A Roll of the Dice: The Story of My First Encounter with Jean-Claude Biver
“The only way to break out is to gamble.” – Jerry Jones
Las Vegas, June 3rd, 2016.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been there for work about four or five billion times (or so I’ve felt). Maybe it’s because “fake” isn’t my thing, so the fake city, fake Eiffel Tower, fake cheekbones, fake sculptures, and fake fun doesn’t really appeal to me. Or, maybe it’s because paying $27 for a mediocre gin martini presented to me by an obsequious “mixologist” seems, oh, I don’t know, like something Dean Martin would be really pissed off about if he were alive today. But man, I REALLY hate Las Vegas. Hate hate it. Like, how my eight-year-old daughter hates green foods, or like how Canadians hate the word “hate” because let’s be honest, in their minds, it could just as easily be replaced by the word “like” in any sentence. But on this night, I found myself in Las Vegas, three months into writing this here watch blog, and two glasses of wine into the COUTURE Show opening party at the Wynn hotel, sponsored by none other than LVMH watch brand, TAG Heuer.
One doesn’t have to be a WIS to know the back story of Jean-Claude Biver; one simply has to be somewhat literate and hopefully have a pulse to be even vaguely aware of the watch world giant. By the time I made the decision to take my writing over to the watch side, I’d read my fair share of articles and heard my fair share of stories of the man who many describe still as “larger than life.”
I remember just having wrapped up a conversation with Scott Saunders of London Jewelers when Mr. Biver was introduced, before he graciously took the microphone as he stepped on to the COUTURE Show stage. His remarks seemed quaint to me at first; simple, and yet substantial. Everyone in the crowd stood still, patiently hanging on to JCB’s words which were becoming more intense by the second.
“ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!” he finally exclaimed loudly into the mic, giving credit to the Beatles for a line that even the millennials in the room would recognize. Love. He was yelling about love. Here was a man so bold, and so recognized, and so successful, and he was talking to a room full of jewelry and watch people about a universal emotion as simple – and as complicated – as love. About the power of love. About the positivity of love. And about love’s effect on everything we do in our lives and every decision we make. “All you need… is love.”
By the time he left the stage, the room acted as if it had just witnessed a modern-day prophet perform a miracle for the ages. People were cheering so vehemently I wondered if Mr. Biver would actually come back out and sing “Freebird” while we all swayed and raised our cigarette lighters. It was astonishing to witness and awe-inspiring at the same time. I wanted to start hugging strangers in the room and tell them I loved them (but I didn’t because when you do that in Vegas, people get the wrong idea about what you actually do for a living). I was invigorated, and felt kind of… well, lucky… and when you’re feeling lucky in Vegas there’s really only one place to go…
Vegas was built for a reason, and that reason was money, and money alone. Gambling is the fabric used in the tattered quilt that blankets the city, and to go and not gamble even once seems almost sacrilegious, so I decided to head inside to the Wynn’s grand casino and take my chances at the tables.
The sounds of coins falling and bells ringing are synonymous with Vegas. The smell of a casino floor can’t be replicated – nor should it – as the lingering feelings of both hope and despair hang tauntingly in the recycled air. Yet as I strolled through the crowds of thirty-something bachelors and their nightly rent-a-dates toward the blackjack area, I could see a figure walking quickly toward me in the mix of what would appear to be an entourage.
It was The Prophet, himself: Mr. Jean-Claude Biver.
I’d never met him before, nor had I met anyone in the watch world who held a position such as his. I was new still, and green, and honestly, I didn’t know crap about the industry. But he was headed my way, and I knew that if I didn’t at least tell him that I liked his speech, I’d lose an opportunity I might never get again. But what happens if I stop him and he wants to talk watches? I can’t fake it! Vegas or not, I suck at bullshitting.
The more I thought about it, the closer he got, and when he had just walked past me, I idiotically blurted out his name.
He turned toward me, almost startled, and his people turned too.
“I’m Barbara Palumbo. I write a watch blog called WhatsOnHerWrist. It’s sort of focused on women. I’m a fan though, and I saw your speech, and I just wanted to meet you.”
He smiled his wide, toothy smile as he walked back toward me and took my business card from my outstretched and slightly shaking hand, before reaching into his pocket and handing me his in return.
We spoke for a few minutes, once I calmed my nerves, and he told me to email him any time if I had any questions or needed anything. Then he shook my hand, and he and his people walked off into the desert night while I stood there staring at the plain white business card which bore his name.
