This year the Maison Bovet 1822 celebrates its 200 years anniversary. While the name Bovet can be traced before 1822, Edouard was the one founding the Maison in anno Domini 1822. Let’s explore bits and pieces of the fantastic brand’s history.
I visited the Castle of Môtiers in the first days of the autumn. In a mirific location, the castle looks like nothing happened in the last two centuries. I was fascinated by the location full of history and decided to share with you part of the Bovet 1822 history and some of fantastic pocket watches available in the museum.
This articles is part of the series Evenings with Bovet that will explore the brand’s past, present and future, reviews, interviews and personal notes. Parts of this article is using the official texts made available by Bovet and from David Chang’s book: Bovet 1822 – The Legend. Enjoy!
Far East trading
Not many of us know that the Bovet name is well tight to the commercial trade between East and West, more precise between the English vessels carrying watches and chiming clocks to China. From the late 17th to the mid-18th century, the precious objects were in a very high demand. The europeans visiting the imperial palace were taken by surprise by the western clocks found in a large quantity, in various forms and shapes. In time, the Chinese wealthy developed a certain and particular taste in their watches that leaded to a specific sets of details and exceptional quality.
Although the english clocks were the first to open the Chinese’ markets taste for this marvels (extremely well built and precise for the times), the mid 18th century started to be filled with Swiss creations. One of the most important cities for the horologists and clock and watch trade was Guangzhou. One of the companies doing trade there was Magniac & Co, were we can find for the first time the name Edouard Bovet related to China and watchmaking. In 1822, Edouard left the Magniac family business to create its own company together with its brothers.
Bovet – a dynasty
Edouard Bovet, the son of Jean-Frédéric Bovet (who was registered as a clockmaker in the village of Fleurier), was inspired by young to become a watchmaker. This craft offered a stable carrier and a good living.
The young watchmaker Edouard Bovet left his home village with his brothers Alphonse and Frédéric in 1814, heading for London, which was at the time a major trading center for European watchmaking and had a stable political environment. The decision can be put on the economical and political climate in Switzerland – being so closed on the continent, the family was affected by the geopolitical situation of Neuchatel (being under the control of Prussia). France was just recovering after the revolution and did not offer too many options etc.
In 1818, aged 21, Edouard Bovet left for China as the representative of an English trader, the Magniac & Co. He left London on April 20th on board the Orwell, a ship belonging to the East India Company, arriving on August 16th in Canton, the obligatory point of entry for merchandise arriving from Europe. After a long and difficult trip, he quickly sold four pocket watches for the sum of 10,000 Swiss francs, the equivalent of one million francs today.
Realizing the exceptional potential of the Chinese market, Edouard founded the Maison Bovet on May 1st 1822, with his brothers Frédéric, Alphonse, Gustave and later Charles. Their business extended from Fleurier, where the pocket watches were made, to London, the hub of commercial exchange, and Canton, where Bovet timepieces were sold. He used his experience from travelling and living in China to develop the style that will become strongly loved in the far east country.
In 1824 Charles-Henri Bovet, Edouard’s younger brother joined the company and travelled to China as well. He remained there until 1838 and played an important part in establishing the Bovet name in China. In 1836, Louis Bovet, the son of Gustave travels to China and becomes a partner in the family business just two years later.
In 1840, the company was renamed Bovet Freres et Cie.
The Chinese watch
For a long time, the Chinese were fond of decorative and ornamental clocks in a diverse range of forms. Their interest evolved with the arrival of pocket watches. With their “Chinese watches,” the Bovet brothers established a form of watchmaking that took the horological arts to new heights. The movements were more richly decorated and the cases were in gold or gold-plated. Their bezels and occasionally the bows were often set with half pearls. The cover could be decorated with miniature painting, sometimes an enameled motif. This led the Bovet brothers to commission the greatest painters and enamelers of Geneva to create exceptional works, typically depicting a pastoral scene, animals or people.
Another feature of these “Chinese watches” is that they were sold in pairs and the enamel motifs on the two watches are identical but in mirrored image.
The movements were engraved with traditional Chinese motifs such as volutes and the Fleurisanne pattern, while others were mirror-polished or set with flowers carved from gold. The Maison also adopted three Chinese symbols – the lotus flower, an incense burner, and a vase – as its watches’ distinctive signature. The most emblematic of these is the stylized lotus flower, which today adorns the movements of the Maison Bovet.
In the center of each of these symbols, the name Bovet, transcribed “Bo Wei”, is engraved in Chinese characters. The Maison having acquired a solid reputation, the name “Bo Wei” became a synonym for “watch” in everyday language and even constituted a currency for trade in the Empire.
Bovets of China
With their commercial sense and open-mindedness, the Bovet brothers met the specific expectations of their Chinese clientele, as attested by the numerous letters sent to their workshops seeking to refine their collections ever more closely to the requirements of the Far Eastern market.
