Standing out from among its contemporaries, Bovet is a watch brand that dares to break away from the norm. By bridging the divide between modern watch designs and ornate art, Bovet encompasses the rich history of horology.
Whilst it may not be one of the most famous brands, it’s certainly one of the most prestigious. With an emphasis on handmade components from luxury materials, timepieces can greatly vary in price!
Its rich history and pioneering of the 19th-Century Chinese market have immortalised Bovet as an iconic brand. With feats such as the Amadeo convertible system, Bovet’s designs are always reminiscent of their heritage whilst looking towards the future.
In the following guide, you will learn about Bovet’s fascinating 200-year history as well as its accomplishments during this time. If you’re looking to learn about a particular subject, you can just click below to jump right to it:
- Origins & Early History
- Bovet Today & Its Manufactures
- Artistic & Technological Innovations
Bovet’s Origins & Early History
Bovet was brought to life by four brothers but its firm foundation is often credited to Édouard Bovet. Born in 1797 in a small village called Fleurier in the Swiss Neuchâtel municipality, he learned the art of watchmaking from his father, Jean Frédéric Bovet.
Although Swiss watches are often associated with Geneva, Fleurier is where Bovet grew to greatness. The industry was introduced in the residing Val-de-Travers region as early as 1730 and grew exponentially throughout the early 19th Century.
In 1814, Édouard and two of his brothers, Alphonse and Frédéric, left their hometown to study watchmaking in London. After a few years, Édouard headed for Canton, China in 1818 under the British firm Ilbury & Magniac as a watch repairer.
He took four of his pocket watches with him, which he was able to sell for 10,000 Swiss Francs in gold. In today’s money, the sum was comparable to one million dollars.
Realising the potential of this new and yet unexplored market, he set up a company with his brothers in 1820. Whilst Édouard remained in China to handle sales, Alphonse and Frédéric managed shipping from London through the East India Company. Meanwhile, the fourth brother, Charles-Henri, oversaw manufacturing from Fleurier in Switzerland.
Tackling & Dominating The Oriental Market
Bovet wasn’t the first watch manufacture to target the Chinese market. Aside from Édouard’s previous employers and Jacques Ullmann & Cie, Vacheron Constantin had already established a foothold in Imperial Northern China. However, Bovet flourished in the southern regions.
Thanks to their superior quality and ornate design, they became an attractive commodity for the upper classes. Their reputation grew to such as extent that any luxury watch was referred to as a “Bo Wei” and synonymous with high-end watches in the everyday Chinese language.
Featuring pearl ornaments and finely-crafted enamel miniature painting, Bovet watches were highly desirable. The movements were often finely engraved and encased in glass to be admired from the back.
Furthermore, Bovet watches were considered a financial asset. Such watches were often accepted as forms of payments as an alternative to currency. Bovet even developed dials with Chinese hours to make them more readable than Western hours.
In 1830, Édouard returned to Fleurier with his half-Chinese son, Édouard-Georges. On his return, he built the Bovet house, which would become known as “The Chinese Palace”. This eventually became the city hall but today houses the Fleurier Quality Foundation, which was partly founded by Bovet.
Due to the Prussian rule in Switzerland and being a sworn Republican, he was exiled soon after. Édouard then continued watchmaking in Besançon, France. Once prosperity was restored, the company returned to Fleurier in 1840 and re-registered as Bovet Frères et Cie.
During this time, Bovet established a manufacture in Canton. However, the growing unrest caused by the Opium Wars forced them to move to a smaller one in Macau.
Counterfeits & The Opium Wars
Counterfeiting proved to be an obstacle that would regularly undermine Bovet’s integrity. Chinese-made fake Bovets were often found in circulation and the family aimed to counter this with certificates of authenticity and hallmarks.
At one point, the Chinese government even intervened by publishing announcements that the frauds were inferior and encouraged the public to purchase genuine items. Eventually, along with growing French and American competition, it caused the Chinese watch market to collapse in the 1850s.
Although Édouard Bovet died in 1849, the company continued to innovate under his brothers’ care. In 1855, Bovet was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle for a pair of perfectly identical watches ordered by the Emperor of China.
Unfortunately, the Opium Wars continued to disrupt Bovet’s activities. Finally, the family sold their interest in the company in 1864. It was purchased by their manufacturing inspectors, Jules Jequier, Ernest Bobiller and Ami Leuba.
Bovet In The 20th Century
Under the new management, Bovet nevertheless continued activity in China but its success slowly waned. Eventually, the Chinese market drew to a close and Bovet produced fewer watches. Instead, it concentrated its efforts on manufacturing services for other watch brands. In 1888, it was purchased by the Landry Frères who auctioned it to César and Charles Leuba in 1901.
