This article originally appeared on A Timely Perspective on March 3rd, 2017 under the title "Meet the People: A Dozen of the Wealthiest Swiss Watch “Families” Today, and How I Know Them"
By Roberta Naas
Sure, Forbes has its billionaire lists and its highest-paid athletes/CEOS/celebs lists, but they don’t have the list that is currently out and circulating of the richest people in the Swiss watch industry. The wealthiest Swiss watch families include names we are all too familiar with, including Rupert, Hayek, Stern and Scheufele. Here we bring you a look at a dozen of the wealthiest Swiss watch families (or individuals) today and how I know them.
Recently our friends and colleagues over at WatchesbySJX brought to our attention that each January, the Swiss business magazine known as Bilanz offers up a list of the richest people living in Switzerland, and they categorize it based on their respective industries. No surprise that the watch industry touts some of those names.
1. Johann Rupert.
This South African tobacco tycoon holds the controlling shareholder of the famed Richemont Group (owner of Cartier, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and more than a half a dozen others). His estimated wealth is 4.75 billion CHF., although I have seen estimates ranging above 6 billion. I have been fortunate enough to visit Mr. Rupert’s winery in Cape Town, and his garages, where he parks more than half of his extensive collection of vintage and racing automobiles.
2. Hayek Family.
These are the folks that own the well-known Swatch Group, which owns Breguet, Blancpain, Omega, Tissot, Longines, Swatch, Hamilton and a host of others. The Hayek family in charge today includes Nick, Marc and Nayla – brothers and sisters who co-operate the company that was first begun by their father the famed Nicolas G. Hayek who is known for creating the concept that virtually saved the Swiss watch industry during the quartz era. The family’s estimated wealth is 4.25 billion CHF. I have been fortunate enough to meet Nick Hayek Senior on many occasions, including when the company launched the Swatch brand. HE and I had many a meeting and interview throughout my 34-year history in this industry and I always admired and respected him for his candidness and business mind.
3. Stern Family.
Well these are the people who own the great house of Patek Philippe. The company today is run by Thierry Stern, whose father Philippe and grandfather Henri were instrumental in growing the brand in America and around the world. The estimated wealth for this family, according to Bilanz, is 3.25 billion CHF.
I have been fortunate enough to meet all three generations of the Stern family, and recognize that each has brought his own specialties to the Patek Philippe table. In recent years, the brand expanded its Manufacture space in Geneva, established one of the most extensive watch museums in Geneva and, under Thierry Stern’s direction, is currently planning one of the most expansive exhibitions of watches ever to make its way to the US market. We have interviewed all three generations but here is a recent talk with Theirry.
4. Bucherer family.
The family that owns the Bucherer group, including famed retail jewelry and watch stores around the world going by the name Bucherer, and the well-known watch brand Carl F. Bucherer. With an estimated wealth of 1.75 billion CHF, this brand is led today by Jorg Bucherer. The group holds the respect of many a watch brand and jewelry brand with its extensive retail network.
5. Scheufele family.
This is the family that owns the well-known Chopard jewelry and watch brand, as well as the recently started Ferdinand Berthoud brand. With an estimated wealth of 1.75 billion CHF, the company has roots in Pforzheim, Germany, for the jewelry portion of the business and has owned Chopard watches for almost 55 years. The company was run by husband/wife team originally with Karl at the helm and today, while he is still in charge, it is predominantly run by brother/sister team Karl-Friederich and Caroline Scheufele. Again, I have been fortunate to know both generations and to have visited the brand’s exceptional facilities in Fleurier where the L. U. C movements are made. The brand is highly involved in conservation and preservation and creates watches and jewelry using Fair Mined Gold.
6. Borer family.
Perhaps a lesser-known name, the Borer family owned the exclusive movement supplier company for the Rolex brand, Rolex Biel. Still run by nearly 90-year-old Harry Borer, the company was purchased by Rolex Genève in 2004 for a nice sum. The Borer family has an estimated wealth of 1.75 billion CHF.
From here, we move to the families with wealth estimates in the millions instead of the billions.
7. Audemars and Piguet families.
Those of the Audemars Piguet fame. The privately owned luxury watch brand, which I have visited several times, is still run by descendants of the founder. In fact, Jasmine Audemars is instrumental in the company’s philanthropic efforts and resides as Chairman of the board of the Audemars Piguet Foundation. The estimated wealth: 950 million CHF.
8. Schneider family.
The owners of Breitling since 1979, the Schneider family has reportedly put the brand up for sale. However, this is not the first time the rumor has circulated. The company that makes instruments for professionals is run today by second-generation T. Schneider, who is quite private. The wealth is estimated at 750 million CHF. Breitling also is incredibly involved in the worlds of autos via its relationship with Bentley and aviation, with its very own Breitling Jet Team. I have been fortunate enough to fly with that Breitling Jet Team and to experience aerobatic maneuvers over the Atlantic Ocean.
9. Jean-Pierre Slavic.
Another lesser-known name to most, Jean-Pierre Slavic owes his estimated 325 million CHF wealth to a not-so-well-known company named Boninchi SA, which was the main supplier of watch crowns to Rolex for most of the watchmaker’s history. Here again, Rolex purchased the brand in 2001. Slavic now indulges in his other great hobby, car collecting.
10. Bernheim and Weil families.
This one is particularly interesting, as this is the family that started the Raymond Weil brand not too long ago. Raymond Weil was founded in 1976 by Raymond Weil and was known for initially for its incredibly avant-garde watches – mostly named for operas. I had the good fortune of meeting with and interviewing Raymond Weil many times over and have always lamented the fact that I did not buy the stunning pink/purple sapphire Parsifal watch unveiled in the early 1980’s. The company today is run by Weil’s son in law, Olivier Bernheim Elie Bernheim. The estimated wealth is 275 million CHF.
11. Vartan Sirmakes.
The name may not initially ring a bell, but this is the man who co-founded Franck Muller (with Franck, whom I have interviewed many times) and then pretty much bought him out over the past years. The Franck Muller brand continues to produce watches with a host of complications and unusual or surprising details. Sirmakes has a net wealth of about 225 million CHF. There is no mention of Franck Muller, who spends more time in Monaco than he does in Switzerland. The company is operated out of facilities in Genthod, just outside of Geneva, where a host of quaint but state-of-the-art buildings with breathtaking views house the watchmakers and designers. I was there for the opening of the facilities back in the 1980’s when this brand was creating a global sensation.
12. Jean-Claude Biver.
This name may be last but is certainly not least – at least in terms of renown. Jean-Claude Biver is one of the most well known names in the Swiss watch industry today. The now 67-year-old has been in the watch industry for decades. He is known for his purchase in 1981 of the Blancpain name and for his re-launch of the brand in 1983 – yes, I was there – when boldly stated that Blancpain has never made a quartz watch and never would (at least under his direction). He sold the brand to the Swatch Group and went on to acquire and turn around the Hublot brand, which he then sold to the LVMH Group. Today, he is the CEO of the LVMH watch division, overseeing Hublot, Zenith and TAG Heuer, among other duties. His net worth is estimated at 175million CHF. I count myself lucky to have known Biver since 1983 and to have spent a great deal of time interviewing and just talking with him over the past 34 years. I have watched him grow, evolve, and change – but he has always held steadfast to his passion for watches and his belief in people and love.
Journeys in Time Correspondent
Founder and editor-in-chief of atimelyperspective.com, Roberta Naas is a veteran award-winning journalist in the watch industry with 30 years of experience.