As luxury brands go, Geneva-based Bovet watchmakers has a cherished legacy that could have proven daunting for a new owner. However, Pascal Raffy, a majority partner in the company, said he embraced the challenge when he acquired Bovet in 2001 and has since worked to maintain its standards for exclusivity and detail. The story of Bovet can be traced back 186 years to when Edouard Bovet produced his first watches to display exotic European arts to Chinese nobility. In August 2006, Raffy added to his Maison Bovet 1822 Group with the acquisition of three manufacturing structures renamed Dimier 1738.
Majority partner Raffy spoke to Emirates Business exclusively about his expansion plans and the role the Middle East will play in Bovet's future.
What is your strategy for increasing retail sales in the Middle East? Would you open a boutique in the region?
That [a boutique] remains a clear likelihood and I am very bullish about the Middle East. I would like to work closely with our regional partners and we will be examining that possibility. Currently we have boutiques in Ukraine and Moscow.
How do you protect the ethos and DNA of Bovet in a modern world of fast-changing preferences and shifting lifestyles?
I come to the industry from a family with strong traditions and roots in watch collection. My grandfather was a keen watch connoisseur and an eminent collector and for 10 years under his tutelage, I learned a great deal about both the aesthetical and mechanical aspects of watchmaking.
This for me was an important patrimony and helped shape my perspectives and philosophy in the rarefied world of haute horlogerie. When I acquired Bovet in 2001, I was keen to restore and maintain the rich heritage of the brand.
I realised that for the brand to stay in the 'real luxury' sector, our watches would have to be handmade by technical professionals and embellished by skillful artisans. This obviously meant that it would not be assembly-line manufacture but production in very limited numbers giving us the advantage of 'high gloss, high value' and thereby putting us in the niche haute horlogerie segment.
The ethos and DNA of the 186-year old brand, is nurtured by such fundamentals as tradition, education, exclusivity, artisanship, excellence, hand-produced craftsmanship and attention to detail and a quest for perfection.
Has Bovet performed up to your expectations in the seven years since your acquisition?
When I took over Bovet in 2001, it was not for economic reasons. In fact, I was prepared to give the brand enough time to evolve and develop. I was preparing for the brand to be inherited by my three children over, say, the next 20 years. Bovet was a challenge and I wanted to maintain the distinction of the brand. Without industrial production, we are limited to around 2,000 pieces annually, but it was important for me to preserve the essence of the brand. This involved concentration, dedication and decoration of the dials, among other criteria. I am pleased with the performance of the brand under my watch and tenure.
Bovet pioneered the 'Road to China' strategy, marketing European horology to the Chinese imperial aristocracy. You now have a broader worldview, planning expansion into uncharted territories including the Middle East and India. How are you faring in this regard?
To me, a watch is a 'pendant of passion', valuable and collectible. Despite the deliberate small-scale production of the sophisticated Bovet watches, the brand is very successful globally. The Middle East is emerging as a strong and potentially rewarding market holding a lot of promise.
Today, Bovet is available in 27 countries worldwide including China where we enjoy a proven friendly business relationship. We will now be expanding into Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong as part of our expansion programme.
We are also strong in the Asia Pacific region, the US, Russia, the former CIS republics, the Baltic States and even Eastern Europe in countries such as Bulgaria.
The crown at the 12.00 o'clock position is Bovet's signature trademark. Will this remain a sacred tenet? How else will the brand continue to distinguish itself?
The crown at the 12.00 o'clock position is a unique attribute and will continue to remain our signature trademark for Bovet watches. This distinguishing feature provides the brand instant recognition. This, however, is not the only aspect of Bovet watches. Other parameters include the mother-of-pearl decorative dials, handcrafted models and attention to detail at every stage of the production.
In February 2006, Bovet introduced the renamed Dimier 1738. How do these two classic labels reconcile in this new set-up?
There are no contradictions as far as the two brands go. Each of the brands has its own characteristics and attributes with individual strengths. While Bovet is a classical, traditional watch, Dimier gives a more contemporary image. They both sit well within the Bovet umbrella and help redefine our profile.
PROFILE: Pascal Raffy Majority partner of Maison Bovet
Born in Lebanon, Pascal Raffy and his family were forced to flee the country when war broke out in 1976.
After nine months on the run, the family found refuge in Paris, where the young Raffy began studying law before he obtained a master's degree in international relations.
Shortly after, he met Jean Glamour. The inventor of photographic filters entrusted him to distribute its products. Passionate and savvy, Pascal Raffy then came to the knowledge of Gilbert Kervan. The latter introduced him to the house of renowned watchmaker Bovet.
Today a majority partner in the company, Pascal Raffy has more time to carry out its other dreams – drawing, writing and singing.