Some time later, it was bought by Jacques Ullmann & Cie who also prospered from the 19th-Century Chinese market. However, it was sold again when they went of business in 1932.
Eventually, Albert and Jean Bovet obtained the name. Under their management, Bovet developed a number of chronograph patents including the mono rattrapante. This intriguing design allowed the second hand to be paused for a reading while the mechanism continued running.
Unfortunately, the named and facilities were passed on to Favre-Leuba in 1948 who themselves stopped producing Bovet watches in 1950. It wasn’t until 1966 that they were passed on to a cooperative.
Bovet Today & Its Manufactures
In February 2001, Bovet was destined to be reunited with its former glory. French pharmaceutical executive, Pascal Raffy, was taking a break in his career to focus on his children. A passionate connoisseur of Haute Horlogerie, he became enamoured by Bovet when an investment banker friend insisted he did a blind touch test with some timepieces.
Upon touching the Bovet piece, he realised it was something unique and when his eyes locked on it, he knew it was special. When approached to invest in the company, Raffy’s foresight saw that Bovet would flourish as a house that produced only quality and not quantity.
By 2003, Raffy had assumed full ownership of Bovet so that he could realise his vision. Vowing to produce no more than 4,000 watches a year, the fervent watch collector developed a strategy that was true to Bovet’s heritage and patrimony.
The firm was destined to be a jewel of horology with soul. In that light, it would concentrate on high-end and luxurious hand-crafted pieces with solely in-house complications and artistry.
In order to fulfil his dream, Pascal Raffy assembled his own team of peerless watchmaking experts. By 2006, he had also acquired the Bovet Manufacture de Cadrans, the Dimier Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie as well as the historical Château de Môtiers.
In little over a decade, Raffy’s leadership and integrity forged Bovet’s rebirth as a statement to horological heritage and innovation.
Dimier Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie
Currently consisting of 73 employees and artisans of 41 different professions, Dimier is Bovet’s central manufacture. Its generous size allows for both precision and quality control as well as freedom of movement between departments.
Unlike large-scale structures, which may face bottlenecks and similar obstacles, Bovet’s manufacture guarantees seamless production. Built on two storeys, the lower floor is dedicated to micromechanics whilst upstairs focuses on artisans and watchmakers.
A technical department supervises the development and creation of each component. Expert artisans meanwhile concentrate on their own fields from engraving to precision cutting and quality control.
With their high-precision and unprecedented quality, Bovet are often approached by both Airlines and other watch brands to create some of their more complex components. For instance, their balance springs are some of the most refined in the world and sought after by many other brands.
Each and every component is made in-house with a rich blend of state-of-the-art technology and traditional hand-crafting. With its progressive history of employing women artisans, the personnel is also evenly composed of both genders.
Bovet Manufacture de Cadrans et de Sertissage
Outside of the Dimier Manufacture, Bovet also owns a facility for creating artisanal dials. Reputed for its unique designs and traditional handcrafting techniques, the Manufacture de Cadrans develops some of the most innovative dials in circulation.
Here, artists work with the developed apertures, sub-counters, multi-levels, wire frames and indexes to transform high-precision engineering into works of art. Working according to each watch’s individual movements, they design dials inspired by its internal construction of mechanisms.
Le Château de Môtiers
Overlooking the Val-de-Travers, the Château de Môtiers is a 14th-Century castle built by the count of Neuchâtel, Rodolphe IV. Originally named Vauxtravers, it was bought by Henri-François Dubois-Bovet in 1835 and eventually donated to the Neuchâtel municipality in 1957.
As the listed historical monument was proving to be expensive to maintain by the state, it was acquired by Pascal Raffy in 2006. Its picturesque environment proved ideal and allowed Bovet to return to its original birthplace, the Vale de Travers.
Today, it serves as the grandiose headquarters of Bovet as well as an ideal setting for creativity and artisanal work. Its Diesse Tower hosts a lavish meeting area and board room whilst offices and workshops can be found right across the courtyard.
The sterilised workshop above is home to some of Bovet’s best craftsmen who work on the watch’s final assembly, maintenance as well as engraving work. Here, the artisans work in the best possible conditions with a breathtaking panoramic view of the valley below to rest their eyes.
Artistic & Technological Innovations
Throughout Bovet’s rich history, it brought both artistic and technological marvels to the world of Haute Horlogerie. Aside from their double-sided tourbillon and felly balance wheel, which consists or three weights held by spokes, Bovet pioneers in both traditional artwork and modern innovation.
Miniature Enamel Painting
When Édouard Bovet pioneered watchmaking in 19th-Century China, one of his greatest accomplishments was the refined miniature painting featured on his timepieces. The exquisite artistry was so successful that it even attracted the Emperor of China who ordered a pair of identical award-winning pocket watches.