Upon my return home to Atlanta, I wrote a recap of my experience at COUTUREtime and decided to take Mr. Biver up on his offer, so I emailed it to him, and to my surprise, received a reply within the hour:
“Hello Barbara, thank you for your email and article! I enjoyed reading it and could imagine you enjoying writing it. Hope to catch up with you soon.”
It was, for someone like me, a moment I won’t soon forget.
You see, I guess I’m still green. I like people who are nice to me; who take the time to mentor me, and do right by me, knowing that I’m in this to learn, and that no matter what happens, or what road bumps I hit, I’m not giving up. I like writing about brands who employ good people; positive people. I enjoy sharing their stories because this industry is about more than mere material possessions with a history. Watches ARE their people. Watches wouldn’t exist without their designers or their creators or their marketers or sellers or CEOs or those, like me, who tell their stories. And this simple moment – this gamble that I took in Vegas at the very beginning – put me on the right mental path, because it showed me that someone as important to the watch world as Jean-Claude Biver was willing to take the time and share a kind word of support with someone like me, who was just starting out.
So, to you, Mr. Biver, I say “cheers” today. Cheers on celebrating your 69th birthday, on celebrating forty extraordinary years doing what you seemingly love, and on deciding to take time for you in a different way than you had been recently. We know that you’re still around for those of us who have questions or need anything, but speaking for myself, you already gave me what it was I needed.
Thank you, sir. I guess that’s really all I wanted to say through this story. Merci.
Roulette, Cuvette, Black Jack, Black Bay, Craps, Straps, and Multiple Hands: Watch Week in Vegas Part 1 – COUTUREtime
“The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.” – Ambrose Bierce, American editorialist/journalist/satirist.
I was inexplicably confused.
On the one hand, I had several of my retailer friends warning me that I couldn’t do what I felt I wanted to because I’d be pigeonholed. “You realize you can’t write your watch blog in the same voice you use to write your jewelry blog, right? I mean, these are the Swiss we’re talking about. You don’t want to piss them off, and they’re not going to understand you.”
The warning made sense. For one, the watch industry is known for being conservative with few exceptions. “They’re right,” I thought. “I can’t write as colorfully as I’d like. I’m going to have to tone it down.”
But then, I got to Baselworld, where I met, in person, many of the watch journalists and editors I’d been following for quite some time. There, the tone and tune was dramatically different. “If you write your watch blog the way you write your jewelry blog, you’re going to KILL IT. Nobody is writing the way you write. It’s refreshing. And it’s needed.”
Like I said… mind meldingly confused.
Yet as I continued to pen (key) piece after piece here I found that my work and my storytelling was finding its own natural path. The very first posts come off a little more reserved but the last was playful, daring, and borderline controversial. The story is as important to me – speaking from the writer’s side – as the product discussed or the brands highlighted. The story is what makes the reader remember what it was they read. We often hear the word “stickiness” when we’re talking about content. What sticks? What makes thing stick? How do you make something sticky? You make something stick by being memorable; by not regurgitating canned text and copying and pasting press releases. You make it sticky by experiencing the moments in which you write; by breathing emotion into the words you print on pages or publish on the interwebs. Posting something daily and calling it blogging doesn’t make you a writer; it makes you a content creator. To be a writer you must live what you share. To be a writer you have to believe in that which you express, paid post or not. To be a writer you must see the world, your life, and your business through the eyes of a writer. Every mishap is a story. Every joke is a line. Every dinner, a side note. And every city, an adventure.
For the last couple of years on the blog of my alter ego (Adornmentality.com) I have written a multi-part series called, “Tales From the Strip” which covers the back stories of Las Vegas Jewelry Week. Every year these are my most-read blog posts as they delve deeply into what really goes down during those long, hard, but fun seven or more days. Yes, I discuss brands, and product, and designers, but what I mostly talk about is real life. That’s the stickiness of Vegas. Vegas is both as real and as fake as life can be. Body parts? Fake. Money lost? Real. Adoration? Fake. Swollen feet? Real. And because of the success of those posts I decided I wanted to do something similar here on the watch blog. Maybe I won’t get into the story of my near wardrobe malfunction at my Montblanc appointment. And maybe I won’t talk about the creepy watch-sector guy who hit on everything that had a set of eyeballs (and honestly that’s not entirely true because I saw him talking to that blonde woman with the eye patch). But then again, maybe I will. I don’t know for sure as I haven’t written it yet. I‘ll see where my memory takes me, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Just be careful. The seats might be a wee bit sticky.
