Having visited many different watchmanufactures over the course of the past 7-8 years, each visit has always been a learning experience and left lasting impressions. Few left a lasting impression as Bovet did which I just visited for two days.
Bovet has several locations where they produce their timepieces. Starting with the Bovet boutique in the center of Geneva not far from the bridge of Quai Montblanc, then in Plan les Ouates where Bovet is making their dials, and in Motiers where Bovet is assembling their timepieces which are in large part produced at the Tramelan facility of Dimier 1738.
The foundation of Bovet in 1822
Bovet or Bovet 1822 as they call themselves belongs to one of the earliest watchmakers in Switzerland, however, they started their business in China, and not in Switzerland, although Edouard Bovet was Swiss, he was living and working in China when he started his company in 1822. Sounds quite unusual, and it truly is. So are the timepieces he made and the legacy continues under the helm of Pascal Raffy who “recreated” the brand in 2001. As you can imagine, there is more than just a bit of a “chinese” tradition feeding into the watches they used to make and the wristwatches they now make.
All that sounds pretty smooth and easy, doesn’t it? Well, looking at the current success of Bovet which is selling around 2000 timepieces annually in a price segment that starts at around 20000 Swiss Francs, it is at least impressive and that is a true understatement.
Bovet Recital 17, picture taken in the assembly room at Chateau de Motiers.
Bovet‘s history is characterized by interruptions and we do not know yet how the complete history took place, there is still room for research.
I have seen Bovet wristwatches (chronographs mostly) in the 1950s and 1960s. Just want to share a few pictures with you.
Sofar, that period in the 1950s and 1960s is not very well documented and would be an interesting task to research.
Let me start chronologically as I first visited the boutique in Geneva. It was an incredibly hot day in Geneva, I think temperatures were around 36 degrees Celsius. The boutique is right by Lac Leman or Lake Geneva as it is called in English. We were shown a few timepieces including some ladies timepieces which I will share here with you. The pictures were shot in a room that was quite dark with artificial light, so please pardon my picture quality.
After the boutique visit we went to dinner with a group of publishers and journalists nearby in the Mandarin Oriental. It was an exciting dinner with many interesting conversations about Bovet and watches in general. The group of journalists joining the dinner came from several countries like Italy, Switzerland, Spain, and others.
Bovet Virtuoso VIII.
The next morning, it was time to get up really early at around 5 am as we were heading to Tramelan where Bovet is making all the components for watches in their subsidiary called Dimier 1738. We spent quite a few hours there, and Christophe, project manager at Bovet, took at lot of time to explain to us the processes and the philosophy of Bovet. And believe me, this was very impressive. Much more impressive than I were able to anticipate by far.
Pascal Raffy, owner of Bovet, acquired Dimier 1738 to be able to make all the components of a watch and to be as independent as possible from others. Dimier 1738 is not called 1738 due to its founding year if you think but it is the birthdate of Pascal Raffy’s children.
Dimier 1738. Entrance. Sorry for the shaky picture, I guess the curves into the Jura mountains had their effect on my hands holding steady. Sadly, I only shot one picture. Considering that I usually shoot pictures of small watches, this is quite an accomplishment for me. 😉
Having met Pascal Raffy who joined us when we were invited for lunch at his Chateau de Motiers, he talked with us about his inspiration which came from his private pocketwatch collection of Bovet’s early pocketwatches. As they were mostly made for the chinese market, they were beautifully enameled and adorned and decorated pocketwatches, with chinese motives like the Mandarin duck for example. His collection is quite extensive and documented in a large book. We were able to view a few pieces during lunch and shot some pictures which I will show in the next paragraph. Meanwhile, current Bovet timepieces are inspired in more than one way by their past.
Bovet Mandarin Duck pocketwatch from Pascal Raffy’s private collection.
First, the current collection is highly decorated as well, with exceptional dials, layouts, functions and beautifully handfinished movements. All movements are developed inhouse. The watches are coming from the mind of Pascal Raffy who generates his ideas based on the past with a connection to the future. It is his very own way of expression.
Monsieur Bovet timepiece with 7 days powerreserve from the Fleurier Complications collection.
Amadeo System – pocketwatch, deskclock and wristwatch in one.
Second, the Amadeo system is inspired from the past. Pascal Raffy collected pocketwatches and this inspired him to create and patent the Amadeo system which allows to create a pocketwatch, a deskclock and a wristwatch by just a few clicks. Truly amazing and unique idea which noone else ever did as far as I know. Take a look at the video.
Beauty of the past
Bovet’s pocketwatches possess a unique and characteristic beauty. Not only are the dials amazing, but the movements are finely decorated and both serve as inspiration for today’s Bovet timepieces.
