Bovet Fleurier (Est. 1822) is a Swiss brand, luxury watchmakers first chartered in London by Edouard Bovet. It is most noted for its pocket watches manufactured for the Chinese market in the 19th century. Bovet was created by four brothers but its establishment is credited to Edouard. Born in 1797 in a small village called Fleurier in the Swiss Neuchâtel municipality, he learned the art of watchmaking from his father, Jean Frédéric Bovet. Watch making was first introduced to Fleurier in1730 by Daniel-Jean-Jacques-Henri Vaucher, an apprentice of Daniel Jaenrichard.
At the time the area was known for metal working, a natural result of the iron deposits discovered in the 15th century. Watchmaking flourished in and around Fleurier during the late 18th century but because production was sold on credit for the international markets, prices were undercut and economic destabilization brought about by the Napoleonic wars caused watch making in the area to decrease significantly.
Although Swiss watches are often associated with Geneva, Fleurier is where Bovet grew to greatness. When the industry was introduced in the Val-de-Travers region it grew exponentially throughout the early 19th Century.
In 1814, Edouard and two of his brothers, Alphonse and Frédéric, left their hometown to study watchmaking in London. After a few years, Edouard traveled to Canton, China in 1818 to develop his skills as a watch repairer under the British firm Ilbury & Magniac. He took four of his pocket watches with him which he was able to sell for 10,000 Swiss Francs. In today’s money, that sum is comparable to one million dollars.
Realizing the potential of this new and as yet unexplored market, he set up a company with his brothers in 1820. While Edouard remained in China to handle sales, Alphonse and Frédéric managed shipping from London through the East India Company. Meanwhile, the fourth brother, Charles-Henri, oversaw manufacturing from Switzerland. By the mid-19th century, Fleurier produced watches almost exclusively for the Chinese market.
For years a Bovet watch was considered an asset in China and accepted in payment everywhere. The movement was frequently finely engraved and chased and could be observed through a glass cover on the back. The central second hand that jumped every second, like modern quartz watches, was a Bovet specialty. Bovet adapted its production to the Chinese tradition of making gifts of valuable objects (statues, vases, horses) in pairs. So the company could often sell two identical watches simultaneously. Consequently, if one watch failed, there was a replacement at hand.
Notwithstanding their high price, the popularity of Bovet watches in China meant that the company had to contract with other Swiss manufacturers such as Guinand to help meet demand. Even though Juvet Fleurier also sold pieces in China, it was not uncommon to see Bovet pieces with a Juvet movement.
In the 1830s Bovet established a manufacturing facility in Canton but due to restrictions resulting from the Opium Wars, they had to close that facility and open a smaller one in Macau. It was about this time that the company created a Chinese name to more effectively market to the middle class. The Chinese name for Bovet, “Bo Wei,” became a common noun for watches in China for many years.
The Chinese watch market collapsed around 1855 due to competition from France and the United States along with the tremendous number of Chinese-made counterfeits. By 1864 problems caused by the Opium Wars caused the Bovet family to sell their interest in the company to their manufacturing inspectors in Fleurier, Jules Jequier and Ernest Bobillier, who were soon joined by Ami Leuba.
After the virtual closure of the Chinese market, Bovet continued to manufacture pocket watches, though at a much reduced rate, and would frequently offer its manufacturing services on a contract basis to other watch companies. Landry Freres purchased Bovet in 1888 but did not invest in it. In 1901, the Bovet trademark was sold at auction in Paris to Cesar and Charles Leuba, sons of Ami Leuba.
Jacques Ullmann and Co., another successful watch producer for the Chinese market, purchased the Bovet brand in 1918. After Jacques Ullmann went out of business in 1932, the Bovet name was acquired by Albert and Jean Bovet, who were successful watch makers and who registered several patents for chronographs such as the mono rattrapante—a device that would pause the second hand for reading while the mechanism continued to run. The company Favre-Leuba purchased the name and manufacturing facilities from the Bovet brothers in 1948.
Favre-Leuba stopped producing Bovet branded watches in 1950 and only manufactured its own branded watches from the facilities it acquired from the Bovet brothers. Favre-Leuba sold the Bovet brand and facilities in 1966 to a cooperative of individual watch makers.