Dominating the Swiss watchmaking trade in the “Celestial Empire” for several centuries, the Bovet brothers were nicknamed the “Bovets of China”. A street in the village of Fleurier still bears the name of this dynasty today.
The return to Switzerland
Having made his fortune in China and provided work for 175 artisans in Val-de-Travers, Edouard Bovet returned to Fleurier in 1830, accompanied by his young son Edouard-Georges. They set up home in a house known as the “Palais chinois” built by Edouard Bovet. Today this building serves as the town hall.
In 1840, the Bovet brothers decided to increase the capital of their company to one million Swiss francs, a colossal sum for the time. The international reputation of the Maison Bovet surpassed that of its competitors thanks to its well-honed commercial intuition. They were the first to offer transparent case-backs for clients who were fond of beautiful mechanics. The movements were richly decorated and established the renown of the Fleurier engravers.
Edouard Bovet, a republican, took part in the failed 1831 uprising. He fled to Besançon, where he lived in exile for seventeen years, returning to Fleurier in 1848 before his death in 1849.
The modern age
Mr. Raffy purchased Bovet in 2001, and in 2006 acquired a specialist tourbillon manufacture based in Tramelan, a dial manufacture in Geneva, and the Môtiers Castle as well. Mr. Raffy’s stated goal then was to bring every operation in house, and he has accomplished this.
Today, Bovet does 95% of all its components in-house, including dials, cases, and movements, up to and including the hairspring and regulating organ, the heart of all mechanical timepieces. Unique in the industry, Bovet masters in-house profile turning, stamping, electro-erosion, CNC machines, cutting, burnishing and cold-working, and every component is handled, controlled, and finished by hand to the highest level.
Controlling all these operations makes Bovet autonomous, master of its own destiny. This way, the House can be more creative, reactive, and able to make the dreams of collectors and watch lovers come true.
In addition, this in-house manufacture and hand craftsmanship makes it possible to specialize in bespoke. 30% of Bovet’s limited production is bespoke, from engraved initials all the way up to full bespoke timepieces.
1 8 1 8 – 2 0 1 8
To commemorate the bicentenary of Edouard Bovet’s arrival in China, Pascal Raffy and the Manufactures’ artisans naturally chose to develop a timepiece dedicated to the world of travel – the Edouard Bovet Tourbillon presents a triple time zone with hemispherical maps of the Earth, reverse-fitted hands to display the time on both sides of the movement, and a power reserve of ten days. This manufacture caliber is housed in the emblematic Amadéo convertible case. Patented in 2010, the Amadéo system transforms a timepiece into a reversible wristwatch, table clock, or pocket watch without the need for tools.
Continuing BOVET’s History of Innovation
Over its 200 years, Bovet has been a key innovator when it comes to the decorative arts and mechanical watchmaking. In addition to the above-mentioned exhibition back, Bovet pioneered key finishings, including Fleurisanne hand-engraving, which we continue to feature today. In addition, Bovet is famous for a very special flyback chronograph from the early 1900s, which is still taught in watchmaking schools around the world today.
Since Mr. Raffy took the helm, the innovation has continued. One of the best-known breakthroughs is the patented Amadeo case system in 2010, which allows the Bovet timepiece to convert from the wrist to a pocket watch and a table clock (and necklace), while at the same time allowing the timepiece to be worn on either side.
Bovet also won the Aguille d’Or, watchmaking’s highest prize, in 2018 for the Recital 22 Grand Recital, and followed that up with more prizes from the GPHG in 2020. Bovet has won more than 40 awards in the last 21 years, and has registered more than 16 patents (the double-faced flying tourbillon, the spherical rewinding system, the Amadeo convertible system, the quick-set perpetual calendar indications, the reverse-fit hands, and more), all contributing significantly to the advancement of haute horlogerie.
In 2021, Bovet 1822 unveiled the 100% bespoke Boat Tail timepieces in collaboration with Rolls-Royce, the first time tourbillon timepieces have been mounted in the dashboard of an automobile in the history of both industries.
Important watches found in the private collection
A small selection of ultra-rare watches found in Mr Raffy’s private collection display a complex set of skills in the art of case and movement decorations. From the techniques used, it worth mentioning:
- Champlevé: one of the oldest types of enamel art: engraving the shapes and filling the hollow with coloured enamel;
- Flinqué: using transparent enamel to reveal the base engraving or guilloche;
- Paillonné: using gold or silver leaf between the layers of enamel to create a multidimensional effect;
- Cloisonné: using gold, silver or copper wire to create contours or patterns. It requires up to 30 cycles of firing and polishing (from higher to lower temperature enamel) to obtain breathtaking depths and finishes;
- Miniature enamel painting: considered the highest and most difficult to master. It requires additional steps in preparing the enamel pigments;
- Grisaillé: it is a miniature painting with only black, grey or white enamel;
- Plique-a-jour: it is a technique that fires transparent or translucent enamel on a very thin metal base that is afterwards removed by stripping or dissolving. It can also combine metal wires to obtain spectacular finishes. Without the strong substrate, the plique-a-jour components are very fragile but outstanding.
