SINGAPORE (Sept 17): Instead of kicking a football around or rough-housing with his cousins as a teenager, Pascal Raffy spent every Sunday with his grandfather learning about timepieces in the French Ardennes region. Raffy says that from the age of 13 years old, he was privileged to learn all about “true watchmaking through very beautiful brands and the uniqueness of pocket timepieces of the 19th century”.
His grandfather, who was an avid collector of timepieces, would introduce a new aspect of a timepiece every time they met. Learning about a watch’s movement intrigued the young Raffy. He explains, “You learn about the case, the dial, the hands and the details of the finishing. It’s a full education.”
It was an education that would serve him well in his later years. In the meantime, Raffy’s passion for timepieces took a backseat as he completed his studies and took over the family’s pharmaceutical business. At 38, Raffy decided to drop everything and become a stay-home dad to his two daughters (a third child, a son, was born in 2004). The devoted father explains, “I told myself that I was going to stop everything and retire. My dream was to educate my children and be with them every step of the way. I wanted to watch them grow up.”
Raffy, now 54, says his family did not believe him, as they knew he would be bored without a job. They were right. Investors came knocking on his door and he received and rejected numerous investment offers until 2007. “When I retired, some of my banker friends told me that they knew how much I appreciated true watchmaking and they presented me with various brands that needed an investor. The only one that spoke to me was Bovet.”
Raffy: When I retired, some of my banker friends told me that they knew how much I appreciated true watchmaking and they presented me with various brands that needed an investor. The only one that spoke to me was Bovet.
At an exclusive interview at the ShangriLa Hotel, Raffy, while puffing on his cigar, tells Options that it was love at first sight when he set eyes on a Bovet timepiece. He knew instantly that this was the brand he wanted to take to the next level.
Raffy had already been introduced to Bovet, which was founded in 1822 by Edouard Bovet, by his grandfather and history books. “I knew Bovet through history books, but I had never had a Bovet timepiece in my hand and when I took a closer look, I said to myself, ‘There is something purely unique here’,” Raffy recalls of the first time he held a Bovet timepiece in his hand.
That sealed the deal and Raffy decided to give Bovet a chance, but as the exclusive principal. He vowed to highlight the brand’s unique craftsmanship. Raffy declares proudly, “It was then that I started the Bovet story.”
To begin his story, Raffy knew he wanted to bring the entire manufacture of the timepieces in-house.
He says, “This is a beautiful life project and my goal was to bring everything in-house. Today, we do our cases, dials, hairsprings and all the complicated movements in-house. So, absolutely everything is done in-house.”
Over the past 17 years, Raffy worked tirelessly at the House of Bovet. But he disagrees when this writer describes it as an effort to “bring glory back”. Raffy clarifies, “I don’t think that my first aspiration was to bring glory back. I think that whenever a human being wants to bring something back, it’s a failure. I have another interpretation for this: If you are proud to be seated on a true watchmaking patrimony such as the House of Bovet, you want to express time today — nearly two centuries later, we need new materials and innovation patents.”
After Raffy took over, new timepieces and 16 patents were made in the Château de Môtiers, originally named Vauxtravers, which overlooks the village of Môtiers and the entire Val-de-Travers, in the heart of Switzerland. Built in the early 14th century by Rodolphe IV, Count of Neuchâtel, it was successively occupied through the centuries by the lords of the valley. In 1835, the state sold it to Henri-François Dubois-Bovet, and the descendants of the Bovet family in turn donated it to the Canton of Neuchâtel in 1957.
To Raffy, the beauty of a timepiece must be appreciated from all angles. He says that a timepiece must be beautiful on the back as well as the front. To illustrate, Raffy removes his wristwatch to let me have a closer look at the Récital 22 Grand Récital tourbillon. He was, in fact, in Singapore to unveil this new timepiece to the media and invited guests.
The Récital 22 Grand Récital concludes a trio of celestial timepieces, which includes the Récital 18 Shooting Star and Récital 20 Astérium. It draws you with its 3D-like design as you observe the beauty and movement of the sun, earth and moon. All three celestial bodies are presented in a Tellurium-Orrery — a model showing the planets orbiting the sun that is mostly used in classroom teaching.
The flying tourbillon represents the sun, the earth rotates on its own axis while a spherical moon orbits the earth in real time. One complete orbit takes place every 29.53 days. On closer look, we see that the tourbillon carriage has been raised to feature the bridge’s five arms, which represent the sun’s rays. To give the earth a more realistic representation, the oceans, mountains and forests are all drawn by hand. The miniature painting is done with a luminescent substance to ensure the timepiece stays lit in the dark.
The retrograde minute and power reserve indications are displayed on hemispherical sectors curved to mirror the globe. Sapphire glasses situated in their centres magnify the mechanisms underneath.
Lastly, a circular aperture is positioned on the left-hand side of the tourbillon carriage that has a metal bezel with a magnifying glass, making it possible to read the date displayed clearly. To emphasise the date, a ring machined directly from solid luminescent material highlights the inner edge of the aperture.
On the reverse, you will see a bridge that is decorated with circular Côtes de Genève on the tourbillon’s axis. Various apertures open onto the hour, day, month and leap-year indicators, and a glass date disc guided by the bridge is displayed on both sides of the movement. This combination of indications acts as a sort of mechanical brain that governs the perpetual calendar.
One other design element of the Récital 22 Grand Récital that stands out is the case design — it is in the shape of a writing desk slope, which is Raffy’s homage to his grandfather. Raffy reveals that he spent many hours with his grandfather at his desk looking at timepieces and learning about the importance of education from him. It is also, as Raffy’s son Amadeo pointed out to him, in the shape of the letter V, which is the middle letter of the word Bovet.
Just as his grandfather had taught him about timepieces, Raffy in turn has been sharing his knowledge with his children. His daughters have been featured in Bovet advertisements while his son is constantly giving him ideas on how to take Bovet to the next level.
This article appeared in Issue 848 (Sept 17) of The Edge Singapore.