Bovet’s history boasts innovative concepts, ingenious developments, and patents that have contributed to the evolution of haute horlogerie. From the Duplex escapement of the pocket watches manufactured by the Bovet brothers in the 19th century to the six patents of the Braveheart Tourbillon presented in 2015, developments are always aimed at improving precision and reliability while delivering user-friendly elements and complications adapted to their time and collectors’ needs.
The first pocket watches manufactured by Bovet in the 19th century were highly reliable and precise. Despite a prolific range of watches featuring elaborate decoration, Edouard Bovet managed to make a name for his pieces by the sheer quality of work offered. That was undoubtedly what earned Bovet such success among its early clientele.
At the dawn of the dawn of the 19th Century, when Edouard Bovet manufactured his first luxury watches, he took great pains over the decoration. Cases and movements were adorned with gems, pearls, miniature paintings in Grand Feu enamel, and engravings. These quickly became a reference in terms of the decorative arts. In fact, the Emperor of China was one of the earliest collectors and today many Bovet luxury watches remain part of the priceless heritage of the Forbidden City.
In 1989, Parmigiani Fleurier purchased Bovet and registered the trademark for “all watchmaking products, mechanical watches and clocks and naval instruments, of Swiss origin,” but no Bovet branded timepieces were produced. Parmigiani sold Bovet in 1990 to investors thereby establishing the current Bovet Fleurier SA brand. However, no watches were actually manufactured by the company until after it was acquired by Roger Guye and Thierry Ouelevay in 1994 and who opened a branch office in Geneva.
Fast forward to 2001 when the company was acquired by Pascal Raffy, its current president. Raffy purchased several manufacturing structures, such as the STT group that produced complicated watch movements. His goal was to obtain complete control over the quality of all phases of Bovet’s watch crafting processes.
The second purchase was a dial and precious gem setting manufacturer located in Plan-les-Ouates in Geneva. With the same philosophy as the movement factory purchase, Raffy turned this factory into an artisan center providing dials for Bovet and a select group of clients in luxury watchmaking.
There are currently about 150 employees of Bovet Fleurier SA and the company only produces under 2,000 watches a year. Some modern Bovet watches are fitted with mechanisms manufactured by Vaucher Manufacture, a company that also supplied watches to the Chinese market in the 19th century.
Bovet spends very little to advertise and prefers to have private salons for clients instead of attending public fairs. About a third of the watches it manufactures are one-of-a-kind pieces made to order. Bovet watches include much artistic detail and the company gives its artisans a great deal of independence in creating the elements of the watches encouraging creativity.
By 2006, Pascal Raffy had successively added Bovet 1822 Manufacture de Cadrans, DIMIER 1738 Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie, and the Château de Môtiers to the House of Bovet. These acquisitions assured the complete independence and positioned it to raise its quality standards even more.
Collectors, specialists and observers of the watch industry have saluted the technical advancements introduced by Bovet even as the brand remains faithful to the tradition of watchmaking arts that made the House successful for almost two centuries.
Alongside his rigorously organized and methodical nature, Raffy is a thoughtful man whose intuition guides him to choices that have led him to be called, ‘a modern day visionary.’
Among Raffy’s groundbreaking innovations and introductions is the Amadeo® system that enables the conversion of a timepiece into a table clock, a pocket watch, a necklace watch, or a reversible wristwatch; all without tools. This combination of roles is also famous for one of the most prestigious tourbillon movements given that the tourbillon was invented in the age of the pocket watch to counter the effects of gravity when timepieces are in a vertical position.
In just a few simple movements, the Amadeo® system ingeniously enables the user to successively convert his or her timepiece into a pocket watch for men’s models and a pendant watch for women’s models. While the entire Fleurier collection now benefits from this new feature, no change has been made to either the dimensions or aesthetics of the models.
The Amadeo® case enables the owner to wear the watch on the wrist. The movements manufactured by Bovet meet the specific requirements of the Amadeo® system and usually display the hours and minutes on both sides as well as a host of other indications, ensuring the timepiece is reversible and has two distinct faces.
Timepieces that feature an Amadeo® case have invisible push-pieces that when pushed together release the upper strand of the strap. A further push-piece is located on the rear bezel. When this push-piece is activated, the rear bezel pivots on an invisible hinge at 6 o’clock, which then separates the lower strand of the strap from the case.
