When watch collector Pascal Raffy bought the venerable Swiss brand, he infused fresh energy into the company—and himself
By the age of 36, Pascal Raffy, a French pharmaceutical executive, was enjoying early retirement, and keeping an eye out for investments. Knowing Raffy was a passionate watch collector, with hundreds of vintage timepieces, an investment banker friend would often tempt him with opportunities in the watch world. Each time, Raffy would decline—until one day his friend insisted Raffy do a blind touch test with a timepiece.
“My friend put it, with several of my other watches, under a cloth,” Raffy recalls. “One by one, I felt those watches, and when my hand fell on one of them, I knew it was truly different. I felt the crown at the top of the strap and realised this was a watch with its own identity. Then I looked at it, and in a nanosecond it talked to me. I took my loupe and saw that it was a beautiful piece of horology. It had substance. I was interested.”
And he had the means to make a significant investment. At 25, Raffy bought into a family-run French pharma company, where, after a merger, he became head of the firm Synthélabo. After several successful years in France, Raffy expanded Synthélabo into North Africa, where he began the production of drugs and built facilities for marketing and distributing them on the continent.
During the 10 years Raffy led Synthélabo, he turned it into the third-largest pharmaceutical group in France. But after his young daughter lamented that he worked too much, he decided to cash out. It took 18 months to organise the sale of Synthélabo to Sanofi, but Raffy wanted to leave the company in good hands. “Whenever you start something in an area of health and caring for human beings—where there is also a moral dimension in addition to the business side—it is very difficult to stop work,” he says.
The retirement was short-lived once Raffy touched that watch under the cloth. The timepiece was made by Bovet. Swiss watchmaker Edouard Bovet had founded the brand in England in 1822, when the Silk Road was flourishing and there was demand in Asia for fine handmade pocket watches.