E-commerce, the grey market, clubs for pre-owned watches and rentals, and millennials or Gen Z who prefer smartwatches or no watch at all — it is interesting to note how the Swiss luxury brands are navigating this watchscape. Some, like Montblanc, introduced their own smartwatch (the Summit collection), while Vacheron Constantin is using blockchain technology to authenticate timepieces. And then you have Jaeger-LeCoultre, or La Grande Maison, which lets the art of precision do the talking. “The watchmaking industry has become quite competitive and a rather noisy space, yet with a meaningful and crystalline voice, we are able to anticipate challenges and transform them into opportunities,” begins Catherine Rénier, the Frenchwoman who took over as the company’s CEO a year ago. She says she relies on the iconic product lines, “the inimitable Reverso collection, the classic Master line and the contemporary Polaris… to [be the] very fiber of our armour to keep a strong front”.
One year later
In her early 40s, Rénier, like fellow CEO Chabi Nouri at Piaget, was one of the several young bosses that parent company Richemont Group introduced recently, in a possible attempt to survive in a changing marketplace. Earlier this year in a New York Times article, it was observed that her appointment as CEO may be “seen as a tipping point for gender equality in the Swiss watch industry”. Rénier, who began her career at Cartier, another Richemont brand, had then expressed her views on gender diversity and building a harmony between male and female communication and products. Would she agree that both her appointment and Chabi Nouri’s at Piaget is a sign of things to come in this industry? My question goes unanswered.
8: Last month, JLC offered an 8-year warranty on their watches, one of the longest warranties among major brands180: Number of skills (with enamellers, engravers and other craftsmen) brought together during the brand’s 186 years of history.1250: The number of calibers invented since the foundation of the Manufacture.101: Originally derived from the Duoplan caliber series, the Caliber 101 has remained the smallest mechanical caliber in the world ever since it was first created in 1929.25000: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture covers an area of 25,000 sq m
In interviews to digital magazines, Rénier has said her alternative career would have been as a history or geography teacher. At the JLC manufacture in Le Sentier in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, when she walks guests through the expansive facility in video interviews, she refers to their innovation and expertise in Métiers Rares (gem-setting, guillochage, engraving and enamelling). With 180 specialist skills, nearly 1,250 calibres, and 400 patents, this brand has so much to brag about, on social media for a younger audience… and yet there is a certain reticence. Is she working to change that, I ask. “Our strategy is authenticity… This speaks perfectly to all fine watchmaking enthusiasts. Trying to guess what the new generation exactly wants is not our expertise. Our expertise is to make beautiful, technical watches – the way we have always done…” she responds.
Kyoto 2019, MASTER, grande tradition répétition minute quantième perpétuel_Q52334E1 QP, RM, GT
This brings us to the impressive fifth Gyrotourbillon from the brand, presented earlier this year as part of the SIHH 2019 collection. The new Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel reportedly took six years in the making. “The specificity of this new model is the association of three complications: the Gyrotourbillon, the perpetual calendar and the minute repeater. The Gyrotourbillon is driven by a constant force mechanism and delivers a constant flow of energy throughout the 52-hour power reserve of the watch,” she explains. While it is one of the few masculine pieces to be launched this year, Rénier says she will maintain the balance between men’s and ladies’ watches, as is tradition. Rénier recently introduced a Care program for intuitive after sales service, and the company organises master classes in China and Japan, where participants are taught to take apart and reassemble a mechanical movement. “We would like them to experience the passion of our watchmakers…and understand the complexity and dexterity needed to assemble a mechanical timepiece,” she says.