I had one full day plus two hours the next day to cover the brands exhibiting at COUTUREtime at the Wynn. I strategically made my appointments well over a month in advance to ensure that I’d be on the lists of the companies I didn’t get the chance to see at Baselworld. Brands such as Tudor, Hermès, TAG Heuer and Chopard. For the most part these people didn’t know me from Adam (not Craniotes, as everyone knows him and I doubt anyone would ever confuse us. [My beard is nicer]). Or at least, that’s what I thought, however, a few actually had heard about the blog, which was a pretty rad ego boost to the chagrin of those who have to live with me.
My first appointment of the day was with Montblanc, which translates to my first middle-aged hot flash of the day as I walked in to see a life-sized poster of Hugh Jackman standing before me. This is no Wolverine Hugh, either (not that I don’t love pork chop sideburns, leather pants, and claws, but that’s for another blog entirely). This is Oscar-hosting Hugh. “The Fountain” Hugh. “Oscar & Leopold” Hugh. The Hugh you want to take home to meet your mother only to get into a fight with your mother because she drilled a peep hole in the guest bedroom where Hugh was staying. Hugh, alone, is influential enough to make me buy that ladies’ Boheme ExoTourbillon Stop-Second in rose gold even on a writer’s salary. I mean, do I really need this second kidney? Or this second lung? Pfffft. Lungs are for punks. Weaklings, even. But tourbillons, well, those are for stylish people.
All kidding aside (momentarily), the crew at Montblanc was wonderful and incredibly patient, even as I had a wardrobe near-mishap trying to take a picture under a table to get proper lighting. Many thanks to Florent-Aymeric Dubiez, VP of Marketing at Montblanc, as well as Training Director, Jonathan Berke, for making my first experience with the brand one to reflect upon happily. I am enamored by what the brand is doing and at the price points that they’re doing it. Keep up the stunning work and don’t you ever stop showing me pictures of Hugh. I will hunt you down like Wolverine would if you do.
I then headed over to see a watch company that holds a very special place in my heart: Baume et Mercier. Not only did one of my closest friends work for the company for years, but the Hampton was the first official Swiss watch I ever owned. Back in 2002, shortly after 9/11, I left the watch I owned in a bin going through airport security. Thankfully, because the human race and the TSA are so honest, they honestly told me, “You’re never going to see that watch again. Honestly.” With the money I had saved working a part time job slinging Cosmopolitans and Mojitos at a Philadelphia nightclub, I went out and bought myself a Baume et Mercier Hampton avec bracelet. The watch is still a part of my collection (when am I allowed to call what I own an actual “collection”? Anyone?) And I even took it with me to Vegas to show the Baume et Mercier folks.
I worked with Sandrine Donguy, B et M’s Marketing and Communication Director, who showed me the new Petite Promesse watches and their video campaign. I was thrilled to see that the brand was putting a focus on not just women’s watches, but on young women’s watches – and that they were going after women of the Gen Y set. Only a handful of watch brands are reaching this market so it was refreshing to see firsthand how the campaign was being run. While there I was also able to check out the Shelby Cobra limited edition watch and had a little fun playing around in the car itself. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture is worth just four: hell to the yes.
After leaving B et M, I went to visit with a brand I have been anxious to see ever since being introduced to Ana Martins – Bovet. Dear, sweet Bovet. If you were a man and I were a single women I’d follow you everywhere until such time the restraining order took effect. I think I love you and I don’t just say that to every watch brand; I usually save it for brands containing vowels. Your style is not for the weak at heart, nor is it for the bleak of wallet, but man, I’m obsessed with you, particularly with your “Shooting Star” timepiece in rose gold. I mean, jumping hour with retrograde minutes, 5-day tourbillon, hemispheric worldwide time function with selectable time zones, hemispheric moon phase, and oh, so much more? STAAAHP!! This is not a WATCH! This belongs in a NASA bunker! I feel like I need a degree to own this thing, it’s just that intricate. Nevertheless, I was enormously taken with it and with many of the other pieces in your collection (including Duane’s bespoke watch hand-painted with a picture of his puppies). A. Dorbs.
After a brief break to visit a friend at Vhernier, I moseyed back to the villas in time for my 2 o’clock appointment with Hermès.
This was my first experience getting to visit brands in the villas. While I’m not new to writing, my past Jewelry Weeks in Vegas meant working for someone else, so to be there as an independent meant that I had more time to see those I had not been privy to in the past. The feeling of having only the “journalist” label was sweet, and riding the villa elevators knowing I would soon be sitting down with those I had only studied from afar up to this point was humbling.
