Jean-Claude Biver will spend the next few weeks in North America and China, where he’ll shake hundreds of hands and regale members of the press with stories of The Beatles, homemade cheese, and if they’re lucky, watches. A fascinating character of the watchmaking industry, the head of LVMH’s watch division leaves an indelible mark wherever he goes â and he travels more than anyone in the field. This year, I’ve met Mr. Biver three times: once in Dubai, once in Geneva, and once in London.
Which is why I was surprised to learn that he is, at his core, “a homebody,â according to his wife Sandra. This summer, he will be spending any and every minute of his free time â the days can be counted on two hands I was told â at his second home near Saint-Tropez, France. This is where we would meet for the fourth time, a few hours before the official start of TAG Heuer’s Monaco marathon. Not that would you know. Mr. Biver was in his garden, Sandra told me as she welcomed me inside, trying the lemons during his annual “tour of the grounds.”
I would be spending the next 48 hours shadowing the CEO of TAG Heuer during one of the brand’s most significant events, the Monaco Grand Prix, a race that shaped the identity of the brand in the 1970s and continues to play a significant role in its storytelling. The three-day event is not the biggest of the year â financially speaking â but it comes close. More importantly, it is a âlogistical nightmare for the team,â said Mr. Biver, because of the number of people who descend on the tiny principality.
Like me, he had only just landed, and his main preoccupation that afternoon was the maintenance check of his summer home, which he had not yet visited this year. Since we had a couple of hours to kill before our helicopter flight to Monaco, Mr. Biver invited me to join the inspections. The lawn, he said, had not been cut properly, and the small patches of tall grass seemed to preoccupy him more than the imminent arrival of more than a dozen of the most high-profile TAG Heuer ambassadors, including actor Patrick Dempsey, Chinese singing sensation G.E.M., and Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing, on the 36-cabin mega yacht that the company had rented for them.
As we walked toward his stationary bicycle stand installed in the shade, in one of his favorite spots in the garden, he admitted that, while he enjoys the Monaco Grand Prix and watching football (the Champions League final, of which Hublot is a sponsor, coincided with the program in Monaco this year), what he really wanted was to spend as much time with his family as he could over the weekend. But that was not an option.
His focus began to turn to Monaco as we flew in its direction. As soon as we landed, Mr. Biver met with TAG Heuer’s events coordinator, Jean-Baptiste Trunde, who promptly informed his boss that Patrick Dempsey was on his way to the Red Bull Racing station, that a number of important clients â Mr. Biver recognized their names immediately â had made the trip to see the Grand Prix, and that he would also need to sit down for an impromptu interview with iQIY Radio, a popular station in China, which is a key market for TAG Heuer. The information was delivered very quickly, as the two headed for the RBR station. Mr. Biver did not say a word, as if saving his voice for the evening.
Minutes after setting foot on land, the CEO showed a side of himself that I was much more accustomed to seeing. G.E.M. would be the first “victim” of the Biver effect. Without giving her a chance to say hello, he invited her to dance in front the Red Bull Formula One car that the PR team so desperately tried getting him to pose in front of â the car bears the company’s logo and had been placed strategically for what was intended to be the photo of the night. Patrick Dempsey was spared the choreography, though his ears took some time adjusting to Mr. Biver’s booming voice, which announced to the entire port that he’d arrived. For the hour that followed, you’d be excused for thinking Red Bull had made the trip down to Monaco to attend Mr. Biver’s short press conference. All eyes were on him until he left, very suddenly it seemed, to rejoin his family.
Twenty-four hours later, he showed similar energy during another oratorial performance for the official presentation of the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Red Bull Racing Team, which ended with the ceremonial and (now characteristic) cheese-cutting ceremony. Not for the first time, the ambassadors seemed much more interested in the yellow wheel than in the watch. This being a weekend sponsored by TAG Heuer, there were many other watches on board, including the new Monaco Calibre 11 and Carrera-02T.
Traditional Vs. Avant-Garde At TAG Heuer
Perhaps one of the most significant chronographs â if not watches â of Heuer’s history, the Monaco, as it was made in 1969, was brought back into current production by TAG Heuer 12 months ago. And while the new timepiece, dubbed the Monaco Calibre 11 “McQueen” Chronograph, is only Calibre 11 in name (the movement now has a Sellita base), the design itself is almost a copy-paste rendition of the original reference 1133B. Is it a clichÃ© to wear the Monaco in Monaco? Perhaps, but I’d be curious to hear a more appropriate choice.
Also on board was a limited edition of the most controversial Swiss-made tourbillon. The Carrera-02T is the most affordable of its kind and offers unprecedented access to Abraham-Louis Breguet’s invention. And after spending a few hours with it, I can see why it’s such an interesting proposition, even though I’m usually not a fan of gold watches that big. Without a doubt, it is a Hublot-fied Carrera, which borrows the concept of fusing contrasting materials from its contemporary at LVMH, especially when it comes to this rose-gold version. The strategy, according to Mr. Biver, was to add gold âon features that are directly visible.â With both the Monaco and the 02T on the same table, I couldn’t help but think their makeup seemed to mirror the evolution of Formula One, from the ’70s to today, from pure lines and pure engines to bigger, more high-tech â and some would say more exciting Â â engines.
The Carrera-02T also seems engineered primarily to be seen by others, which is also a target of so many of Monaco’s Grand-Prix-only residents. Celebrities now massively outnumber the drivers on the track, and racing enthusiasts seemed not to notice Sebastian Vettel exiting the pit lanes, as they were chasing Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh the other way. Luckily, on race day, the drivers were the stars of the show in Monaco this year â thanks to a sudden and lengthy downpour hours before the lights turned green.
Watching Qualifying, And A Tour Of Pit Lane
Race Day Scenes
Bonus: The TAG Heuer Monza
While on board TAG Heuer’s mega yacht, we also spotted one of the first fully functional Monza models, on the wrist of one of the company’s product managers, and it looks just as good in the flesh as it did when it was announced during Baselworld. One of the hits of the fair, it re-introduces a fan favorite, and is the latest vintage-inspired chronograph from the Heuer era to make its way back into the current collection. Next up is the Autavia, though I was told not to expect more re-issues after that.