Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier Discusses the Beauty in Innovation

Lindsay Judge   |   24-05-2021

Jaeger-LeCoultre is a brand that has always been known to push the boundaries of innovation and craftsmanship and has been doing so for over 185 years.


Its most recognisable watch the Reverso has become an icon in the industry thanks to its unique design and distinctive savoir-faire. This year at the latest edition of Watches & Wonders, the watchmaker took the Reverso to the next level with the Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 (Quadriptyque), the first-ever watch with four functioning displays. This innovative new novelty is a milestone launch for the Maison and signifies its abilities in innovation and creativity. Leading the brand in its creative path is CEO Catherine Rénier. Rénier joined as CEO in 2018 with a number of years at leading watch and jewellery houses including Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels behind her. As the first female CEO of the watchmaker, Rénier was in a great position to connect the worlds of high jewellery and fine watchmaking as we have seen most recently with the Precious Flowers Métiers Rares collection. To find out more about the latest novelties and the upcoming plans for the Maison, we talk to CEO Catherine Rénier.



Tell us about the recent Watches & Wonders presentation and how was it for Jaeger-LeCoultre?

We are proud to say that Watches & Wonders 2021 was a great success for our Maison. We presented the most complex Reverso watch ever created; the Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185, a high-complication Reverso watch with 4 faces, 11 complications (including a Tourbillon, a minute repeater and 4 moon indications), 12 patents and only 15.15mm thick. It was the result of six years of development by our teams at the Manufacture who have developed strong expertise in terms of precision, sound and celestial complications over the years. The comments we received were beyond our expectations. On top of that, all our novelties, including the Reverso Tribute Nonantième, a piece celebrating Reverso’s 90 years, the Reverso Tribute Small Seconds in green and the Reverso One Precious Flowers watches got great attention and we are very satisfied. However, we do not rest in this success and we will continue taking Jaeger-LeCoultre to new heights and unexplored territories of fine watchmaking.


The Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque is ground-breaking – tell us about the development process that goes into a watch such as this?

As I said, this timepiece took more than six years to develop. All the expertise acquired throughout our 188-year history has been essential to developing it. Calibre 185 features 800 components, 105 of which are exclusive to the cradle. It takes around six months to assemble one single watch. It was a very challenging process to create this watch. First, you need to find solutions to connect all the complications together with the calibre positioned in the swivelling case. Then, you need to find the perfect balance on each face of the watch to display the complications. Moreover, each complication is a challenge. Built from scratch, each of them has been reinvented. Putting all the complications together with the right balance is very impressive and requires highly skilled watchmakers. And finally, you have a constraint in terms of size and thickness to offer a wearable timepiece. You could position the complications on top of each other, but it would have resulted in a timepiece as thick as it is long. So, the challenge is to find solutions to integrate all the complications together. Our watchmakers have been highly innovative in reducing the thickness of the cradle by using it as the base plate for the mechanism displaying the lunar cycles. The design of such a timepiece is driven by the calibre and the display of its complications. To be able to offer such a balance and refined timepiece, we worked very closely with the movement constructor, the designers, and the watchmakers since the beginning of the development. This unique collaboration comes to life thanks to our fully integrated Manufacture gathering around 180 different skills under one roof.



The Reverso has become an icon of the industry – in your opinion what are the prerequisites needed to make an iconic watch today?

Firstly, the Reverso is a watchmaking icon, because it is a timepiece that has had its own identity and history since 1931. Its Art Deco rectangular design is timeless and immediately recognisable. Reverso is an icon of style and elegance, but also a perfect canvas for personalisation, a permanent memory to a moment of its owner’s life. All of these elements combined together make an iconic watch.


Tell us a little about the new Métiers Rares watches.

This year we launched the Reverso One Precious Flowers which consists of four different watches that have poetic and symbolic meaning. The pink arums symbolise admiration and appreciation, the white lilies purity and honour, the blue arums grace and refinement, and finally, the purple arums are a symbol of charm and passion. The collection was inspired by the decorative jewels worn in the 1920s, made of enamel and gem-setting and the lilies and the arums were carefully chosen by our designers as they were the flowers used during the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. With the creation of such exquisite timepieces, there must be a combination of different Métiers Rares, and the fact that we are a fully integrated manufacture that houses 180 skills under one roof made this challenge possible. The artisans from our in-house Atelier des Métiers Rares had to respect a specific order when working on the piece. First engraving, then enamelling and last; gem-setting. Each step requires the highest precision and attention to reach a perfect result and not damage the previous step. The most challenging part for our Métier Rares artisans was working on the curved sides of the Reverso One Precious Flowers (blue and purple arums) because the enamel is in a liquid form before it gets hard (when placed in the oven up to 15 times). They found a solution to place the enamel on the curved parts and it is now a Manufacture secret. On these two models, the enamelling takes 30 hours and the gem-setting 95 hours, with the snow-setting technique (using diamonds of different sizes) patented by Jaeger-LeCoultre (1 hour to set 4-5 stones).