I stepped off at floor two and headed down the brightly-hued but dimly lit hallway toward villa 208. I was alone but could see a group of four men conversing in my path about twenty or so feet in front of me. As I got closer, however, I started recognizing most of their faces: Will, Frank, and Anna Wintour Ben (only if you read the NYT piece will you get that reference). The Hodinkee gang, less a few talented and favored exceptions, were quietly chatting as I walked past.
I will be the first person to admit that I’m a Hodinkee fangirl. I get the Hodinkee Daily delivered to more than one email address. I learned all I care to know about the history of spring bars, the legend of why Geneva stripes were invented, and what makes a ridiculous 18th-century mechanical pooping bird from France so special thanks to the esteemed Jack Forster. I know the difference between their Value Proposition, Hands On, and Reference Points categories. And any time some dude (or chick) from some other blog has tried dissing the site while in my presence, I’ve come to their defense as if I owned stock in the company (full disclosure: I do not own stock in the company). So here was my chance to introduce myself to those who’ve made loving the watch world a little easier for me. I’m not shy. I’m not easily intimidated. I was taller than all of them. And honestly, I had nothing to lose.
“There’s a whole bunch of Hodinkeeness going on right here!”
Great opening line, idiot. Well f**king done. Could I have been more cheesy? I think not. I think not.
Thankfully they spared me (at least to my face) the feeling of embarrassment by allowing me to introduce myself and my blog while shaking each of their hands. Ben gave me an “Ah…” nod when I mentioned that I write WhatsOnHerWrist, which left me a little unsettled, frankly. Was it, “Ah, I’ve heard of you”? Or was it, “Ah, I really don’t care”? Or maybe it was, “AH! You’re the one they’ve warned us about.” I’m guessing the third, but that’s cool, because as I got to the fourth person in the group, whose face I didn’t recognize, I upped my a**hole game by stating, “I’m sorry, I really have no idea who you are” to which he replied, “Rob.”
My scotches-from-the-night-before-soaked brain was suddenly a flurry of activity. Rob. Rob. Why does that name sound familiar? Does Hodinkee have a Rob on their staff? No. Plus this guy doesn’t have a beard so I doubt they’d hire him. Hmm. Ah well. I’ll figure it out eventually.
And I did, about three feet into my walking away and realizing that this Rob was the Rob I was supposed to be meeting with as he was the Rob from Hermès. Mother. Bleeper.
Four letter words were all I could conjure internally as I now had to make a 180-degree turn and walk back, past the Hodincrew, past good ol’ Rob, and sheepishly into the Hermès suite.
I. Could. Have. DIED.
Thankfully, I was greeted pleasantly by Senior Sales Manager Andrea Galella, who offered me something to drink. I wanted to order a glass of champagne with a side of cyanide but settled for a sparkling water as to not add “drunken lush” to my already unquestionable “dipsh*t” status.
Andrea started to show me some of the new Cape Cod series watches when Rob joined our conversation. I apologized for not knowing who he was and eventually settled into work mode. Rob was serious, and a little dry, but knowledgeable, and at one point asked me what the name of my watch blog was. As Andrea and I discussed styles and as I showed her the Hermes timepiece I was currently wearing, I could see Rob on his phone, shoulders shaking, and giggling under his breath. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until I realized what he was reading…
“Wait. Wait a minute. Andrea, you’ve got to hear this,” Rob said, now full-on laughing, before he proceeded to read aloud the first few paragraphs of my last blog post. He then looked up at me and said, “You’re pretty funny,” which is when I knew that Rob and I were going to get along just fine. Actually, likely better than fine.
My 3 o’clock appointment was with TAG Heuer’s Marketing VP, Francoise Bezzola, who graciously showed me around and gave me the rundown on what was newly released in time for the COUTURE show. And I finally got the chance to play around with the TAG Heuer CONNECTED watch, which if I’m being honest, is the only smart watch available on the market right now that I’d even consider buying. I was also fortunate enough to meet the man himself – Jean-Claude Biver – later that same evening after the COUTURE opening party, sponsored by TAG Heuer. Mr. Biver was warm and kind and has since stayed in contact with me, to my amazement. It’s easy to see why he is thought so highly of.
