After some dithering, I decided to attend the WatchPro awards in November. The hesitation was dual in aspect. Firstly I was uncertain if it would really be my cup of tea – being essentially a trade event, and secondly, the not insignificant ticket price of over £400 was concentrating my mind. Daniel Malins (co-founder of the publication) with whom I had been liaising with assured me it would be worth it, promising good company, food and drink. As the latter was unlimited, he suggested that I could perhaps drink sufficient to recoup my outlay! Well, whilst I am not teetotal I am also not a drunkard, so I suppose it would all depend on the “quality” of the fare!  Anyway, in the end I bit the bullet and joined up.

The evening duly arrived and I arrived bang on opening. I chatted to a few folks as we gathered – some I knew, but mostly not. I decided anyway to make a start on my ticket recoup with a couple of flutes of champagne.  I then popped out briefly to the foyer to study the table plan again and when I re-entered editor Rob Corder was now greeting guests with none other than Jean-Claude Biver (J-C). We all shook hands and I mumbled something like ” so wonderful to meet you” – a bit trite and lame, but I was caught off guard when you are suddenly confronted with an “international watch treasure”!

The evening was somewhat predictable, with the the awards being announced by Rob and Daniel in-between courses, along with loud pop music fanfares and on occasions shrieking from the winning tables. The final highlight, I guess, was a lifetime achievement award to J-C. This was preceded by a talk from Marcus Margulies about his great friend. J-C then received his award and made a speech – essentially outlining his “three commandments”  that he had adopted through life, namely: Share, Respect and Forgive. These he has apparently applied at home and at work. Now, I cannot speak about the personal side of things, but on the business side at least, for such a successful and indeed wealthy man, these came as welcome and unusual features. I would just note here that more of this was elaborated on via a small book in our goody bag, written by a French journalist who interviewed J-C a couple of years ago.

Jean-Claude Biver making his acceptance speech. Yes, I was near the back!

I continued chatting to my fellow table partners, which included representatives from Chopard, Girrard Perregaux and Bremont’s English brothers. The evening drew to a close and in fact sort of petered out by about 10.30. J-C had long been spirited away of course so for a mere mortal no chance to meet the guru!

So my thoughts on the evening?  Well, it seemed pretty well organised and was at a decent enough venue. The table presentation was very nice and the food was surprisingly good (for mass catering) and the drinks acceptable – all delivered with attentive service. The pop music “fanfares” were a tad bit irritating – I think just some enthusiastic applause would suffice. So, my cup of tea? No, not really, but then of course it was for the trade – retailers voting for which brand they favoured in the various categories, and vice versa. The awards per-se were therefore of no massive import to a collector and enthusiast. It was though a decent night out and I met some interesting folks, so, I do not regret going. Would I go again? Well, unless I perhaps went as a guest of someone, probably not. For a private individual it was just too expensive – even though it was ameliorated a bit by the food/drink/goody bag. That said, I am sure for the corporate attendees it was well worthwhile for the accolades and publicity etc, but in future I will probably just content myself with ongoing reading of WatchPro, which I find generally useful and interesting.

Moving on to the following morning (and yes, I was quite fine since you ask), I had a plan to wander the short distance to visit the Phillips auction house on Berkeley Square and take a look at their new boutique – Phillips Perpetual. I had read a little about the new enterprise so was intrigued to see what it was all about. Anyway, I rolled up at about 10.30 and, after security presumably deemed me a suitable person, proceeded to the third floor. I then headed towards the Square side and into, well, a light an airy modern room, with plenty of white walls and glass.

View of the boutique room as you enter. Light from the right comes from Berkeley Square.

My eyes then focused into the room, bulged a little, and my heart rate increased. No, not the sight of rare and expensive pieces of haute horlogerie, but none other than Mr J-C Biver! Our eyes met and as some recognition dawned, he got up from the sofa and we shook hands. In fact his wife was present along with his son, Pierre, who it transpired is managing the boutique! Needless to say I did not want to intrude on parents visiting their offspring at work, and said as much. However, J-C would have none of it and we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes or so. A little about the previous evening and the watch industry in general – but also about his three tenets which he elaborated on. In the end I did feel that I was keeping the man from other things, so, I made noises to leave – but first asked Pierre for some contact details and maybe some photos which they were both more than amenable to. I mentioned that all these were possibly needed for a piece on my site!

Two Biver generations!

After this I had a look at some of the stylish displays and, well, they contained some very interesting (and expensive) contents. To name but a few; Rolex Cosmonaut Daytona “Paul Newman” (ref 6241), FP Journe Tourbillon Remontoire d’Egalite, Patek Nautilus (ref 5800), an original 1969 commemorative gold Omega Professional Moonwatch (ref 145.022), Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro Rotor and a Roger Smith Series 2. There was also a display on the Singer Track 1 model and I understand that a brand offering new pieces will be rotated.  When I had finished I said one last goodbye and departed. I am no great believer in fate but what were the odds of all that occurring?

Yes, an unexpected and brief encounter, but somewhat of a result!

So, what are my thoughts on my experiences. Well, clearly J-C is a hugely talented man and the watch industry owes him much. He also seems be a thoroughly principled and decent chap, so those that know him better than I are indeed fortunate! Regarding the boutique, I feel it is quite an astute move. The venue and location are of course great, with the boutique itself modern, minimalist and well presented. The stock is impressive and seems to be shifting – judging by the website offerings today. Whether they represent good value I know not, as prices are POA. I also assume they are being sold on consignment (with commission) and some kind of warranty perhaps. I have tried to contact Pierre posing some such questions but to date no response via the email address he gave me. Ho hum, maybe just early teething pains or someone never checks his spam bin! As with other articles, if anything of interest emerges later on I will update.

Words & Images: The Writer

Noted book: Jean-Claude Biver – The Wizard of Swiss Watchmaking by Gerard Lelarge. (Orell Fussli Verlag)