There is immense appreciation of art here.
“But, of course, not every collector might like what he sees. Some might even tell you they don’t like the bow or it’s not their style. But we look at the bigger picture. And it is very rewarding to hear them say that Bovet is indeed the true essence of watchmaking.”
Discover more at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, The Dubai Mall 04 3398883 or Al Manara International Jewellery, Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi 02 6813232