Following TAG Heuer, I traipsed down to visit some of the darlingest watch folks I know – the crew at ORIS. How anyone could not like ORIS is beyond me, and I’m not just saying that because their name is super fun to say. The watches are wearable, affordable, and smartly designed. The staff is fun, accommodating, and inclusive. And they throw some pretty rad parties which they invite me to, so, you know… bonus. When I first sat down with them at Baselworld I spent a lot of time focusing on their women’s watches (which are designed by a woman) but it wasn’t until this trip that I was able to get my hands on and spend some time with their Divers Sixty Five watch, which greatly appealed to me in the blue dial and with the blue NATO strap. At 42mm it’s a bit too large for my wrist but that likely won’t stop me from eventually getting it for my significant other. Unless, of course, he starts some sh*t in which case I’ll buy him a fake Breitling from some New York street vendor in the East Village and call it a day.
The next company to visit on my COUTUREtime journey was Graham watches, which not only makes some cool, off-the-beaten-path-type timepieces, but knows how to market them properly, thanks largely to PR woman extraordinaire, Lisa Delane. While sipping an espresso (which was probably the last thing I needed considering I have hyperactivity issues as it is… no surprises there), I was introduced to a really special watch which debuted in 2015 called the Navy SEAL Chronofighter. Graham has partnered with the Navy SEAL Foundation – the first time the organization had ever partnered with a watch or any luxury brand to create a commercially saleable product – and is donating a portion of each of the sales of the limited edition watch (500 total pieces were made) to that foundation. You see now, when I hear of partnerships like these, it makes me proud to be in the business I’m in. Well done, Graham. Keep striving to do things a little differently, a little more meaningfully, and with a little bit of edge. That’s the thing that will set you apart. Oh, and I absolutely loved meeting a Swiss guy with a sense of humor (private joke, y’all. I’m kidding. You had to be there.)
My last appointment of the day but not the last at COUTUREtime was with Chopard, a firm I had been greatly looking forward to sitting down with. And while their prior appointment ran a little long and I needed to leave early as I had to get ready for the Diamond Empowerment Fund’s “Diamonds Do Good” Awards, we still managed to get in some quality time (pun alert) to talk Happy Diamonds (#AreYouHappyDiamonds), new releases, and seriously well-made diamond watches for women. Thankfully, I knew I would be back in the Chopard villa the following Saturday at their private event, which proved to be quite enjoyable, and not just because of the abundance of Perrier-Jouet and Macallan (more on that and other events in the next post).
And this brings us to my last appointment at the Wynn which I went back for the following afternoon: Tudor.
I can’t really remember a watch brand in recent history that has caught on quite the way Tudor has. The brand has earned the respect of not only the most well-read watch journalists, but also of bloggers, instagrammers, and many other forms of social media curators. This is not your poor man’s Rolex, let me be clear. Tudor has built its own wagon, paved its own path, and found its own way to a home of high demand and great success, and after seeing the product first hand, it was easy to see why.
My appointment was with Gabriela Anastasio who was an absolute joy to work with and had such a beautiful presence. She showed me the two pieces I’d been wanting to see since their release at Baselworld: the Black Bay Dark, and the Black Bay Bronze, both of which were equally appealing to me for different reasons. And as a woman who doesn’t always want her watches to have diamonds, white straps, or a pink dial, it was refreshing to see watches like the Heritage Black Bay 36 up close; a timepiece clearly made to be unisex.
All in all, from an outsider’s point of view, COUTUREtime seemed to be a smashing success. For me, as a first-time, full-time editorialist/journalist/satirist, I could not have asked for a better experience. Thank you, Gannon Brousseau, for curating this event and gathering in the U.S. some of the top watch brands in the world. And thanks to those brands for agreeing to meet with me, for taking time with me, and for making me feel welcome. I’m looking forward to whatever is next, be it Salon QP, SIHH, or Baselworld 2017. Wherever it is, I promise to make it fun on my end.
And stay tuned for part 2 of Watch Week, which will cover the watch shows at JCK as well as some of the nighttime shenanigans, coming very soon.
Editor’s Note: I just wanted to take the time here to send a shout out to four great guys who have been overwhelmingly supportive in these last three-plus months of this blog’s life: Eric Wind, Carlos Torres, Joe Thompson, and Jason Heaton. Without your guidance, advice, feedback, and help, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to put myself out there. Thanks to all of you for being in my corner, for teaching me the proper way to pronounce Jaeger-LeCoultre, for introducing me to women and men whom you felt I needed to know, and for pushing me to share the voice that makes me who I am. I owe each of you a glass of the nicest scotch I can find. And you’ll get it, because I believe in keeping promises.