Talking Chime With Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier
During the opening of the brand’s Sound Maker Exhibition, Watchonista had the opportunity to sit down with the CEO of the Grande Maison.
We last caught up with Jaeger-LeCoultre’s CEO, Catherine Rénier, during the peak of lockdown. In the nearly 18 months since, the brand has undergone somewhat of a resurgence. They've doubled down on their Reverso collection, and now the brand's focus is showcasing their savoir-faire by exhibiting some of their most complicated chiming pieces.
Sound Maker Exhibition
Open from September 21st through October 5th, 2021, in New York City's Meatpacking District, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Sound Maker exhibition is a destination for new and experienced watch aficionados. On display is the new Reverso Tribute Minute Repeater and nearly every repeater reference made by the brand over the last century and a half. It's truly a sight to behold!
Interview With CEO Catherine Rénier
From the confines of the expansive Sound Maker Exhibition, located at 70 – 74 Gansevoort Street in New York City, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Rénier. Our conversation was wide-ranging and candid as, unlike other CEOs, Rénier was an open book and willing to speak about anything that came her way.
Our first question is, why chiming watches and why 2021? In a world exiting lockdown, the brand has chosen to focus on some of their most complicated pieces for their first public exhibition since 2019. Rénier replied, “the purpose of this exhibition is not just to be an open and welcoming space for watch collectors and passionates, but also for anyone who wants to discover our watchmaking know-how. [Sound Maker] allows them to understand more about this very secretive world that sometimes can feel [intimidating] from the outside. We've designed this exhibition to be a pass of discovery, with videos, history lessons, craftsmanship workshops, and more.”
The Allure Of Repeaters
For Jaeger-LeCoultre, the brand's journey into chiming machines began in the 1820s with the production of a music box by Antoine LeCoultre. Equipped with a LeCoultre mechanism, this music box keyboard was the catalyst that brought us to the wrist-sized versions we saw on exhibit at Sound Maker.
Rénier went further, “the whole rationale behind what we do today is that we have a unique in-house manufacturer that makes everything for a calibre from beginning to end. And for a long time, we’ve been vertically integrated. Visitors to the manufacturer walk out from their experience mesmerized and totally in love with what they've experienced.”
How does this apply to the Sound Maker exhibition? Rénier explained, “Our idea was, how do we make that [experience] wider? Because Le Sentier is not the whole world.”
“We wanted to take bits and pieces of the manufacture and tour them around the world. Then we identified several topics. There was a lot that we had in mind. But the key ones to start with was sound because it's a key component of watchmaking.”
One of the unique elements of the Sound Maker exhibition is the ability to scan a QR code next to each piece on display to discover an in-depth history lesson in each watch and even the unique sound of their chiming mechanisms. Since it's physically impossible to allow the general public to touch, feel, and activate the chiming mechanism on dozen of watches, the brand went a step further and pre-recorded all of the chimes for visitors to hear.
Not since the Patek Philippe Grand Exhibition has a brand presented an immersive presentation that genuinely transports the visitor to the heart of the Swiss watchmaking valleys. When asked why such an emphasis was placed on this activation, Rénier replied, “For us, it's a new way of sharing our technical expertise in a very open way, with effortless access—giving that journey while also presenting our emotions and passion for watchmaking. We do this with immersive movies, art sculptures, and audio guides where you can dive deep into each piece. “
What’s Next For Jaeger-LeCoultre?
After exhibitions like Sound Maker, one ponders, “what’s next for the Grande Maison?” As Rénier explains, quite a lot! “This year we have a lot of new products like the minute repeater we introduced here. And in parallel to that, we have created a unique and cool café in Paris that will soon open its doors. It's a nice project by a French pastry chef, a woman called Nina Métayer, and she's worked with ingredients from the watch valley. It’s a living experience that opens next month.”
Highlights From Sound Maker
When pressed to name her highlight from the Sound Maker Exhibition, Rénier finally admitted, “It would have to be the Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel because it's the epitome of today's expression watching an artistic sculpture, plus it’s both visual and auditory. So for me, it's also a nice symbol of these artistic partnerships the Maison has embarked upon.”
Ok, but what would come second to a Gyrotourbillon? Rénier added, “I would pick one of our historical pocket watches. It's inspiring to me because it brings back what watchmaking is about and anchored in a prosperous past, both technically and in its [the pocket watch’s] role in how society has grown.”
With much of society wearing smartwatches, and luxury watches encompassing less than 1% of the overall luxury market, it's remarkable that luxury watches have such staying power. Rénier explained why, “the whole history of pocket watches and minute repeaters was as a symbol of luxury in their respective times. It all started in another era, and for many different reasons, it is still very relevant today because of all these new achievements. Plus, we can take it to another level of understanding and emotion with the artistic partnership. So I hope it [Sound Maker] will draw a big crowd.”
How To Visit The Sound Maker Exhibition
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Sound Maker Exhibition is open from 11 AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday and 10 AM to 7 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. Entrance to the exhibition is by reservation only, which you can make on the brand’s website.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell, images by Jaeger-LeCoultre)