A digital interview sets the tone for the digital wing of Watches and Wonders 2021. We caught up with the ever so elegant and poised CEO of JaegerLe-Coultre, Catherine Rénier, on the momentous milestone – the 90th anniversary of the iconic Reverso. While she patiently took us through the various spectrums of the Manufacture, from Haute Horlogerie to Métier D’Art, adorning Catherine’s wrist was the Reverso One – Purple Arums, that we just couldn’t get our eyes off. However she did also take us through the journey of the highlight of Watches & Wonders 2021 – The Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque…
The Hour Markers: 188 years of Maison Jaeger-LeCoultre, the watchmaker of the watchmakers has a long standing heritage. While it’s important that we know our history and have learnings from the same, for the future to come, What is the future of traditional watchmaking, in our present, where technology is ever evolving, especially in the last 10 years
Catherine Rénier: The past 12 months have given us a strong indicator of how tradition, craftsmanship and heritage have a special place in a world where everything is digital. It is nice to re-centre on certain things that last, watches being one of them. We have seen a keen interest despite the pandemic, for celebrating with our timeless icons. It shows the place these objects have in the world. We can’t only live fast and digital. We need a balance between tradition, heritage and the digital world.
THM: With every crisis comes innovation. How are you communicating with your clients in unprecedented times like these?
CR: Well, we are resorting to videos and images. We have spent a lot of time preparing for the reveal of the creations to have the best presentations versus just the watches this year. Earlier we used to work to have the watches ready for the fairs, but now, we need the watches ready much in advance so that we can create the entire ecosystem of the reveal! It’s a whole new dynamic, a new stage of presentations. While touch and feel is irreplaceable, there is a different way of explaining what we do in an educative transmission-based discussion on the digital platform. Once everything is back to normal, I hope we can retain some of these factors even as we couple it with the touch and feel factor.
The same concept also applies to our business here. We have strongly activated the e-commerce part of the business and have seen the convenience of having these platforms offering our products to clients that could not physically visit our stores. We also saw the importance of the relationship that our call centres brought into these purchases over the last year. Clients would browse online and call our team for more information and guidance and then buy online. We have seen this dynamic come together quite well. That being said, I don’t think the stores will disappear. The physical experiences and expectations when you visit a store are very different. I think even when the stores & boutiques do open, this existing ecosystem will blend really well. Our clients can visit us, experience the brand and the watches and then have the option to buy online at their own convenience. The stores and boutiques will definitely continue to play a very important role. The physical experience of the store is different of course, but the future will also have digital elements.
THM: Let’s talk about the mechanical wonder…. Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque, a watch with 11 different complications and 12 patents!
CR: Sure! It all started back in 2006 with the remote idea of bringing in a minute repeater into what was, at that time, the most complex Reverso ever made. We took the Reverso Grande Complication à Triptyque as a start, so we could go further. We added the minute repeater and new and unique celestial complications. The new size too is a lot easier to wear even on my wrist. Step by step the design and development process brought us to do the 4 faces to have a full celestial lunar approach.
There was a lot of back and forth for the construction of the movement, and of course, the constraints of the technical requirements. For instance, to put the grande date next to the flying tourbillon we needed to rethink it and have new patents. We also brought in another patent with the minute repeater by totally suppressing the silent gaps between the hours and the minutes which entailed a long development process. The entire process only accelerated in the last 18 months when we first witnessed the final prototype. We only saw the piece for the first-time last week! Before that it was all bits and pieces!
One of the key challenges here was to be able to perfectly fit 11 complications on the wrist with the constraints of the proportions of a Reverso case. The beauty and style of the Quadriptyque is really the balance of its case. You have to respect the relationship between the length and the width here. So when you want to fit in 11 complications, there is a certain proportion that you need to respect within the case. This has been very important in the development of the Quadriptyque, which is very comfortable to wear and looks quite elegant even on a slim wrist like mine.
THM: Moving on to the new Reverso Tribute Small Seconds…
CR: The green is a nice addition to the colours we introduced to the Reverso Tribute Small Seconds over the last three years. It may seem simple but still has the beauty of the deep green dial matching the strap perfectly. Our team and designers at the Maison pay as much attention to the detailing of the green colour as they do on the details of the Quadriptyque. Of course, the timeframes differ considering the detailing involved on the Quadriptyque, but really matching the perfect colour of this dial and strap also involved a lot of trial and error. We have dozens of dials and straps set aside because they didn’t fit perfectly. It’s all in the details…
THM: From Haute Horlogerie to Métiers Rares® (Rare Handcrafts™), all in-house at Jaeger-LeCoultre
CR: Yes you are absolutely right. The Quadriptyque was done completely in-house, including the calculation for all the lunar cycles. Even for the Reverso One Métiers Rares® flowers, from the gem-setting to the engraving and enamelling, it is all done in-house too. I was recently at the workshop, where I was reminded that it takes our jeweller / artisan almost 95 hours to do just one piece. Every stone is handpicked to finally give you this sparkling snow setting.
Another beautiful feat here is the enamelling that goes around the case. As you know this is extremely challenging since enamelling is liquid. You place the enamel in the carved gold areas and when its on the side, we had to find a “ Manufacture Secret” to have the enamel fit and stay despite the curve of the case. Another challenge faced here was the impact of the heat on the gold while cooking the enamel. Which brought us to another “Manufacture Secret” that enabled the artisans to enamel the watch first and then work on the gold without making it impossible for the gem-setter. At the end of the day it’s all these minute details that we don’t imagine beforehand or maybe tend to overlook once the final piece is out. Every single watch brings its little challenge one way or the other.
THM: In the Asian market, India due to several reasons, is behind it’s Asian peers. Would you think that the Brands, themselves, making investments for the future, to develop the market, can change the course?
CR: For us India is totally on the map. We are looking at opening carefully with partners and with proper distribution channels to give our clients an authentic experience of Jaeger-LeCoultre. We are also aiming to be seen prominently in the media and to be recognised. The history with India is deep rooted since the story of the Reverso begins there. However, we don’t entertain a lot of limited editions or country specific editions. But we do have options of personalisation which helps the client go in for something more personal.
THM: Your thoughts on the growing community of women watch enthusiasts…
CR: Since the beginning Jaeger-Lecoultre has been very attentive to women and their relationship with timepieces. In fact we created the 101 calibre for women in 1929. The Reverso itself, since 1930, was made for ladies as well, many of which include the Royalty from India. We have examples of famous women wearing our Reverso’s in 1935. So for us, it’s not a new trend to be talking to women, it has always been an integral part of our identity.