Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier on Innovation, Craftsmanship and the Future

Lara Mansour   |   13 - 10 - 2020

Jaeger-LeCoultre has been creating fine watches since 1833. Located in the calm, serene setting of the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland, the Maison has always been focused around expert craftsmanship and innovation, creating pieces that are both timeless and that push the boundaries of watchmaking.

 

The brand has seen huge success over the years, developing watches that have turned out to be icons, including the instantly recognisable Reverso design.

 

This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre looked to its archives to create a High Jewellery watch for women that embody pure elegance and sophistication with the Calibre 101 movement. Originally conceived and developed for jewellery watches Calibre 101 revolutionised feminine watchmaking – its minuscule size and baguette shape offered new realms of aesthetic freedom to designers. At 14mm long, less than 5mm wide and weighing barely one gram, the tiny, hand- wound calibre remains the smallest mechanical movement in the world. It is also one of the world’s oldest movements that continue to be in production. Over the years, Calibre 101 has appeared in jewellery watches by Jaeger-LeCoultre under its name, as well as in creations by other great maisons. These rare timepieces have graced the wrists of exceptional women, including Queen Elizabeth II, who wore one – a gift from France’s President– for her coronation in 1953.

 

This year, two new diamond-set timepieces were unique in the way they were brought to life by Jaeger-LeCoultre’s in-house artistic team. The watches were first designed as bracelets, finally integrating the cases and movements into the designs rather than the usual opposite approach. Both bracelets are composed of pink gold set with diamonds – using only stones classified IF to VVS.

 

The Snowdrop watch is inspired by the white bell-shaped flowers that can grow through a thin layer of snow in the Vallee de Joux. A circle of pear-shaped diamonds surrounds the dial to form a flower, and waves of diamonds repeat the petal pattern in perfect symmetry. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s designers chose a ‘griffe’ setting for the diamonds, which minimises the metal’s presence and allows light to pass through the stones from all angles. This intensifies the spark of the watch, creating an impression that the diamonds could almost be floating on the surface of the bracelet. With 904 diamonds, of which 204 are pear-shaped and the remainder brilliant-cut (for a total of 20.9 carats), the gem-setting work alone represents 130 hours of work by the jewellery artisans of the Manufacture Jaeger- LeCoultre.

 

The second timepiece, the Bangle, is a bolder expression of femininity, inspired by the graceful geometry of Art Deco and the strong forms of 20th-Century Modernism. The bracelet is set with 996 diamonds (for a total 19.7 carats), graduated in size to emphasise the sweeping curves of the design. The artisans have combined the griffe (144 diamonds) and grain setting (852 diamonds) techniques to heighten the diamond’s three-dimensional effect and maximise the play of light. Rows of grain-set diamonds highlight the gold bands that run along both sides of the bracelet, supporting its structure. The bracelet needs no clasp as it delicately opens with a simple twist of its two sides.

 

These two exquisite pieces were shared with clients digitally throughout the lockdown period and as the world starts to open back up again, Jaeger-LeCoultre will be able to share the beauty of the watches physically with clients around the globe.

 

 

CEO Catherine Rénier joined the brand just over two years ago and has since been discovering the beauty of some of the pieces in the Maison’s archive. She wants to express the creativity and skills of the Maison’s watchmakers and continue the innovation and high quality of design that Jaeger-Le-Coultre is known for. As a female CEO in what is still today a predominantly man’s world, Rénier has a unique outlook on the world of watchmaking and the way to move forward into the future. We talk to Catherine Rénier about the latest timepieces and continue to innovate for today’s consumer.

 

What can you tell us about how Jaeger-LeCoultre has been working over these past few months?

Our creativity has actually been rolled out almost as expected. We have had a lot of novelties including the Minute-Repeater with an orbital tourbillion and a Sky Chart piece that started this year in the spring, followed by several Memovox watches which will be launching worldwide from October 1st. Between these, we have also strengthened our message to our clients in regards to “sound- making”. Sound making is something we started doing in the 19th century and since then we have worked on a lot of innovation and patents to constantly improve the sound in terms of its quality, volume and precision. We have a lot of patents of hammers and gongs to manage the best sound for minute-repeaters, but also we have very iconic chimes and this has once again been our focus this year.

 

From an experience standpoint, we have opened up a specific visit of the manufacture that will be open to the public from November, allowing visitors to have a tour of the manufacture and understand more about sound. There will be specific workshops on sound making that guests can attend and we also have a discovery workshop, which is a three-hour class about sound run by experts from the manufacture. Anyone can join this, no matter his or her knowledge of watches. We discover more about sound in watchmaking from the “tick tock” to the Westminster chime. So these past few months have kept us very busy in terms of products but also in terms of what we have been sharing and our communication.

 

 

Currently, we are talking a lot about the 101 high jewellery watch that we recently revealed. The 101 calibre was originally created by the Maison in the 1930 and it is the smallest mechanical calibre that still exists today. At that time it was designed to really give women freedom of expression in their way of wearing watches. In those days, women expressed themselves with their clothes, hair, jewellery but it was less common for them to wear watches and that’s why Jaeger-LeCoultre created this very small calibre to enable the watch to be hidden. It has kept us inspired until today and this summer we revealed two beautiful 20-carat watches. So we have kept busy at all levels of our expertise.

 

How did the communication strategy of Jaeger-LeCoultre shape up during this era of digital transformation?