Often depicting floral designs such as Champlevés and Paillonnés on engraved surfaces, the meticulous art-form was a hallmark of hand-crafted watchmaking.
Other more complex designs such as the Cloisonné would use fine gold wire to create contours filled with coloured enamel. These floral designs can sometimes be found on the movements themselves and require firing at high temperatures over 30 times.
An extension of this, miniature enamel painting is often regarded as the finest and most complex enamelist art, which Bovet still excels at today. Designs can range from small depictions of folkloric scenes as well as portraits and animals.
Furthermore, polished lacquer is often used achieve these paintings, which is another age-old practice that Bovet has preserved. This allows for a more robust enamel with increased definition in the painting. To further illustrate the lengths they will go, rare mother of pearl will usually be used as the canvas for these paintings.
However, enamel painting is not without modern innovation. In fact, Bovet are also known to use gold leaf and silver paillons to create metallic effects in their paintings.
Like enamelling, the art of engraving is a practice cherished by Bovet. The level of detail that Édouard Bovet introduced to the market in 1822 was unparalleled and is preserved to this day. As is tradition, Bovet still engraves every possible movement with ornate designs for a truly three-dimensional work of art.
Thanks to the transparent cases that are a hallmark of the firm, the movements and their details can be admired with the watch closed. The expert engravers at Bovet achieve their art by hand, which was a skill that almost fell into obscurity until Raffy took the helm.
Every possible component from dials to bezels and flanges are engraved in excruciating detail allowing the client to customise their timepiece. The most popular design is the “Fleurisanne”, a floral pattern that was heralded in the 19th Century. The bridges and movements are ornately designed with curved motifs engraved into their structure.
Thanks to their Dimier manufacture, Bovet have been making their own in-house spring balances since 2006. One of the most precise and intricate requirements of a mechanical watch, it is rare for a firm to create these in-house.
However, not only do they succeed in manufacturing balance springs, they excel in it to such an extent that other firms commission Bovet for making theirs.
Their highly-secretive technique creates these microscopic spirals using a unique steel alloy from Germany. The metal is drawn and rolled out to thicknesses measured in microns, which are then coiled in Dimier’s sterilised environment. Once pinned to the watch’s collet and stud, their components are the only ones that provide optimal isochronism.
Using their patented tridimensional toothing with multiple gearing, Bovet developed a mechanism that allowed for a spherical winding system. With the aim of reducing energy consumption, the barrels paired with a 104cm mainspring offer a breathtaking 22 days of ticking.
However, to overcome the hundred turns required to usually fully wind such a watch, Bovet developed an efficient spherical system. This halves the required crown turns and allows the owner to fully wind their watch after only 55 revolutions.
Virtuoso II Movement
The first non-tourbillon movement made entirely at the Dimier manufacture is the Virtuoso II Calibre à Spécialités Horlogèrest. Taking over five years to develop, it features a 7-day power reserve.
It wasn’t by no means a simple task for Bovet to develop this in-house movement. However, it went on to be a cherished accomplishment by Pascal Raffy and his team as “poetry in basic movement”.
Given their reputation for complicated movements, the secret was to develop something more “fundamental” whilst retaining Bovet’s signature uniqueness.
The final result was a breathtaking construction, which features a patented coaxial second and double-sided movement. The watch can be rewound for the collector’s pleasure and offers the most desirable technical features.
One of Bovet’s most iconic creations is the patented Amadeo convertible case. This particular ingenious feat offers a reversible wristwatch, which can be transformed into either a table clock or pocket watch.
The 7-year development phase between Bovet and Dimier technicians resulted in this intuitive system. Consequently, the user can seamlessly change their watch according to his or her taste.
With a simple manipulation, the leather straps of the wristwatch can be removed. An in-built easel can then be flipped out to let the watch rest on a desk or bedside table. If the opportunity arises, a chain can be clicked into position allowing the timepiece to be worn as a pocket watch or even a pendant.
Furthermore, the system is complex but well-integrated and very easy to use. A simple push of the bow’s cabochons releases the strap or chain. These only work when pushed together to ensure a secure hold. An invisible push piece near the rear bezel allows you to release the second strap from a hidden hinge.
Finally, the Amadeo System is fully reversible meaning that you effectively have not three but four watches in one as the straps can be flipped over. With this exciting feature and plethora of options, it’s hard not to get bored from such an unprecedented work of art.
Notable Current Bovet Collections
Back in the early 19th Century, Bovet changed the face of contemporary horology with its ornate timepieces. Even today, Bovet thrives with innovation and unique pieces that make the heart skip a beat.