- For dials, the Maison Bovet used several hands shapes manufactured in gold or blued steel: pear-, flower-, foiled cross-shaped, Lozenge and even skeletonised arrows.
The movements are richly decorated with mirror polish, engravings and even enamel. Of course, chamfering and Cotes de geneve can be also found. Often, the brass components were gilded using a dangerous technique with mercury that allows instead a superb and long lasting finish.
Some of the movements ofered up to 8 days of power reserve and used various escapements:
- Anchor escapement: although the inventor and date is uncertain, it was used in 1675 by the Londoner watchmaker William Clement;
- Cylinder escapement: invented by George Graham in 1720 (after a design by Thomas Tompion). Abraham-Louis Breguet improved it by using rubies;
- Duplex escapement: a semi recoil escapament presumly invented by Pierre Le Roy;
- Jaqot duplex escapament (named also the Chinese duplex escapament due to the common use in the pocket watches destined for this market): was invented by Charles-Edouard Jaqot in the late 1830s in La Chaux-de-Fonds and it has the particularity of one second beat for the second’s hand.
Champlevé pocket watch with flowers Serial Number 475
Pocket watch in 18-carat gold bassine case. The caseback is in champlevé and patterned with a floral motif on a black enamel background. The shapes of flowers and leaves have been carved out and some have been filled with enamel while others have been left gold and unpainted to create a striking contrast effect. The pendant, bow and edge of the case are decorated with enamel
Movement wound with a key. The main and top plates are made of mirror-polished steel – a type of movement that is difficult to make, due to the hardness of these parts. The train wheel bridge is engraved “BOVET FLEURIER” and the watch uses duplex escapement.
The dial is of white enamel on a copper base. The hours are marked in radial Roman numerals and the watch has three blued steel hands.
Champlevé pocket watch with “Mille fleur” Serial Number 2406
Manufactured in an 18-carat gold empire case. The case back is in champlevé and patterned with a floral motif. First, the shapes of the flowers are carved out, and then they are filled with enamel. The pendant, bow and edge of the case are inlaid with pearls.
The movement is wound with a key. The main and top plates are made of brass and engraved with a decorative pattern and metal flower. These parts are all gilded in a process that uses mercury to ensure that the gold coating lasts as long as possible. Flowers have been applied to various parts of the movement, which is quite rare. The watch uses a duplex escapement.
The dial is again a white enamel on a copper base. The hours are marked with the same hour radial Roman numerals, four Arabic numerals for 15, 30, 45 and 60 seconds/minutes and uses three blued steel pear-shaped hands.
Champlevé pocket watch with portrait of a Chinese woman Serial Number 25675
Gilded Silver bassine case. The caseback has a champlevé floral motif as well as an enamel painting depicting a beautiful Chinese woman. Portrait painting was popular in the West from the 15th century onwards – monarch and sovereigns across Europe were able to glamourise themselves through their portraits, choosing images of themselves but in the Chinese portraits were much more difficult to execute. The pendant, bow and edge of the case are decorated with enamel.
Movement wounded with a key. The main and top plates are made of brass and engraved with a decorative pattern. These parts are gilded using mercury. The train wheel bridge is engraved “BOVET FLEURIER”. The movement uses anchor escapement.
The dial is white enamel on copper base. The hours are marked in radial Roman numerals and the words “BOVET” and “FLEURIER” are written on either side of the 30-minutes marker. Time is indicated by three blued steel pear-shaped hands.
Bovet Chronograph Serial Number 41507
Silver case. The start and stop by slide pusher at 3 o’clock, zero-reset and flyback pusher at 9 o’clock.
The movement is wound by crown. “BOVET” is engraved on the barrel bridge and the movement is decorated with Cotes de Geneve. The watch uses a Swiss anchor escapement and has a flyback chronograph complication.
The dial is enamel on copper plate. The words “RELOJ UNIVERSAL PRIVILEGIO” appear under 12 o’clock and the hours and minutes are marked in black Roman and Arabic numerals. The watch face features blued steel hours, minutes and seconds hands and gold hands for the chrono counters. The chronograph function totalise 24 hours at 3 o ‘clock, 60 minutes at 9 o’clock and 60 seconds at 6 o’clock.
