What does Jean-Claude Biver joining the Norqain board of advisers really mean?Zach Blass
Jean-Claude Biver is a legend in the watch world. He’s fended off the quartz crisis, revived Blancpain, rejuvenated Omega and headed Hublot, TAG Heuer and, later, the entire watch and jewellery division of LVMH. As a result, Biver is considered to be one of the most brilliant minds in the watch industry of all time. His decades of wisdom and unquenchable passion make him a strong ally for those he aligns with. Today, Norqain has announced that they have welcomed Jean-Claude Biver into the family as an advisor to the board. Naturally, I was eager to chat with Norqain CEO Ben Küffer to dig into what this revelation truly means for the future of the brand.
“I have kept a close eye on Norqain since its founding and have been consistently impressed with the team’s achievements around the world in such a short amount of time. The brand’s values align with my own and I am looking forward to climbing new peaks with them and developing innovative products using new sustainable materials” – Jean-Claude Biver
We have a solid base, now it is time to take things to the next level
So, where does Norqain go from here? Ben recounted JCB telling him: “Listen, I can see why you’re successful because you’re offering really high quality. You’re working with the leading suppliers that you know from the past. Your price is impressive and I think the brand is young and cool. But when I look at your brand and the marketing – you’re challenging the status quo. You’re clearly not traditional and you’re clearly doing things a bit differently. But in terms of the product, you’re going for that high quality that you know how to produce, but you haven’t gone out of your comfort zone yet.”
This is where JCB’s expertise really comes into play. As an industry legend, who has headed pioneering brands such as Hublot who are known for bold designs and material innovation, he is the perfect injection into the challenger brand. Norqain is not merely attaching JCB’s name for clout. Ben expressed as much when he told me: “I don’t need him for a marketing gimmick, I need Jean-Claude because where we are today we’re already at 130 stores and have a couple of million of turnover coming from zero and good momentum. This is the right moment to start the next chapter of the brand.”
Before JCB was officially brought on board, there was already a sense of what aspects of Norqain he felt worked and what could evolve to make the brand stronger. Ben explained: “It was a really clear analysis from day one. ‘Congratulations for the base. Congratulations for Kenissi. Congratulations on design and price.’ But now, with the base we’ve built, he would help us to build the next level – which is innovation and disruption in terms of product.”
Striving for pure innovation
You might expect that JCB’s input would be purely philosophical: big picture and the odd catchy buzzword. This, however, is supposedly not the case. It’s clear JCB respects what Norqain already does, but, in my conversation with Ben, it was also clear that one key element should change. Norqain, in the eyes of JCB, is innovative compared to traditional brands. But this is not enough for the brand to stand out and move beyond being the alternative to older watch brands. This meant looking beyond how watches have been manufactured in the past and looking towards how a watch should be manufactured in the future.
Ben explained: “He said, for me, your brand is different, and the people, and the way you’re doing it is different. But he thinks that in terms of product, what we’re doing with our cases and our dials, we’re doing the traditional watch industry way.
“Jean-Claude came in and challenged that and said: ‘Ben, we’re going to recreate the concept of the watch. You’re not going to stamp a watch. We’re going to build a watch.’ And that’s what changed everything. That’s where the innovation and disruption is, when you start to say: ‘No, we’re just going to do it differently’.”
Who is the captain now?
One thing I raised with Ben was the idea that, with JCB being such a strong industry figure, there could be some ripple-effect to the leadership dynamic within Norqain – like Starlord feeling challenged by Thor as the leader of his ship. Ben laughed at the analogy, then explained: “Jean-Claude is part of brainstorming sessions with the team, but we do the decision making between us for that reason. In that moment he’s my mentor, so I can talk with him, ask questions and get his requests.”
The way Ben presents it, this mentorship consists primarily of a one-on-one interaction between Ben and JCB, where the Norqain boss heeds JCB’s counsel and then makes a final ruling on how to move forward.
My personal thoughts
In the past, myself and other watch writers have presented Norqain as a plucky brand that challenges some of the big boys – one of them notably being Tudor. When I reviewed their NEVEREST GMT 41 watch, for example, I stacked it up against the Tudor Black Bay GMT as a vehicle to showcase just how competitive Norqain’s offering was. Their usage of Kenissi calibres, which Tudor has a stake in, makes that comparison quite natural. For a young brand to stack up so competitively against these far more established giants is already hugely impressive. Yet the message here is that JCB’s involvement with Norqain ushers in the next era that will deliver new products that promise to be truly distinctive and showcase genuine innovation. Whether or not that actually happens, only time will tell. But it’ll be fascinating to watch how the future unfolds at Norqain.