Below are a few notable examples of their current collection. You can either scroll down read them all or click on the list below to jump straight to them:
Although Bovet is often associated with pocket watches, the 19Thirty Collection sought to break mould. Released in 2015, the 19Thirty Collection featured two variants: the Bovet and the Dimier.
Whilst the Bovet features the signature crown at 12 o’clock with a pocket watch style bow, the Dimier has it placed at the more conventional 3 o’clock position.
Inspired by Bovet’s Easel Chronometer of the 1930s, the 19Thirty Dimier shares similar aesthetics as well as the style of dial and hands.
What we particularly liked about the Dimier is how the main dial is adjusted to the right, which allows the wearer to discretely check the time.
Edouard Bovet Tourbillon
To celebrate Bovet’s 200th anniversary, the house released the Edouard Bovet Tourbillon. Designed as a homage to the brothers who travelled around the world and worked in three different time zones, it is a watch dedicated to travel.
With a plethora of complications, the watch consists of 472 components. Nevertheless, its single barrel is able to power the watch for over 10 days. The watch is also designed with the Amadeo System for conversion between a wristwatch, table clock or pocket watch.
There are a number of features that make this timepiece truly unique. Among them are the two globe-shaped dials, which allow the user to add two extra time zones to their watch in 24 hours. Each globe features 24 cities from each time zone, which can be selected by simply scrolling through them.
Interestingly, Central European Time shows Geneva rather than the more conventional choice of Paris. Likewise, Eastern Seaboard Time shows Miami instead of New York given that this is where Pascal Raffy resides today. However, discerning clients can customise the locations to cities of their choice.
Meanwhile, a third dome above indicates the day-night cycle, which turns anti-clockwise to show the sun’s journey from east to west. Super-LumiNova is coated on the watch’s details such as the oceans so the features can be admired at night.
Another engineering feat of this watch is its domed shape. In order to give a truly three-dimensional plane, the watch face is curved as are the hands. This attention to detail allows the hands to smoothfly fly over the globes on either side.
Designed based on the Virtuoso II speciality calibre, the Virtuoso VII Retrograde Perpetual Calendar is the third watch of the Complications Collection. Like the Edouard Bovet Tourbillon, it features the Amadeo case for easy conversion.
A fountain of information, the perpetual calendar features the day, date, month as well as the leap year cycle.
Unlike most watches, which feature the calendar information at the centre of the dial, the Virtuoso VII achieves the contrary. The hours and minutes are displayed at the centre whilst the other information wraps around the central dial.
Thanks to their clear materials and unique construction, the movements are exposed to be admired by the user. Nevertheless, emphasis was put on readability by designing an intuitive face adapted to the human eye.
Furthermore, the Virtuoso features a second face, which can be flipped over thanks to the Amadeo case. This separate entity is a streamlined dial with no other details save for the power reserve and the watch’s exposed movements and tourbillon.
Like the Édouard Bovet Tourbillon, the Virtuoso VIII was an anniversary watch. In this instance, it was to celebrate Bovet’s 195 years since its foundation. Similarly, it features 10 days of autonomy with its power reserve while the balance wheel turns at 18,000 vph.
For this particularly model of the Fleurier Grandes Complications Collection, Pascal Raffy sought to release a watch consisting of 19th-Century architecture. This mean that there would be a full plate with bridges hollowed out into a series of scrolls.
With a design perpetuating Bovet’s early heritage with delicate Fleurisanne engravings and sculpted surfaces, the Virtuoso VIII is exquisite. In addition, it was designed to feature a big date for easy reading. This larger-than-life disc shows the date with a unique font that echoes Art Deco text.
What’s equally interesting is that the main dial is only revealed within a comma shape. The remainder of the watch face consist of the power reserve as well as the exposed movements. Here, the wearer can really admire the ornate scrolling and engraved details.
For those looking for a sports watch that retains the ornate details of a Bovet, there’s even an option for that too. Inspired by its Art Deco chronographs, this unique timepiece displays a harmony of modern materials and heritage watchmaking.
Made with either alligator or rubber straps, the self-winding chronograph’s buttons are interestingly placed at 11 and 1 o’clock on either side of the crown. Nodding to its Art Deco origins, the numbers’ font is reminscient of the era.
Three sub dials can be found on the face, which show the hours and minutes as well the the running seconds. Meanwhile, the bevel hosts both tachymeter and puslometer scales. Furthermore, the watch is water-resistant up to a depth of 300 metres, which is certified by Chronofiable.
We hoped that you enjoyed our overview of Bovet’s history, achievements and collections. To learn more about the firm’s current collections, legacy and techniques, you can also head to the official website.
Alternatively, you can discover more watch brands and their histories via the Bespoke Unit watch homepage.