SIHH 2019: Going Clear With The Bovet Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One
Bovet’s first time exhibiting at SIHH was clearly exceptional, the brand added a whole new level of transparency to their 2019 collection. Here, we go hands-on with the new Bovet Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One that's entirely cased in sapphire crystal.
Bovet owns its own space in haute horology. The brand was revived by Pascal Raffy, a French pharmaceutical executive who was also a passionate watch collector. Legend tells us that Raffy came across an antique pocket watch decades ago made by a curious company called Bovet.
Most enthusiasts dream of starting up their own watch company, or resurrecting a forgotten brand, and in 1997, Raffy did just that. But he didn't stop there, he pushed for more innovation in its offerings. The Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One that just debuted at SIHH 2019 is a great example of Bovet pushing the envelope when it comes to innovation.
The brand was founded in 1822 by London-based Swiss watchmaker Edouard Bovet who did a brisk business in China. Bovet's stunning pocket watches were manufactured in Fleurier and were treasured for their exquisite finishes, especially those decorated with miniature enamel paintings.
Historically, there is no Western watchmaker with deeper ties to China—in fact the word for “watch” in Mandarin is a derivation of “Bovet." One of Bovet's original watches depicting a wonderfully detailed painting of two swans is on display in the hall of clocks in Beijing's Forbidden City.
World War One, the depression and the Chinese Revolution damaged Bovet’s bottom line, and the company was out of business by the end of the 1930s.
Raffy brought Bovet back to life in 2001. Unlike many watchmaking companies that bought the naming rights of once-glorious brands only to make cheap quartz watches, Raffy had the resources and determination to restore Bovet to its former glory, as well as to push the brand into the future.
Raffy has clearly worked hard to put Bovet in the game with big name haute horology houses. In 2016, for example, Bovet unveiled the Shooting Star tourbillon, the first in a collection devoted to astronomy. It was followed by The Astérium in 2017 and the Grand Récital tourbillon in 2018.
The timepieces in this tourbillon trio all come housed in a slope-sided case that was inspired by the writing desk Raffy’s grandfather used, requiring precise technical adjustments.
The “writing slope” innovation (along with a brilliant astrological complication) was recognized at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2018, with the Récital 22 Grand Récital winning the coveted Aiguille d’Or Grand Prix.
ART OF TIME
Finishes are paramount for Bovet’s timepieces. For this Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One, Raffy chose sapphire for two reasons: it is the hardest material on the Mohs Scale after diamond, so it’s enduring, and it actually weighs less than titanium.
The decision was a challenge for Bovet’s craftspeople. Sapphire cases are not new, but machining this hard material is tricky so most manufacturers stick to simple shapes. Because of the Brainstorm's inclined profile, engineers and technicians had to get creative.
There are also two versions of the Brainstorm. One has a pronounced blue quartz dome that lets its owner easily view the depth of the movement’s different layers and stages. In the second model, design addicts can visually explore the negative spaces between of the blades of the concave helix. This dial is machined from an aluminum block before being decorated by the expert hands of the dial artisans.
Bovet values the mechanics of watchmaking as an art form. In the case of the Brainstorm, the movement is literally front and center. So, Bovet’s engineers also had to build the movement from scratch to fit the inclined case.
The Brainstorm is regulated by a patented double face flying tourbillon, that Bovet first introduced in 2015. The brand has since evolved this movement and it now features a variable inertia balance for even greater chronometry.
Building the variable-inertia balance-wheel, which is based on the traditional balance-spring made in the Bovet Manufacture, is a skill that fewer than ten watchmakers in the world have mastered. Between the technical and aesthetic labor, the bridge carriage alone takes two days to decorate.
Today, Bovet is still a niche brand, which is not a bad place for a luxury watchmaker to be. An one can’t help but admire Raffy’s uncompromising take on preserving and advancing the art of watchmaking. The Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One embraces all of the horological indulgences that would have charmed the Chinese Imperial court. Just as Raffy’s own story has charmed us.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)