HAUTE HORLOGERIE - Jean-Claude Biver: “Lower prices will not break the market”

August 2016

Quick interview with Jean-Claude Biver

ES: A few years ago, Jérôme Lambert took an enormous amount of flak in watchmaking circles for having launched a tourbillon at CHF 40,000, which people said would “break” the tourbillon market. Your tourbillon for under CHF 15,000 (and a flying tourbillon at that, with chronograph function) provoked a similar reaction, and some quite virulent criticism, in the aisles of Baselworld. How do you respond? Are you really “breaking” the market, or are you opening up a new market by “democratising” the tourbillon?

JCB: I think my first response to my colleagues’ criticisms would be to advise them not to talk about any brands other than their own! Unless they have nothing left to say about their own brand, which I obviously hope is not the case! But no, I don’t believe it’s possible to break the market through “democratisation”, unless prices are artificially inflated, and I don’t think they are. In theory, “democratisation” should be a means of broadening access to excellence and exceptional work, helping to make it better appreciated and understood.

More generally, is it not true to say that prices are systematically inflated where complications are concerned?

I can only speak for the brands I’ve worked for, and for the 10,000 tourbillons that have been built and sold by the brands for which I have been responsible over the last 40 years, but I sincerely believe that the prices are absolutely justified. Justified for their time, and for their product. Clearly, it is not for me to judge, or to claim that the prices of complications have been systematically inflated; however, I can state that, for my own brands, this is not the case!

You have said that TAG aims to be the “entry point to fine Swiss watchmaking”, and that this tourbillon is part of a “new emerging concept of affordable Haute Horlogerie.” Does this mean that the concept will continue to evolve, and that we should look out for more affordable complications covering the entire spectrum of traditional watchmaking?

Yes, the fundamental concept of TAG Heuer is based on three commandments, which are simple to explain and to remember, but sometimes difficult to put into practice. They are as follows:

a) TAG Heuer has been Swiss Avant Garde since 1860 and must remain so!
b) TAG Heuer is the Swiss watch brand of “accessible luxury” or “accessible exclusivity”.
c) TAG Heuer must always have a perceived value (in terms of product and quality) at least double its sale price.

These three commandments together dictate the entire policy of our existence. And they apply to our entire product range. Whether we sell watches for CHF 1,500 or CHF 15,000, the perceived value must be at least twice to four times the sales price. Prices must always remain “accessible”, whatever the price range.

What is your main target audience? Young professionals? Certain specific markets? Is this project in fact a campaign to raise awareness of complicated watchmaking?

Our target audience is TAG Heuer clients; they are generally young in spirit, and young in terms of their connection to the future. Most of the time, you can’t identify this kind of youth from a passport; it’s in their mentality, their attitude to life. Clearly, with the concept of “accessible exclusivity and luxury”, we are opening the doors to a necessarily wider clientele, and by doing so we are making a significant contribution to increasing our clients’ understanding of watchmaking.

Contrary to popular opinion, industrialising movement production also implies improvements and enhanced reliability. What are the specific limitations to series production of a tourbillon movement? Some stages must necessarily be carried out by hand, which is surely expensive...

The specific limitations to mass production are always the same, because whatever you do you always come up against numerous constraints. It’s how you resolve those constraints that matters; and that’s where the ingenuity of our builders and workshop managers really comes through. Human intervention, however, is the final essential element; only human hands can add that final artisanal touch, only human hands are capable of imparting that spark of life to an object; at the end of the day, it’s what makes watches timeless.

How do you regulate series-produced tourbillons? And how do they perform?

The performance of TAG Heuer’s COSC chronograph tourbillon is exceptional. You only need to look at the fact that 100% of our output is certified by the COSC [Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute]. And to date, it’s the only tourbillon chronograph chronometer! What could be more revealing, what better proof of quality do you need, than an official chronometer certificate?

Source: Europa Star June 2016 Magazine Issue