The Biver Catharsis for Only Watch 2023 turns high watchmaking into wrist art
The fledgling independent brand previews an unusual configuration in which dial, crown, and hands play off each other in a completely new division of roles.
When a bicycling accident kept Jean-Claude Biver off his feet for three months in 2021, he realised that his decision to retire was premature and staged a highly publicised comeback earlier this year. Together with his son Pierre, Biver launched his eponymous watch brand in April, just before the annual Watches and Wonders fair in Geneva. The brand’s debut timepiece, the Carillon Tourbillon Biver, was greeted by mixed reviews, but it does feel like its second release will be far less polarising.
Catharsis, the newly minted Maison’s second minute repeater carillon tourbillon watch, was unveiled as one of the 62 lots available for auction as part of the biennial Only Watch initiative, which raises funds for research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Biver’s headlining release features a hard-to-replicate gem-set dial, complex movement, and an unusual way to tell the time, but this is why it makes sense to unveil it for Only Watch.
Since it started, Only Watch has become a fertile breeding ground for genre-defying work by independent watchmakers and collab timepieces that eventually appear in mainstream watchmaking. Biver’s submission for the initiative, with its beautifully crafted dial bearing the sparkling image of undulating waves and an hour hand on the back of the movement, is a good example. If it survives the court of public opinion, the Catharsis might just become a production model in the future.
The watch was inspired by an idea from an artist friend who asked Biver to “make me a minute repeater with no hands, no indexes. I want time to be mine”. Constructed in titanium, the Catharsis brings together avant-garde craftsmanship with artistic techniques like invisible gem-setting, stone marquetry, and intricate guilloché. A clever way, one would say, of showcasing the wide range of artisans that the watchmaker has a relationship with. Unencumbered by minute and hour hands, the dial can be completely dedicated to the three-dimensional arrangement of 89 sapphires – none of which are the same – to emulate waves. Above, a starlit sky made of silver obsidian is dotted with opal flecks, while a meteorite moon completes the picture.
On the reverse side of the 42mm case, a sapphire crystal caseback reveals the workings of the automatic JCB-002, which powers the hours, tourbillon, and minute repeater carillon (a step up from the usual repeater with an additional gong). The calibre has been rotated 180 degrees, putting the crown on the left and the slider on the right of the case. The hour hand is flame-blued at the Biver workshops in a magnificent old farmhouse mid-way between Geneva and Lausanne.
A scale on the periphery of the crystal caseback for the hour hand allows time setting, while subtle branding visible on the white gold frosted bridges indicates its maker. The titanium case measures 13.9mm thick, which is acceptable given the complexity of the movement, and its 50m water resistance is impressive for a repeater with a slide lever.
The Catharsis is closer in spirit to the original intention of minute repeaters. When there was no light at night, gongs within these watches told the time with a series of chimes, so the lack of hands on the dial is duly respectful of this complication’s unique history. Additionally, a timepiece made with such mastery is hardly the tool one would use to record the passing of time – this is a stunning piece of visual and aural art to enjoy.
Footnote: The 62 timepieces that are part of this year’s Only Watch will be arriving in Hong Kong (Oct 5-6), Bangkok (Oct 11-12), Singapore (Oct 20-22), and Dubai (Oct 27), before the auction (both in person and digital) takes place in Geneva on Nov 5.
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