Now look at this modern Bovet timepiece for ladies:
Currently Bovet is manufacturing between 1500 and 2000 timepieces a year. Going forward, Mr. Raffy fixed a ceiling of 4000 timepieces a year which will not be exceeded. It is indeed about a limit beyond which it is not possible to guarantee watchmaking excellence such as Mr. Raffy and his team define it at BOVET 1822.
This does not exclude handcraft however. It does mean perfection though. Which is extremely important considering the complication of some timepieces. Bovet, as Pascal Raffy views it, had to be perfect from day one. And that is what is important to Pascal Raffy. He views his team without which the success of Bovet would not be possible as the most important part. And his team consists of the best people Pascal Raffy could find.
To illustrate certain parts of the production, I took short videos while walking through the manufacture of Dimier 1738.
Electroerosion is a method which eliminates surface damage, pitting and etching, for cutting and shaping stainless steel metal pieces, from larger pieces to the smallest possible pieces. In case of a watch this can be the case, the caseback, the wheels of a movement, etc.. The precision of this method is pretty much the highest possible.
Stamping is an old method as illustrated by the videos below. This method still requires alot of handcraft and understanding. It is not just a simple industrial process. The skills are not taught in any school in Switzerland and have to be acquired on the job.
Polishing a tourbillon bridge takes about 4 hours. This explains why some watches take so much time. I admire the watchmaker who has all this patience to accomplish the level of polishing required for a beautiful Tourbillon masterpiece by Bovet.
Pascal Raffy wanted the highest possible degree of independence for his manufacture. That made him develop his own hairsprings at Dimier 1738. Considering how few in Switzerland are able to create their own hairsprings, this is a huge step, as small as a hairspring appears, as important it is.
Dimier 1738 also makes altimeters for airplanes. If I recall correctly, Dimier 1738 is the only one making them currently. Altimeters are used in aviation to measure altitude. This was quite a surprise as I did not expect this from a watchmanufacture. It shows though how progressive Bovet truly is.
As you can see, I took quite a few videos while touring around Dimier 1738 where watchparts for Bovet watches are made.
BOVET used to manufacture movements or complete watches for other brands in the past but has recently decided to focus on their own needs and is now only producing some components for other brands and not entire movement or watches anymore except their own.
Chateau de Motiers
The castle of Motiers in the Valdetravers region near Fleurier is home to Pascal Raffy who resides there when he is not traveling the globe. In addition, assembly, repair and customer service offices are located on the same premises. I can tell you one thing, it is a phenomental place to work and filled me with envy. Would love to work in such an office environment.
The castle was taken over by Pascal Raffy and modernized to accomodate his offices and private quarters.
Impression from the watchassembly:
Our lunch took place inside of the castle. After lunch, Pascal Raffy joined us, and I think all of us felt when we left that we would have loved to continue our conversation with Pascal Raffy who came across as highly spirited and charismatic.
Take a look at the latest complication timepiece by Bovet. The Asterium is an astronomic timepiece. I wrote a contribution about it some days ago. Just click below.
Conclusion and personal opinion
My absolute personal favorite would be the Braveheart. To my eyes it is the most beautiful Bovet. And one of the most expensive… Due to the Amadeo system it is 3 watches in one.
The Braveheart has 22 days powerreserve. And in order to avoid that winding takes way too much time, Bovet developed a special winding mechanism which helps speeding up the handwinding.
The Braveheart is a very complicated timepiece as it indicates hours and retrograde minutes, double coaxial seconds on tourbillon, powerreserve and reversed handfitting. All this combined with the Amadeo system. Although the watch can be had in different metals including white gold and platinum, my preference in terms of beautiful looks comes with Rosegold and the black lacquered dial.
Alternatively, considering the price, I would enjoy the steel 19thirty Fleurier just as much with a beautifully finished movement and no complications but a 7 day powerreserve.
The 19Thirty collection is not equipped with the Amadeo system, they are not convertible. But it is a wonderful piece to start with Bovet. Based on a 1930 pocketwatch from Pascal Raffy’s collection. And a 19thirty with Chinese numbers on the dial would be just cool, even though I do not speak Chinese.
Oh in case you are wondering why the top picture in this contribution is a leaf growing out of a stone? That is what I thought Pascal Raffy did with Bovet, he revived a wonderful brand with an incredible heritage from nothing. Just like the leaf grew out of the stone. At least that is how it looks. Yet, Pascal Raffy had his passion, his love for Bovet pocketwatches, and created an amazing idea and brand from it.
A huge thank you to Pascal Raffy for having us over and spending time with us showing us a world of watchmaking that is quite unique and which is still too unknown. When I look around in luxury publications, I cannot find any advertisement of Bovet. This is quite impressive, and Pascal Raffy told us that he focuses on quality, not on advertising. A lot of his sales come from recommendations by current owners. Building such a brand based on this principle is just further proof how valuable these horological masterpieces truly are.