The Watch Industry’s Power Broker Looks Forward

Jean-Claude Biver sees a future in which technology and art coexist, but don’t share your wrist.
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Jean-Claude Biver sees a future in which technology and art coexist, but don’t share your wrist.
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With smart watches poised to make an indelible impact on the watchmaking industry and American upstarts raising their hands, Maxim tracked down the watch industry’s most outspoken man, Jean-Claude Biver, who heads LVMH’s watch business (think: TAG Heuer, Zenith, Hublot, Chaumet, Bulgari, De Beers, FRED) and was recently appointed interim chief of the French luxury goods group’s biggest watch brand, TAG Heuer. We wanted to know what he thought the near future held in store. As usual, he didn’t hold back.

Where do you see the future of watchmaking, both short-term and long-term?

In the short term, I see no spectacular changes, but on the long term, I believe the changes will be dramatic. We will see two types of watches in the future. The “High Technology” watches on one side and the “High Horology” watches on the other. There will be a clear differentiation between art and technology. Interesting to note: Both can live together as they are rather complementary and not in competition.

With markets in Asia taking a downward turn, brands are turning their focus on the U.S. What do you think is America’s greatest appeal?

Not all the Asian markets are facing a downward trend. The downward trend is a Chinese and Hong Kong problem, while other markets, like Japan for instance, are performing quite well. Nevertheless, one should never forget that America is, and will remain for a long time, the biggest luxury market in the world. Wealth in America is such that the consumer is more and more looking for individuality, exclusivity and uniqueness.

Your thoughts on the Apple Watch have been well documented. Since your initial statements, you've announced you’re spearheading the creation of your own Smart Watch. Did you change your mind about smart watches?

We did not realize, at first moment, how important the wearable watch would be and what an important role it would play in the future. Once we realized it, we chose not to lose one more minute and decided to catch up. It will still take us some time as we are not in the telecom industry but, rather, in the traditional watch industry. That’s the reason why we have been looking to establish new partnerships.

Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

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What do you think will be the next big watch innovation – apps aside?

The biggest innovation will be the materials, which may definitively and deeply change the traditional watch movement as we know it. On the other hand, as already mentioned, the wearable watch will create a kind of tsunami effect on all quartz watches.

How potent is the $1,000 - $3,000 watch category? Why does that seem to be the sweet spot with consumers?

For most people, a watch costing $2,000 to $3,000 is already quite an expensive price and is considered in Switzerland, and in our industry, as the entry price of luxury. But, as the middle class gets wealthier, there will be an increase in sales of this price segment. I must admit that it’s quite an interesting entry price for a status symbol to luxury, to exclusivity and to beauty.

As we prepare for another round of watch fairs (SIHH, Baselworld), what do you forecast for the coming year? What will have the biggest impact?

Watches with wearable technology will certainly be the dominating trend of 2015. It is something everybody will be talking about for some time.

But you’re not concerned that we’re going to give up on traditional watches. You think we’ll still be wearing them in a few decades?

Yes, of course. But we will be wearing smart watches during the day and true examples of watchmaking art for evening.

Photos by Viktor Chlad/isifa/Getty Images