On Location with Jean-Claude Biver, President of the LVMH Watch Division

Jean-Claude Biver is one of those rare men who have genuinely left their mark on Swiss watchmaking. A crazy dynamic visionary with a passion for watches and champagne, he’s one of those entrepreneurs who exude confidence while constantly striving to better themselves.

As the President of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) Watch Division, Biver oversees TAG Heuer, Hublot, and Zenith companies which boasts more than 750 points of sale from Cannes to 5th Avenue, where we met him for a construction tour of the newest boutique.

The 5th Avenue location, nestled just south of Central Park across from Bergdorf Goodman, has since been opened and is a spectacular space, a merger of the future of the watch world and the past of the timepiece collectors. With hardhats on and an effortless champagne smile, Jean-Claude talked to us (in his oh-so-Swiss and charming accent) about freeing yourself from work, owning up to failures, and why you must never wake up after four o’clock in the morning.

Alister & Paine: Tell me how you got into the watchmaking world.

Jean-Claude: How did I get in? I get in because I want to get in. It was not by chance. It was a wish.

Why? Because I didn’t want to work. I hate working. Everybody does. If you don’t want to work, but you have to make money, you have only one solution.

Try to transform your passion into your job. And once you are in your passion, you don’t work. A musician will never say ‘Ugh, I have to work.’ While he plays he makes money, and he works.

For that reason I decided to join the watchmaking world. Because my passion was watches. And because of that I said, ‘Let’s go to a watch brand and then they will free me from my work! That is, if they employ me.’ And they did.

Alister & Paine: How do you set yourself apart from other luxury watch brands, especially having three watch brands under one company umbrella?

Jean-Claude:  We don’t set ourselves apart. Our brand each have their own DNA. Each of our brands have their own message, own price segment, each of our brands have their own customers, and because of this each one is different. And when each one is different you have no problem to master all the three. If they would be similar, it would be difficult. This sponsorship, do I give it to him or him? I would have to hesitate. If one brand has a message, say, ‘legends never die’, then it’s easy when you have to choose sponsoring. You’re going to go with classic car because classic cars never die.

If every message is clear, you can master every brand easily. So this is how we do it. If the brands were not so different, then it would be headache.

Alister & Paine: What is the DNA of Hublot?

Jean-Claude: It’s the worst of all. Disruption! Destroy all that exists in order to rebuild a new proposition. Big Bang. What is Big Bang?! It is the most destructive explosion. 10 billion times stronger than nuclear bomb. But, after the big bang was the creation of the planets. So it is at the same time an extraordinary creative act but also a destructive act. And this is why I name our watch Big Bang, because that is what the watch is doing. It destroys a certain classic behavior, it destroys a certain tradition, but it builds a new proposition.

That is what Hublot is. Hublot is the disruptive leading brand in luxury.

Alister & Paine: Tell me about the construction space we are in now.

Jean-Claude: The new home of Hublot! The space is enormous, fantastic, it is luxury. Luxury it means space. Luxury it means time. We are becoming a player of the city. Now suddenly we play in the city. We are somebody in the city. This is just extraordinary. I never believed we would get a space like that. Never. In my best dreams I never dreamt so much. My dreams are far below what we achieve, which is the beauty.

Alister & Paine: Do you have a favorite timepiece?

Jean-Claude: I have one. I don’t have it on today! Today, I forgot my watch at home. I swear on my kids I forgot my watch at home so I said to the shop ‘Can you lend me one?’. So I’m wearing a watch which doesn’t belong to me. Which is very rare, it’s very very very unusual that I wear a watch that doesn’t belong to me. My favorite is Big Bang, from 2005, which I have made for me and I said to me and to my people that’s the future of Hublot. This watch. And it’s a bigger bang, all black tourbillion, and I made it for me but also to show everyone where Hublot should go. It was a kind of a reference and that’s the watch I love. It brought me luck, it brought me success, and I forgot it at home.

I forgot the watch because I came for a Tag Heuer event, and when I come for a Tag Heuer event I try to respect my people and they don’t like me coming to Tag Heuer event with Hublot on my wrist. So because of respect I didn’t take the Hublot. And I forgot when I left home I said ‘SHIT I also have a Hublot event!’ So it happened that I only traveled with one watch.

Alister & Paine: Haha! Happens to everyone. Who is the typical Hublot customer that you are designing for?

Jean-Claude: It’s me. Number one, because I am one of the hundred most important Patek Philippe collectors in the world. I have a very significant collection. We have a lot of milestones and unique pieces. Being a Patek Philippe collector…from time to time you have a desire to wear something that connects you also to the future. If you are constantly connected to the past, it’s okay, it gives you confidence and you understand it and know how the past is. But from time to time you need to connect also to the future.

And who connects me to the future? Big Bang. Because it has partly the past, but it has also the future. And with all of classic collection I only have the past. So I say I need a watch that has all the elements of tradition but sufficient mobility to be worn in the today’s world, in the today’s way of living. And if I want to go diving why should I take my watch off my wrist? So I’m the reference as a customer. Who is the reference for ladies? My wife. I have chosen my wife and myself as the references. I ask always my wife what to do for ladies watches and I ask myself for men’s. Of course Ricardo Guadalupe is the CEO of Hublot now, and he is slowly taking over more in terms of reference.

Alister & Paine: What’s the best advice you’ve received to date?

Jean-Claude: To never believe that the success is yours. The success is the result of the hard work of a team. And if you are the boss, please give the success to the team. You should only indulge the failures because you are the boss. The success should be given back and the failures worn on your shoulders. That’s why you are the boss. Because your shoulders are large and your shoulders can carry all the failures. As soon as you have a success please give it to the team.

Alister & Paine: Who told you that?

Jean-Claude: My first boss, Fritz Ammann. He gave me that advice in December 1979. That’s the advice of a strong man. Strong man gives success to others and endures failure. WEAK man gives the failures to others. ‘Ah, he’s responsible, it’s his fault!’ And then the success they take for themselves. So I don’t want to be weak, I want to be strong, and this lesson I never forgot.

Alister & Paine: How about some advice for aspiring budding entrepreneur?

Jean-Claude: Never forget to believe and to think that today, when you wake up at 4am or 3am (that’s the first rule, never get up after 4am), always say ‘Today, its 4:00am, the 14th of October, today will be better than yesterday.’ But! Tomorrow will be even better than today. If you don’t have this vision, how can you get to tomorrow? And how can you even get up? You can get up because you say ‘WOW! Today better than yesterday.’ And then you can walk through today because you know tomorrow can be even better. That’s my only advice.