Painted enamel pocket watch with butterfly Serial Number 321
A super 18-carat gold bassine case. The caseback is in painted enamel and depicts a nature scene: a butterfly sitting on a flower in full bloom and a bee collecting nectar from another flower in bud. This image is also characteristic of Chinese paintings and is a familiar subject to the Chinese audience.
The movement is wound by a key. It features polished bridges and plates engraved with floral decoration. Blued plate, barrel cover and index assembly. The train wheel bridge is engraved with “Bovet London”. The watched uses a duplex escapement.
The dial is another white enamel on a copper plate and printed radial Roman numerals and uses blued steel leaf hands.
Painted enamel pocket watch with Romeo and Juliet Serial Number 1319
Manufactured in 18-carat gold with a caseback with two lovers painted in enamel. During the Renaissance, Western art was inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome. Several centuries later, painters and sculptors looked to portray male and female characters from classic stories and legends. This painting depicts Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The pendant, bow and edge of the case are inlaid with pearls.
This is an early period Chinese watch movement (by key) with main and top plates from brass with decorative pattern engravings. The components are gilded with the mercury method for a long-lasting finish. The watch uses a duplex escapement.
The white enamel was fired on a copper base and printed with Roman numerals. The watch is adorned with gold hands.
Extra-large painted enamel pocket watch with the Holy Mother Serial Number 1529
A marvellous gold bassine case with a caseback decorated with a religious scene in painted enamel. Characters in Western religious paintings can generally be identified by what they are to the represented story. In this case, the Holy Mother cradles the Child against a translucent blue background. The pendant, bow and edge of the case were decorated with engravings and enamel.
The watch has an impressive 8-day power reserve mechanism with duplex escapement. The main plate and the bridges are engraved and gilded.
The dial is made in white enamel on a copper base with tall and thin Roman numerals and flower hands manufactured in blued steel.
Painted enamel pocket watch with Lake Leman scene
Just in the case of the Romeo & Juliet watch where a story is involved, this piece depicts the activities and daily life around Lake Leman. With mountains in the background, the lake ‘s shore is displayed with fishermen and a trading boat. The pendant, bow and edge of the case are inlaid with pearls in prone mount.
The movement is richly decorated with gilded engraving in brass, blued screws and steel parts. The winding is done by the key. The movement offers a staggering eight-day power reserve.
The dial is decorated with tall Roman numerals and seconds/minutes track with Arabic numerals. The pear-shaped blued steel hands are contrasting the white enamel (on copper base).
Other rare watches
A superb religious scene with Holy Mother and baby Jesus combining several techniques and inlaid pearls. This pocket watch is a magnificent example of the highly skilled level of the artisans of Maison Bovet. This watch features a see-through crystal to reveal the exuberance of the movement’s finishes.
A typical watch made especially for the Chinese market is this painted enamel pocket watch with a nightingale. It is one of the pieces engraved with “Bovet London” on the train wheel bridge. Voluptuous pear gold hands display the time on a white dial with black Roman numerals.
A lovely pastel set of enamel and a miniature painting specific for the Chinese market is this 18-carat gold pocket watch with mandarin duck.
Birds and flowers are a common theme found in the Bovet watches destined for the Chinese market. Here is a superb example combining both subjects in the miniature painting and featuring pearls inlaid in the gold case.
A superb example of a flower bouquet can be found in this miniature painting piece. The colours’ richness of the flowers’ petals is highlighted by the blue pastel background well enclosed by the row of prone-mounted pearls.
A very arresting watch depicts the Chinese horoscope. Although for China this was not as rare as one might expect this piece remains still a very unusual and a fairly rare sight for Europa. Encapsuled in silver, this watch features coloured miniature painted Chinese zodiac signs.
This cool piece depicts an epic jungle batle: the story is told with luxurious visual details. It seems that the artisan has never seen an elefant and painted it using other’s tellings or pictures to reproduce the animal. The watch appear to be created for someone from middle east or travelling to it.
A more modern piece manufactured after 1842 (Jean Adrien Philippe invented the winding by crown in 1842, but judging by the style of the watch, I would date it more to the end of 1800s) signed Bovet Freres (Bovet Brothers). The watch is manufactured in silver with fluted caseband and is featuring a superb dial with gold Arabic numerals and hands. The dial seems to be executed in the grenage technique: hand brushed with a mix of silver, special salts and other ingredients – due to an electrochemical reaction, the dial’s surface gains a unique frosty finish with lovely granularity and pearled look.
Arriving in 1900s, we can observe the Maison evolving with the times’ fashion and using complications: perpetual calendar, moon-phase, chronograph. One example shows even a pilots watch chrono with luminuos sword hands.
We can also withness the first advertising
Pascal Raffy is committed to continuing BOVET’s tradition of extraordinary decoration and finishing, as well as cutting-edge mechanics. Due to the astonishing attention to detail during the BOVET hand-drafting process, annual production is strictly limited.