The worlds of high jewellery and watchmaking are closely intertwined at Jaeger-LeCoultre – how do you perfect the balance and how do these two worlds come together at the brand? 

Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces express understated sophistication, a balance between technicality and artistry throughout all our collections, from Reverso to Rendez-Vous. Thanks to our Manufacture and our in-house Atelier des Métiers Rares which gathers very talented artisans, or I would even say artists, we master the art of high watchmaking and great complications but also of rare crafts (enamelling, engraving, gem-setting, guilloche) featured on our high jewellery timepieces such as the Reverso One Precious Flowers. We are very proud of our Métiers Rares artisans who can reproduce pieces of art on such small surfaces on the dials or back of our watches. We highlight their savoir-faire as much as we can on our high-end pieces and we want our clients to understand the craftsmanship and hours of work behind such exceptional pieces. In the coming months and years, we would like to bring new designs to the back of our emblematic Reverso.


What is the main focus for Jaeger-LeCoultre this year?

2021 marks the 90th years of the Reverso and this year the Grande Maison is paying tribute to Reverso with a lot of new interpretations:

– the Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185, a high-complication Reverso watch with 4 faces, 11 complications (including a Tourbillon, a minute repeater and 4 moon indications), 12 patents and only 15.15 mm thickness, the result of six years of development by our teams at the Manufacture that have developed strong expertise in terms of precision, sound and celestial complications over the years.

– the Reverso One Precious Flowers, the expression of our talented designers and artisans of the Atelier des Métiers Rares® (Rare Handcrafts).

– the Reverso Tribute Nonantième, which gives a completely new visual expression to an alliance of several classical complications.

– the Reverso Tribute Small Seconds Green, recalling the early use of colour that distinguished the Reverso and the deep green of the pine forests that surround Jaeger-LeCoultre’s home in the Vallée de Joux. And there will be much more to come throughout the year!



Have you changed any of the strategies of the brand post-COVID-19 and moving forward? 

The keywords are resilience and agility. We had to rethink the way we wanted to deliver our messages. Fortunately, our products and messages were on track and ready to be shared. The change has been with the digital turn that was quicker than expected but it has also shown great results and the Watches & Wonders digital platform is a great example of this resilience. We are really happy with how the situation has been handled by our teams, it is a great example of demonstrating the passion and determination of the people behind the watches. In the past months, we experienced the power of digital and how relevant you can be and how close you can stay to your clients and partners through this world. We will continue to develop the opportunities of digital in the future. However, a timepiece is one of the most emotional and timeless gifts anyone can purchase, therefore I think that regardless of the share that digital platforms have gained for us, there will always be the need for physical interaction, storytelling and touch and feel.


What are the biggest challenges you face today as a brand in the watchmaking industry?

There is no doubt that the current situation is affecting all industries and all sectors. As far as Jaeger-LeCoultre is concerned, we feel that our authenticity and expertise based on 188 years of history, gives us resilience and enables us to get through this unique time. The taste of clients will not change but probably the way we communicate with them will. We are confident that our collections, with technical expertise and elegance in design, will remain relevant to watch lovers. We are working with the hope to stay ahead of our time, be innovative, creative and keep surprising our clients around the globe. My wish and hope are that from now on there are better days ahead for everyone.



What is a major challenge you have faced throughout your career and how did you overcome it?

To live with the uncertainty and what we call the VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity)! We constantly have to adapt, what is settled one day will probably not last for very long, so we constantly have to think about the next move, even before we implement the current one. When you have it in mind and keep this uncertainty into consideration when making your decision, you build agility and resilience to be able to overcome the model change.


Tell us about Jaeger-LeCoultre in the Middle East.

Jaeger-LeCoultre performed well this year in the Middle East. We had a lot of success with our high watchmaking timepieces, our Polaris collection worked really well and Master Control gained a big share as well. I am very confident that our Reverso novelties will be a very big success, as already the feedback for our Reverso Tribute Small Seconds green has exceeded our expectations.



What is a message you would send to your clients in the region? 

We are very happy to feel strong traction and appetite for Jaeger-LeCoultre in the region. We have great ambition to continue to develop our network and make our watchmaking expertise shine in the region.