Jean-Claude Biver may have retired from his role as LVMH watch boss but the man responsible for building the modern fortunes of Hublot, Blancpain, TAG Heuer and Zenith is showing no sign of retiring from public life. His latest project is a travelling exhibition of watches from his personal collection: over the years he has developed a reputation as one of the most discerning buyers and is known to have an enviable collection. Just how enviable, we can see with this brief glimpse: a focus on rare complicated Patek Philippe models is balanced by a keen attention to personal connections, with watches from the various brands he has run and watchmakers he has worked with also represented. QP asked Phillips' International Specialist Director of watches James Marks to say a few words about the highlights from the exhibition, which runs from 24-28 February at the Phillips showroom on Berkeley Square.
James Marks says of these apparently ordinary Rolex Daytonas: "In recent years, Jean-Claude Biver’s collection has evolved. He recognises that the modern generation collects practical timepieces with automatic movements; he therefore added a unique trilogy of the so-called Mark II bezel "Zenith" Daytona Reference 16520s in stainless steel, which may at first look like regular Reference 16520s expect for the inclusion of the "225" graduation on their bezel. They were produced for a very short period of time during a period when Rolex was experimenting with a reference that would establish the concept of a “waiting list” for the Daytona and cult status."
One of Biver's earliest jobs was as a sales manager for Audemars Piguet. He only stayed a year but a fondness for the brand remained, as shown by this A-series 5402 Royal Oak.
Biver's first real taste of success came when he revived ailing prestige manufacture Blancpain - which he and Jacques Piguet purchased for CHF22,000 and sold for CHF60m. This minute repeater is the epitome of restrained haute horlogerie.
Biver twice worked at Omega, but this watch pre-dates either stint: it was given to him for his communion as a young man. It remains in fantastic condition.
Released in 2007, the Bigger Bang Tourbillon Chronograph was produced in a limited run of 50 pieces and sold for €220,000.
This celestial complication from Patek Philippe was created for the Only Watch auction in 2009. It displays the movement of the night sky in the northern hemisphere and the passage of the moon. A unique piece in yellow gold, it originally sold for €535,000.
In the words of James Marks: "Iconic, timeless and outstanding are all superlatives that are often associated with one of the most eye catching pieces of the Biver collection. The Reference 1518 is considered by many the absolute grail vintage Patek Philippe – it is the brand’s first serially produced perpetual calendar chronograph, and it inspired one of the greatest watch families ever – and this amazingly rare pink on pink version is among the best of the best."
The 1518 and 2499 are well documented, but one of the most fascinating Patek Philippe watches in Biver's collection is this worldtime prototype, one of the first developed by Louis Cottier for Patek Philippe. With some patina to the central display, the condition of the salmon-pink 24-hour ring is excellent.
James Marks says: "Reference 1579 was predominantly manufactured in yellow gold and rose gold, with a very small number produced in stainless steel and even fewer in platinum. This is one of those very few. In fact, we only know of three models. This one features an exemplary case, with the instantly recognisable 'spider' lugs."
Beloved by collectors the world over (including one E. Clapton), the 2499 is the definition of top tier Patek Philippe. As Marks says, "Coveted by many as the quintessential 2499 in regards to design this spectacular example could only reside in one of the very best collections in the world and Biver himself often refers to the 2499 as “the” reference to own and enjoy. "
"Jean-Claude Biver was introduced to Philippe Dufour 40 years ago whilst both held positions at Audemar Piguet and that relationship is stronger than ever," says Marks. "The cult status of the Simplicity can be attributed to not only to its rarity, but the preservation of the finest traditions of Swiss watchmaking. One of the last pieces produced from the 200 series run, it features a classical white lacquer dial, blued Breguet hands all encased in one of the most elegant pink gold cases."
The caseback display of the Simplicity, showing the outstanding finishing for which Dufour is famed; the wide, deep Cotes de Geneve stripes, curved bridges and exquisite bevelling, plus mirror polishing on the fourth wheel bridge.