Once this operation is completed, the rear bezel becomes a stand and the watch is transformed into an elegant table clock. On some timepieces, the rear bezel opening system is activated by pressing the crown at the pendant, as was the case for the pocket watches that were manufactured by the Bovet brothers in the 19th century.
All timepieces in the Fleurier collection are fitted with a crystal case back that reveals the movement. Most of them feature an inverted hand display on the back, which enables owners to read the time and the other indications, to admire the engravings adorning the movement and/or view a miniature painting. Changing the way in which the two strands of the strap are attached lets the user easily display the front or back of their watch on their wrist, as desired.
Other collections offered by Bovet include the 19Thirty, Fleurier, Fleurier Complications, Bovet By Pininfarina, Sportster, Dimier, and Special Ladies Timepieces.
Launched in May 2018, the Récital 22 Grand Récital, five times patented, attracted experts’ attention who awarded it the Best Design Watch Prize 2018. Over the past ten years, Bovet has won 28 prizes and filed 17 patents.
In 2016, BOVET astonished collectors with the unveiling of the Récital 18 Shooting Star, which revolutionized watchmaking design by combining its movement with a registered design asymmetrical case. A year later, Bovet reprised this timepiece with the Récital 20 Astérium, which borrowed the Récital 18 original case’s architecture.
The Récital 22 Grand Récital is the third iteration of the watchmaking story begun by Raffy and the House’s artisans. Together, they invite collectors to observe the three heavenly bodies that pace our lives: the sun, earth, and moon.
To accentuate the splendor of the sun, the tourbillon carriage has been raised above the surface of the movement. Its original construction is characterized by its central attachment, endowing the piece with exemplary chronometry, while achieving a peerless level of transparency.
The earth is represented by a hemisphere on the Récital 22, whose surface is adorned with an engraved and hand-painted map. As in the heavens, the earth naturally performs one anti-clockwise rotation every 24 hours. At the base of the globe, a graduated scale displays the hour by means of a three-dimensional polished titanium hand, situated between the tourbillon and the globe.
The moon is depicted by a sphere divided into two parts: one black, while the second is engraved with the textured surface of the moon. The engraved sections of the second half are filled with a luminescent substance, which makes it possible to clearly see which part of the moon is directly illuminated by the sun.
Récital 22 Grand Récital displays the following functions: hours, retrograde minutes, seconds on the double face flying tourbillon, precision moon phase, retrograde date (both sides), a nine day power reserve, and a perpetual calendar on the back.
Specially designed and developed for the Grand Récital, the perpetual calendar brims with innovative features. It is driven by a retrograde mechanism with a micrometric rack, also patented, which optimizes operation while reducing the amount of required space. A mechanism also – simultaneously – adjusts all the timepiece’s functions. Therefore, if the timepiece has been stopped for six days, for instance, this push-piece can be pressed six times to perfectly adjust the perpetual calendar and Tellurium functions simultaneously.
The unique architecture of the case, inspired by the shape of a writing slope opens a new window on three-dimensional interpretation of time displays developed by Raffy and the Bovet watchmakers. Its case is available in red gold or platinum but only sixty Grand Récital movements are issued by Bovet’s workshops.
Today, Bovet produces high-end artistic watches (priced between US$18,000 and $2.5 million) with a style that references its history. The company remains known for its high-quality dials (such as the Fleurier Miniature Painting models), engraving, and its seven-day tourbillon.
As noted earlier, original Bovet watches were among the first to emphasize the beauty of their movements with skeletonized views and highly decorative movements. Bovet continues its long-standing tradition of employing women artisans; rare for traditional watch making companies in Europe.
Some of the limited edition modern Bovet watches can cost more than US$1 million, and the purchaser of such a watch is usually flown out to the manufacturing facility in Switzerland by the company to witness the production process and meet the artisans.
Bovet watches are inherently limited in production simply because of the complexity associated with making them. The single decorative element that’s most strongly identified with Bovet today is the use of extremely fine miniature painting, often in the form of, what’s called, cold enameling, on the dials of the watches. The Récital 22 Grand Récital is a fine example of this particular craft.
The rich history and pioneering begun by Edouard Bovet in the 19th-Century Chinese market has immortalized Bovet as an iconic brand. With feats such as the Amadeo convertible system, Bovet’s designs are always reminiscent of its heritage even as it looks to the future.