Jean Claude Biver: the old fox joins the new grape

Jean Claude Biver – Image by

Jean Claude Biver, one of the living legends of watchmaking, has joined as a strategic advisor to Norqain’s board of directors

The career of Jean Claude Biver-or JCB, if you will-has the impressive. JCB is the man who brought Blancpain back to life. Who worked to reorganize Omega and relaunch Hublot, inventing a style. Loved and hated, JCB is arguably the man you never expected for a brand like Norqain.

Who is Norqain?

If you have never heard of it, it is an ex-micro founded in 2018 in Switzerland by Ben Kuffer, whose partners include a famous field hockey player, Mark Streit, and a member of the family that owned Breitling, Ted Schneider.

His timepieces are everything an enthusiast could want: excellent timepieces distinguished by excellent value for money, which mounts movements made by Kenissi, a company that also supplies Tudor.

And if you’re wondering what its name means, here’s the answer.

  • N = NEW
  • N = NICHE

In short, a positioning that is written into a brand. Something that certainly appealed to Biver. Who revealed in an interview that he has always followed Norqain since its founding and has always been impressed by the courage and tenacity of the young company, which has values very close to those he has always professed in his now long career.

The one thing the old lion did make a note about was the need for the brand to start getting out of its comfort zone – and someone like JCB knows how critical that is to catching lasting success. Now that there’s a solid base of supporters from buyers and the press, it’s time to shift gears.

The impressive detail of the dial – Image by

Being good is not good enough

Being a promising rookie tends to be simple: just do what the market leaders do, but better, with higher quality and lower price. But going down a road already marked out is different from having to chart a new path. And that’s why JCB’s acumen becomes even more valuable: to be remembered, you have to be unique and recognizable.

And this is what emerges from the words of the Swiss brand’s CEO Ben Kuffer. JCB’s entry is not just a marketing move that reverberates in the Swiss watch market: there is no need to grow from two million in sales to three million. That is not the horizon Huffer is addressing. His is much more ambitious: that of competing with the big boys. To go from two to twenty. Turn pages by writing a new chapter. To become an authentic Maison, not an ex-micro. And to do this requires rethinking and reimagining. To destroy what has been done to clean up the superstructures and start from scratch, changing goals and aiming higher.

Are we talking about philosophy? Kuffer is very practical: philosophy does not exist; there is rethinking the object by going beyond the product itself. Today watch industries make watches the way they did three hundred years ago, with a movement, a case, a dial – and Norqain is also doing it that way. You have to go further and reinvent the watch – and this concept, dear to Biver, fits well with the original vibe of the Swiss company.

JCB and the Norqain founders – Image from

But who is in charge from now on?

That’s a legitimate question: with such a strong personality, one has to see how far the revolutionary ideas of Biver, who even at 72 has a creative energy that makes 20-year-olds envious, can distort the brand. Let Norqain become a Bivqain.

But on this, Kuffer is adamantine: the relationship is directly between him and JCB. A kind of creative brainstorming that includes all areas of the company, in a Concerto Grosso of ideas, where Biver explores in a virtuosic solo all the possibilities offered by the company, and Kuffer, the main spectator of this concert, decides whether he liked the performance. In short, we are talking about the world of intentions: we will have to wait a while before seeing the fruits of this bold collaboration.

What do we think about it?

We live in a challenging world, with many great actors doing everything they can to hold on to the leading roles and a torrent of talented young people scampering to win their little piece of heaven. Norqain, to date, has been one of these – better than these, who has been able to stand out and get noticed and enter that hybrid world where you are no longer micro, and you are not yet an established company.

It is a treacherous position, where one misstep is enough to plunge back into anonymity, especially if you make a few too many mistakes: the watchmaking world seems open, but in reality, it is very traditionalist and negative news runs fast, sometimes too fast. And Biver’s engagement is meant as a guarantee to ensure against such missteps: an apt move for the Swiss brand and for Biver, who returns, with a somersault, to the forefront of attention.

But returning to our metaphor, what is needed is a good narrative. The theater is excellent, the crew is prepared, and the lead actor has won several Oscars. Let’s just hope the script lives up to it, or there will be no shortage of rotten tomatoes.

Franz Rivoira

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