What does one of the most influential men in the world of modern horology keep in his watch box? To find out, head to auction house Phillips for a five-day exhibition of the personal collection built up by industry doyen Jean-Claude Biver over more than 45 years in the business.
Biver, 70, is credited with playing a significant role in the preservation of Switzerland’s mechanical watchmaking tradition, starting with his resurrection of the historic Blancpain dial name, which he and business partner Jacques Piguet bought from SSIH (now Swatch Group) for SFr21,500 (about £16,800) in 1983 – and sold back to the group nine years later for SFr60m (about £47m).
He went on to revitalise Hublot as CEO in 2004 with the introduction of the ostentatious and hugely successful Big Bang range, orchestrating the sale of the brand to LVMH four years later for a sum rumoured to be in excess of £300m. He subsequently became CEO of TAG Heuer and head of the LVMH watchmaking division, roles from which he has now retired.
Over the decades, Biver’s position as a lynchpin of the Swiss industry has enabled him to amass a formidable collection of watches, some of which are worth seven-figure sums – but the exhibition doesn’t only focus on value.
Among the items on display is the gold Omega Constellation given to him by his parents to mark his confirmation into the Catholic church at the age of eight – after which the watch was promptly taken back and not returned to him until, at 18, he was considered old enough to wear it.
Also on show is the Hublot Bigger Bang he has worn on an almost daily basis since 2005 and the 1912 Patek Philippe Gondolo that Biver purchased when it was a century old as a birthday gift for his wife, as well as pieces by contemporary, independent makers for whom he has served as mentor, such as the Frenchman François-Paul Journe and the fast-ascending star Rexhep Rexhepi, founder of Akrivia.
Some of the most collectable Rolex models also form part of the line-up, among them one of the very earliest GMT-Masters with Bakelite bezel, a trio of rare Cosmograph Daytonas and a sought-after modern-day Daytona “Rainbow” featuring a bezel set with meticulously graded coloured gemstones.
Among the most valuable watches, meanwhile, are a Patek Philippe Reference 1518 in rose gold (in December, a similar watch sold at Phillips New York for $2.3m) and the second prototype made of the brand’s celebrated Heures Universelles world-time wristwatch, which debuted during the 1930s.