Interview: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s CEO Catherine Rénier On The Future Of La Grande Maison
Unprecedented times mean unprecedented ways to do interviews. We had the chance to “sit down” with Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier over Zoom to talk about Watches & Wonders and what makes the Grande Maison such a unique place.
To give you, our dear readers, a little background: About 10 years ago, I started my three-year apprenticeship at the prestigious Maison Jaeger-LeCoultre. I started there just as the manufacture was emerging from the 2008 economic crisis. A global crisis they dealt with in an exemplary manner. And while we could still feel it in the corridors, we could also feel the pre-financial crash energy beginning to return.
Given its long history, Jaeger-LeCoultre is very familiar with challenges and has found ways of adapting and responding to these crises.
So, while talking with current CEO Catherine Rénier, it was extremely refreshing to learn that the motivation and hard-work I observed years ago remains the same today, and the same feeling and energy drives the spirit of innovation of the manufacture in Le Sentier.
Excited for the interview, I proudly put on my Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Squadra, only to surprisingly find that Catherine had the same idea. However, she was wearing last year’s novelty: the Reverso Tribute Small Seconds with the burgundy dial. Needless to say, our matching choice of timepieces was a segue into our interview.
Adapting A New Reality
This new situation has put everyone to the test. Even more so for the watch manufactures in Switzerland, where the stay-at-home order was in full effect until early last week.
When I asked Catherine how Jaeger-LeCoultre was adapting, it was clear that the manufacture never really paused and kept busy with the novelties for Watches & Wonders and beyond.
I think [during times of crisis is] when you have to go back to what matters to you the most. And for us, the values of the maison are very strong with a very strong identity in the manufacture, in the Vallée-de-Joux, and the 187 years of building up these values.
Therefore, we’ve gone back to a lot of care and, first and foremost, taking care of our teams, our partners, and taking steps to protect their health and safety at the manufacture and offices. Most of our teams are still working from home today. And we have a very minimum service at the manufacture due to strong health, safety, and sanitation regulations.
To my delight, Mrs. Rénier confirmed that very little has changed since I worked there, and the team spirit of La Grande Maison is still very much alive:
We've seen a lot of passion and energy come together with the teams in facing this situation. It's actually a time when you really appreciate the fact that everybody is totally mobilized to make things happen when we know it is going to make a difference to go stronger.
There is a saying, which we've liked very much since the beginning of this situation: “Let's not wait for the storm to pass, but let's dance under the rain.” So, we want to keep the momentum going, and we want to be proactive and do our best to sustain the maison with our strong values.
When asked how Jaeger-LeCoultre adapted to the new restrictions put in place by the Swiss government, Rénier made it clear her teams were up to the challenge:
It required a lot of preparation, but everybody is really playing the game – wearing masks, being extremely careful – and only the absolutely necessary people come every day for the project we're rolling out.
We are bringing teams to finish one project, one production, and then we might bring another team to complete another one. We are trying to keep a minimum number of people per area to meet the safety regulations. So, we've been able to maintain our activity.
I'm very proud of our teams, and I feel reassured and confident that with them and our products, we are going to get through this. Also, it's neither the first nor will it be the last crisis or challenge that our maison is facing. We’ve got to hold tight and pull through.
Jump to Digital: Watches & Wonders
With every crisis comes innovation. Brands have been finding new and original ways to keep in touch with their customers and teams around the world, and most importantly, launching their 2019 novelties. The first digital Watches & Wonders allowed brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre to test the waters of a socially distant fair, with only digital meetings.
One of the stars of this Watches & Wonders was undoubtedly the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control (HERE), which was completely updated thanks to the legendary teamwork of the manufacture.
The Master Control is a fantastic way for us to express our identity with a lot of work on the caliber itself, on the reliability of it, on the improvement, and the research we do in-house to always bring the quality of our movement a step further.
But also, a very strong redesign of the case – also done in-house – by both our technical team and our design team working hand-in-hand in a collective effort.
When asked what her favorite release was this year, she didn’t hesitate:
The Master Control Chrono Calendar because we are very proud of the re-work of the collection, combining the detail on the case, the improvement of the movement, and then associating this complication for the first time for Jaeger-LeCoultre is a very nice statement.
