Jean-Claude Biver is a renowned name in the Swiss watchmaking game.
With four major luxury brands under his coveted career which include Hublot, Omega, Blancpain and TAG Heuer, the 66-year-old has been credited for saving the Swiss watch industry against the Quartz movement.
As the CEO of TAG Heuer in 2016, Biver has no intentions to slow down and continues to push luxury watchmaking into the next generation using smart technology.
D’Marge sat down with the charismatic German to chat about the importance of their latest technology-driven pieces, its relevance to Australian men and how to become the boss of TAG Heuer.
D’Marge: The latest TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T forms the backbone of the new collection. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Jean-Claude Biver: It was shown at Basel last year but not the all black version. Last year it was just titanium. This time it’s totally ceramic black. It’s the second model after the TAG Heuer 01. Both look similar but the movement is different. Carbon; titanium; it’s a little bit of the Mercedes concept.
Mercedes often have the same shape outside but different engines or finishings inside. That’s what we’re trying to do with the watch.
DM: What can we expect from TAG Heuer at Baselworld 2016?
JCB: We are going to the future. Except one revival of an old piece called Monza. We have the Monaco and we’ll add Monza which will be presented in Basel. Besides that we’re going to the future with the Connected and the TAG Heuer 02.
DM: A lot of Swiss brands are moving towards affordable luxury to broaden their market. You’ve been in the industry for a long time, do you think this is a good idea?
JCB: I think a brand has a positioning in the market. It is always difficult for a brand to change it. If Hermès were to lower its prices to sell more shirts or ties, in the short term it might be positive in the numbers, but longer term I don’t know if it’s good.
So I would be very careful to lower my price segment just because there is a trend or because I want to sell more. That’s my opinion.
TAG reduced their prices on the 1st of January 2015 by 15 percent. Why? Because TAG had gone up in prices by nearly 35 percent over three or four years.
I believe that was wrong. Because it was not linked to the increase in quality, or at least not 100 percent linked. So I said, “we must come back to where we belong because we went too high. We must not forget we are Swiss Avant Garde and an accessible luxury watch brand.”
If other luxury brands which are not as accessible come down to the accessible, they might damage their exclusivity and I wouldn’t do it.
DM: You’ve just partnered with Australian actor Chris Hemsworth. What kind of Australian men are TAG watches suited to?
JCB: I think every young man or woman who is connected to the future. Young doesn’t mean young in the passport; it means young in the head. Somebody who is connected to what is happening tomorrow because we are not a brand that repeats the past.
So the people who look to the future are usually young people connected to fashion, to today’s trends, music and art.
DM: Will the Australian market get a custom design?
JCB: Yes of course. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Ricciardo designed versions. I think it’s coming in April and may be at Basel.
DM: TAG Heuer recently made a smartwatch. Was this a trial piece or is it a true vision of the brand’s future?
JCB: No. It’s not a trial anymore. We are committed with Intel and Google. We have long term commitments. We are even getting technological transfer from Intel to us in Switzerland. We’ve got to assemble some microprocessors which is something we’ve never done before, but we believe in it seriously. We invest in it seriously.
DM: Why is that?
JCB: We believe there will be so much evolution in the connected watch. Eventually the connected watch may replace the phone and it may be able to do everything the phone can. So why do you need a phone?
This is why we invest in it. This is why we are already looking for collection number two and three. There will be new materials from forged metals to carbon to ceramics and colours.
“I’m not yet ready to celebrate. I still have a lot to do.”
DM: We read that you have a passion for farming. Did you come from a farming background?
JCB: Yes! I love farming because of watches. The watch making art form has been developed by the farmers. If you are passionate in watches, you have to go back to 1561 and you will discover that farmers developed watches during the Winter time.
DM: How do you become the CEO of TAG Heueur?
JCB: No passion, not possible. You need to work yourself up. I started from the bottom and I stayed one year with the watchmakers just watching how they do it. Just watching for one year without working. They wanted me to learn, to listen, to look.
From this you have already learnt a lot. Many young people coming from university as graduates don’t listen and believe they know everything. When you start to think you know everything, you are already gone.
You must always learn. If you don’t learn you are dead. A guy who is alive everyday, he learns.
DM: You’re considered the hero of Swiss watchmaking who saved the industry from the Quartz movement. What do you say to that?
JCB: I wish they could give me this title the day I retire! But before you retire, you must have a lot of doubts. You must never believe success is granted; you must always be humble; you must never feel comfortable. And that is what I want to keep until the day I retire.
When somebody says, “this guy was a great guy!” and then I can say, “yes, thank you very much.” But I need to be out of the business to receive this type of compliment.
I’m not yet ready to celebrate. I still have a lot to do.