The digital transformation era started before COVID-19 and it was already in our plan and something we have always been super-active in. We have been working on this over the last few years. We now have e-commerce around the world and COVID-19 has accelerated the need to be extremely efficient and to be totally valuable. We must ensure that our call centres are extremely efficient and there is, of course, the need to do have more one-on-one and special treatment for our partners and clients to ensure they get the same level of service that they would expect in our boutiques. We have a lot of webinars between the manufacture and some of our clients and we’ve been creating digital tools to reveal some of our novelties. We have been adjusting very quickly and in a way, this was a good time to roll out what was on the road map. It was something that was already needed but became necessary over the last few months. Honestly from that standpoint, it was a welcome accelerator.

 

101 NOVELTIES

 

What are some objectives you still aim to achieve at Jaeger- LeCoultre that have not been done yet?

I was very happy this year to talk about sound-making in a very rounded, 360 way. Not just with products but with heritage, education, experience at the manufacture, and showing the consumers who we are and our integrated know-hows. I want to continue sharing our inspiration and innovation so that everyone understands it. There is so much expertise and I want it to be shared in a very innovative, modern and educational way.

Secondly, without revealing too much, next year will be very important for us in regards to the Reverso watch. It is a blessing for us as a Maison to be able to focus on such a historical icon. It is a signature timepiece and I’m very much looking forward to rolling out new chapters of the Reverso story with the world.

 

To what do you tribute the success of Reverso?

This is a difficult question because I think if there was a clear recipe for the success of icons it would be too easy – you could take the codes and replicate them again and again. There are few icons in jewellery and watches and when you’re lucky to have one within your Maison like Jaeger-LeCoultre does, you cherish it and you make it your core focus for protection and development. My personal opinion is that the very timeless style of the watch and the fact that no matter who is buying it and no matter what their needs, be it a man or woman, the piece has gone through time with its own identity of being very unique with a strong Art Deco-inspired design. It has a special twist with the rotation and the way the watch looks on the dial and this has all made it a piece of its time. Today it remains extremely relevant to new generations and it’s elegance and understated style has really given it its timelessness.

 

 

What defines an object of desire?

For us at Jaeger-LeCoultre and I think for luxury in general, it’s about what happens behind the scenes. The craftsmanship, the knowledge and the transmission of this knowledge from generation to generation. I think it creates this sense of value, complexity and tribute to the past that gives the wearer a really unique relationship with the object. I don’t think you would develop the same interest in an Apple watch for example, which has a limited lifespan. It doesn’t offer that same emotion. When you have craftsmanship, heritage, and the meaning or symbol of a luxury item, then the emotion becomes real and it’s all about how you feel and experience that object. But you need all of these ingredients on top of the way it looks to really build a strong object of desire. Timepieces are there as something that you go through life with, building a relationship and there is also this respect of the technicality and complexity of automatic and mechanical watches that you cannot find anywhere else.

 

What do you think are the challenges that the watchmaking industry is facing today?

Not just for watchmaking but for luxury in general it’s the uncertainty and very quick changes that really make your understanding of what the business will be in six months to a year, extremely complicated. On the other hand, you need to manage long-term views because we are in the business of long-term building. Our work has to be built over months or years because what we do is complex, but at the same time, you need to manage very short-term challenges, constraints and opportunities. Balancing these two speeds of planning for the future but also being agile for the short term is the biggest challenge. We are now in a situation where one plan will never be enough. You need to have two or three solutions for everything you do so you’re always ready for every situation. On the other hand, you must always know your long-term vision; how you get there is the tricky part. This is not just a reaction to COVID-19 – the world has been uncertain and difficult to understand for a long time from a business standpoint. For me, it’s very important to not wait to do anything, because if you stop and wait until things get better, you get too far behind. You have to learn to manage no matter what and be super agile with many different plans. The beauty for us at Jaeger-LeCoultre is really the team spirit that we have and that has been a blessing for me as the head of the Maison.

 

 

How do you keep that balance between guarding a legacy but at the same time being modern and appealing to the new consumer of today?

It is difficult but it is an interesting parallel that you draw because in a way the respect of the legacy and the creation and innovation of tomorrow is what we do in research and development every day in our manufacture. We look at the past and we look at what we have as ideas and we keep moving to be modern and create the innovation of the future. This is the way we create our watches and innovate every day. We respect the message of the Maison, talking about our heritage and signature watches which are still very relevant, but that doesn’t prevent us from talking about them with a modern twist and really taking a look at how relevant these creations are in today’s world. There is a thin line and a fine balance of respecting your DNA and heritage but adjusting to the modernity of today’s world.

 

We have a lot of very nice stories, which I think, give an interesting sense to the Maison’s creativity, for instance, we mentioned sound. One of the angles we took concerning sound is that we commissioned an artist in Switzerland to create a piece of art made of metal that creates a very unique, natural sound. Like our watches, it’s quite precise and very detailed and this art piece will be exhibited around the world as we share our stories about sound. It’s been a fantastic encounter. We had a great time working with him. He worked on his art piece with our blessing, during the lockdown and when I saw the piece in July I was so happy that we had kept going during the period because it was like a breath of fresh air and exciting to know that we will be rolling it out around the world and talking about our expertise and his creativity. I think this sense of artistic engagement also brings a whole new side to the modernity of Jaeger-LeCoultre and the modernity of craftsmanship in our manufacture. There are many ways for us to be relevant and remain open to the world and world people from other industries and inspirations.

 

 

What is a message you would like to share with your clients and fans in the Middle East?

In today’s world, creativity and energy prevail. Keep inventing, keep moving and look for the best. This is our motto and what has driven us over the last few months.