A watch collector turned brand owner on building a house that creates the haute-couture equivalent of watchmaking.
Bovet watches might seem like a bit of a curiosity, with their distinctive elaborate, almostbaroque finishings. But for the brand’s owner, Pascal Raffy, that is the point: “In our everyday lives, we have a lot of ready-towear clothes. But when it comes to a special outfit, we want it to be unique. Bovet is the haute couture of watchmaking.”
It’s a statement amply illustrated by the Recital 20 Asterium (pictured), the latest blockbuster by the Swiss high-end horology brand that Raffy recently presented to collectors and journalists here in Singapore. While it has a sizeable price tag of over half a million dollars, the Asterium offers plenty of watch for every dollar. The highly decorated model includes a multitude of astronomy-centred features such as an accurate sky map, a flying tourbillon, and a 10-day power reserve.
During our interview with Raffy, it becomes clear that much of Bovet’s unique value proposition springs from its owner’s unusual perspective as a watch collector-turnedbrand owner. Says the 53-year-old Frenchman: “As a collector, I insist on a high level of watchmaking. This might be something negative for very financially minded people. But I prefer this to making any compromises.”
Raffy’s involvement in his brand goes beyond general abstraction; it permeates every aspect of it. A literal case in point: that of the Asterium, which he whips off his wrist for us to examine more closely. Available in gold or platinum, the Asterium’s case is asymmetrical, with a thicker profile at the top, near 12 o’clock, that tapers towards the bottom. When asked if there is a name for this case shape, he says with a smile: “You can call it ‘Mr Raffy’s writing desk’. My grandfather used to let me write at the writing desk in his office. That desk was shaped like this.”
This deeply personal approach has guided operations at Bovet since Raffy bought a majority share in the brand in 2001. Around that time, the former pharmaceutical chief, then in his late 30s, was in early retirement. Knowing that Raffy was an avid watch collector, a friend convinced him to invest in Bovet by showing him one of the modern-day timepieces by the brand, which had been founded in Canton in 1822 by Swiss watchmaker Edouard Bovet.
Before Raffy came on board, Bovet was owned by two entrepreneurs who had bought it in 1994, following a long period of inactivity that had begun in the 1950s. While the watches were highly decorated with traditional techniques such as miniature painting and engraving, they were powered by modified third-party movements. By 2003, Raffy had bought out the original owners, and over the next few years, he created a vertically integrated manufacture in Switzerland by acquiring Bovet’s suppliers of movement components and dials, as well as a share in its case supplier.
Raffy’s goal is “to keep Bovet unique, rare and excellent”, an aim that largely stems from his first-hand knowledge as a collector. Production of the Asterium, for example, will be limited to 60 pieces, including specially commissioned models. (Annual production at Bovet is kept low, and typically lies between 2,000 and 2,800 pieces.) In between puffs on