Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Watch Industry and the Transfer Window - Jean-Claude Biver

I first ran this story back in January when the news first broke.  It is hard to believe that nearly a whole year has now passed since Jean-Claude Biver handed over most of his CEO responsibilities at Hublot, but as we are nearly at the end of the year, it seems a good time to look back.

The last emperor has left the party

News has now spread that Jean Claude Biver has decided, in the words of several (including Valentino)  to leave the party while it is still full.  I recall reading the news release when Mr. Biver took over Hublot.

In his discussions with the former owners prior to joining, he stated emphatically that the big idea behind Hublot was not a gold and rubber watch - it was FUSION.  In other words, the combination of seemingly unlikely design elements or components.  And it has been fusion that has carried the day at Hublot ever since.

As I write this, I am reminded of the past 18 months - in other words, the time frame which I started this blog.  During that time, at least to me, there was a noticeable change in Mr. Biver.  The excitement and joy for Hublot was there, but the volume seemed somewhat dialed back.  At BaselWorld last year (March 2011) a few of us thought that this announcement might be coming sooner - it just didn't seem like the same Hublot, and it didn't seem like the same Mr. Biver.

If you are an Hublot watcher like myself, you would have perhaps seen the stage being set for his retirement for the past 2 years or so.  Hublot TV - which was right up there with Burn Notice on my must watch list has slowly petered out.  A social media guru was brought in, and barely had time to have a cup of coffee before he was shown the door.  What had been a consistently solid image was becoming unclear, shifting and with the launch of Hublot Nation seemed even more discordant.

Perhaps to put it more precisely - from 2007 to early 2011, Hublot had captured the imagination of the watch world - not just the attention of those who would likely buy it.  This did not happen organically, and it didn't happen solely because of products - the watch industry offers up seemingly hundreds of interesting and desirable creations each year.  It was fusion, to be sure.  But the key fusion was Mr. Biver and opportunity.  In other words, he is certainly a visionary - but more than this, he is evangelical in his zeal.  In the past, listening to Mr. Biver was like listening to the most convincing preacher you had ever heard.  It was light years BEYOND selling, and was well beyond marketing.  This was passion ratcheted up to such a level that you became a convert just by being in the same room.  Perhaps a new word should be added to our lexicon - "Biveresequa".  Does this mean that there is no Hublot without him?  Of course not, there was an Hublot before him, and there will of course be one after.  The question remains - what will Hublot be without him?

And ultimately, we are of course all left to speculate.  Is this really the last stop?  Since 2008/2009 several of Mr. Biver's fellow pioneers in the rebirth of the Swiss watch industry have left the party owing to prior appointments with their maker - more than a few of them quite suddenly while in the office.  I suspect that he is not the type of person who, on his death bed would regret not spending more time in the office.  He certainly does not need the money, and he has quite a few other interests to keep him busy.  But something tells me, there might be at least one more party for Mr. Biver to join, one more challenge left.  We shall see.

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