He’s been described as shy, secretive, even precious. He’s rarely seen and even more rarely heard. Which makes Pascal Raffy no less of a tremendous entrepreneur. Given up for dead in 2001, Bovet has, under his stewardship, regained its status as a full-fledged manufacture, rebuilt through close to two decades of effort and investment during which Lebanese-born Raffy has patiently assembled the pieces of an industrial puzzle to achieve almost full independence and flawless quality. This vision of watchmaking has now been rewarded as, starting next year, Bovet joins the historic Maisons exhibiting at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva.
A desire for authenticity
Pascal Raffy has an eye for detail: “Take another look, this is really a very unusual tourbillon. First off, it represents the Sun with the incredible black-polished rays. More importantly, the sprung balance and the escapement are on different sides of the cage.” He delights in pointing out these various subtleties, well aware of the effort each one has cost him: the date shown on both sides of the watch and driven by a micrometric rack mechanism, or the hand-engraving that gives certain bridges the appearance of being gem-set. Inside Château de Môtiers, home to part of the manufacturing facilities and offices, Bovet’s owner could talk endlessly about his latest “offspring”, the Récital 22 Grand Récital. Like the mechanism, the choice of words is precise, the concept well-oiled, the strategy coherent. A desire for authenticity that Raffy doesn’t just apply to watches.
Details are far from lacking on this Grand Récital watch: small retrograde minutes, precision Moon phases, a spherical differential gear for faster winding, an asymmetrical case and a miniature-painted luminescent hemisphere. This technique, introduced as a world-first in 2017 with the Château de Môtiers 40 collection (also known as The Butterflies), has been made possible through innovations by Luminova, the uncontested leader in phosphorescent (“glow-in-the-dark”) substances. The chemical composition of the constituent elements meant that for years these substances were limited to just blue and green. Now, after the white and purple colours launched in 2017, this joint venture between Japan’s Nemoto and Switzerland’s RC Tritec is introducing new shades in pink, yellow, orange and dark blue. Bovet is first to fully harness these new possibilities.
Among the many subtilities of this Grand Récital, one in particular is characteristic of the Bovet philosophy, and that is the power reserve: a single barrel delivers more than nine days of autonomy, a virtually unique feat. Such a prowess takes root in the systematic use of traditional and artisanal manufacturing methods, deliberately excluding digitally programmed machines to produce movements with superior aptitudes.
When Pascal Raffy acquired Bovet in 2001, its workforce had dwindled to just four but the company still revelled in a now famous history: that of the Bovet brothers in China. The former pharmaceutical executive could simply have surfed the wave, taking advantage of the company’s past without bothering to rebuild the legend. But he had far greater ambitions for the brand, as he proved in 2006 when one after the other he bought the SST group in Tramelan – made up of STT (a movement-maker), SPIR-IT (balance springs) and Aigat (stamping) –, dial-maker and gem-setter Valor, Lopez & Villa in Plan-les-Ouates, and Château de Môtiers. In the space of a few months, the workforce went from 43 to 148 people.
Attention to detail
Pascal Raffy may have renamed the production units Dimier and reorganised workflow – “It took me ten years to rebuild a manufacture,” he confides – he was nonetheless at pains to preserve these skills and expertise, starting with the workshop that makes balance springs for Bovet (as well as for a handful of third-party clients), together with the stamping workshop where bridles, jumpers and wheel plates are produced. Whereas others have replaced traditional methods with digitally-programmed milling machines, Pascal Raffy insists on using a hob cutter for gears – far more precise than a CNC machine – and roller burnishing for pivots. It may not seem like much but these multiple details, put end to end, result in movements that consume very little energy, enabling them to run for a full nine days on a single barrel.
Since 2006, Bovet has developed and produced nineteen proprietary movements, including twelve base calibres, thanks to which the proportion of in-house movements in its collections has grown from 34% to 85%. In a similar vein, Pascal Raffy has set his sights on increasing production capacity from the current two thousand watches a year to ultimately four thousand. The biggest challenge, however, remains the development of new complications. Staff are working on a chronograph that could see daylight in 2022 for Bovet’s 200th anniversary.