Jaeger-LeCoultre and Ladies
First introduced in 2012, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous was a collection made exclusively for ladies. With the slogan “Reinvent yourself,” this collection was a huge step away from the very traditional Jaeger-LeCoultre watches.
From the simple hour-minute to the tourbillons, there is a Rendez-Vous for every wrist. I couldn’t help but ask for her opinion about the polarizing ladies’ watch market.
It's a whole other clientele, and it's a whole other way of reaching out to them. You need to go the extra mile both digitally and in print in order to be visible in a more feminine market.
However, we didn't think of ladies opportunistically. It was a continuation of what we've always done. You can see from the beginning with the 101 movement or the fact that the Reverso was very much a watch for men and women, from day one.
The ladies’ watch market was always on the map for Jaeger-LeCoultre. So, when we reached out, we came with a lot of legitimacy. I think that made the success of Rendez-Vous, and it makes the success of Reverso, possible today. Nobody is surprised.
But, Who is Catherine Rénier?
Catherine Rénier is no stranger to the luxury world, having worked for maisons such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, Catherine Rénier is at home at the head of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Her feminine approach and experience are bringing the La Grande Maison into a new era.
Naturally, I was curious about how she had decided to take the path of luxury watches.
When I was very young, I always appreciated beautiful objects and craftsmanship and the sense of heritage and timelessness of this type of object. The respect you put in the watch or the jewelry – because I was in jewelry for a long time – or in luxury objects is a lot of work, a lot of heritage, a lot of creativity, and a lot of work done by hand. And you know that you will buy something that is timeless and you will keep. I really enjoy this aspect, this bridge between the past and the future and the timelessness of these objects.
I came very naturally to watches as beautiful objects. I loved the complexity already I knew and discovered in even more detail at the manufacture. In the making of watches, in the details, the precision, the excellence that is put into them. And ever since I've been discovering more and more. The passion is definitely there.
What’s Next for Jaeger-LeCoultre
Jaeger-LeCoultre is planning to stay true to their heritage and history. After all, they have challenged the watch industry multiples times, from making the smallest mechanical movement to the 1,000 hours of quality tests done on every piece of the collection.
Thankfully for us collectors, Jaeger-LeCoultre still has much to offer, such as putting forward more collections that highlight their 187 years of savoir-faire.
The Duomètre is considered [on par] with the Joaillerie 101, Atmos, and Memovox. All these are signatures names that resonate very strongly in our history for various reasons, like for innovation with the Duomètre, or uniqueness like Atmos, or one-of-a-kind like the 101.
For us, all of these signatures are key to expressing our identity, expertise, and the story of the maison. So, one by one, we are revisiting them. Duomètre is clearly on the map. And we're going to have some new 101s.
To have such creativity and innovation, we want that voice, that visibility to be stronger. So, we also want the Duomètre to be very well known for what it means in terms of the innovation of Jaeger-LeCoultre.
From my discussion with Mrs. Rénier, it sounds like Jaeger-LeCoultre is leaning towards a more digital approach in the future. As it did for the launch of the Rendez-Vous, the brand is re-imagining ways to better showcase the savoir-faire and tradition that runs in the halls of La Grande Maison.
We've got a lot in the pipe that should come through in the next few months, in terms of experience for the clients, in terms of digital activations, and then, just in terms of how we talk about ourselves, how we talk about our collections.
After my discussion with Catherine Rénier, I couldn’t help but be quite eager to see how the manufacture was running. Mrs. Renier is also a great ambassador for conveying the maison’s message and leading it into the future.
Finally, I asked her one last question, woman to woman.
What is her advice for ambitious women like me, who want to make a difference in the watchmaking world?
Be yourself. Trust the hard work and go for a maison that fits your values and interests.
I'm very much in sync with what Jaeger-LeCoultre represents in the watch industry: The expertise, the manufacture, the collective team effort. And I love the link to the Vallée-de-Joux. I love the area. I'm a much more down-to-earth person, enjoying a beautiful sunrise while driving into the Vallée and sunset when I leave at night.
Honestly, as long as you find a maison that fits you in terms of identity and values that you feel connected to, of course, go for it. Everything is possible!
(Images provided by Jaeger-LeCoultre)