In an exclusive interview, Catherine Rénier, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, takes us through the watchmaker’s 2020 line-up and the future of JLC.

Jaeger-LeCoultre has been creating masterpieces that have always withstood the test of time. Nearly two centuries of horological heritage and innovation goes beyond the contemporary bounds of watchmaking. Catherine Rénier, who took over Jaeger-LeCoultre in 2018, has ensured that this stride continues and JLC’s line-up at Watches & Wonders 2020 is testament to that. With the Master Control Collection as their prime focus this year, the brand checks off every box on our list – heritage aesthetics, mechanical excellence, and unparalleled innovation.

We caught up with Catherine Rénier to discuss what went into creating this year’s ‘Master Control’ novelties.

[All images courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre]

Catherine Rénier, CEO, Jaeger-LeCoultre

What was the core inspiration behind JLC’s collections this year?

Inspired heavily by mid-20th-century Jaeger-Coultre pieces like the Memovox and Futurematic, we revisited their classic codes and refined them to meet contemporary standards of haute horology. The combination of dauphine indexes and applied numerals is certainly a signature feat in this collection.

We also looked at astronomical influences for inspiration for one of our key pieces – The Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Céleste. At first glance, you can tell that the Célestean is another worldly piece of art. With a ‘Celestial Vault’ complication on board, it perfectly encapsulates the star-studded night sky of the Northern hemisphere.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox

The Master Grande collection was a star at the Watches and Wonders 2020. How were the complication and design developed?

Innovation has always been at the core of Jaeger-LeCoultre, which is why we constantly seek to further develop our calibre by going beyond the traditional bounds of watchmaking. The movement 945 is a true marvel of chiming calibres, thanks to its superior acoustic qualities and technological improvements. The JLC-patented crystal gongs are directly welded on the sapphire case-back and the trebuchet hammers, which makes for a quality sound, both harmonious and clear. This piece also portrays the excellent savoir-faire in astronomical complications through the Orbital Flying Tourbillon.

The greatest challenge in our craft is finding the right technical-aesthetic balance. Whenever we’re designing a new case, the constraint of the calibre and the sonnerie is taken into account first. This helps us design the resonance box more efficiently.

As for dial and complications, we innovated heavily with a structure that proved to be complex to realise. While our tourbillons make one rotation 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds, we discovered that the hands passing over the tourbillon leave a lot of space underneath. We took advantage of this space to create a mini 3D sculpture. This structure had to be light for several reasons.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Calendar

The brand’s aesthetic has always been about creating beauty from complications. How has that played out in this collection?

With the new Master Control Collection, we strived to create a more graphically-balanced display of functions. Take the Calendar Chronograph, which combines a chronograph with a date/month indicator and a moon-phase.  We wanted to give the sporty chronograph a more elegant twist, which is why we added in a moonphase in the first place. The Master Control Calendar has also been redesigned with a small but very interesting detail – the jumping complication, which allows the date hand to pass over the moon-phase obstructing the view of the phases. And of course, we took inspiration from astronomy and its celestial aesthetics for the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication.  

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar

Mr Lionel Favre stated that the Master Control Chronograph Calendar takes inspiration from an early 20th-century pocket watch, could you elaborate on that?

The aesthetics of the Master Control Chronograph Calendar were not directly inspired by the pocket watch, but rather by Jaeger-LeCoultre’s watches from the 50s and 60s. Although the movements and functions are directly inspired by the pocket watch. As it is often the case in watchmaking, the design or the general appearance of a watch is dependent on its movement and the positioning of the hands.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication

Take us through the process of crafting the ‘celestial vault’ on the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication and the challenges you faced?

The Celestial Vault is not only a perfect reflection of the Northern hemisphere’s celestial night sky, but it’s also Jaeger-LeCoultre’s bold strides in creativity. It is a blend of many mastered handcrafts that dress and decorate this movement and bring this piece to life. It also depicts the savoir-faire in astronomical complications through the Orbital Flying Tourbillon, which turns anti-clockwise in a circuit of one sidereal day based on the Earth’s rotation.

Little by little, we designed this structure inspired by the imaginary links created by men, to recognize and appreciate the constellations. Our master-craftsmen hold this particular complication in high regard for its micro-engineering: The Minute Repeater. In the Tradition Grande Complication, the technical complexity lies in the mechanism used to transcribe the time indicated by the hands into an extremely precise melody. Fitting all of this into an elegant wearable size was the next challenge. Finally, the dial’s atomium structure was also pieced by hand to reach this level of precision.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One

This year, the Reverso hits a note of simple elegance, clearing out the complications. What was the idea behind this?

The red-wine Reverso Tribute Monoface that we launched last season was successful, and so, we decided to create its little sister. We brought the same design language for women, with translucent lacquer over the subtle sunray guilloché pattern. The advantage here is that the guilloché creates a base that also catches the light and illuminates the colour, allowing it to alternate between the colours of a red-wine and raspberry.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One

How was the Reverso evolved and turned into the novelty we know of today?

As a horologist and a designer, it is true that touching the design of a piece as emblematic as the Reverso can give a cold sweat at first glance. The Reverso has evolved significantly since its creation in every aspect of watchmaking. Through its journey, the perception and use of the Reverso have also evolved – from being a watch designed for polo players to now, a women’s style icon.

It’s also important that we respect the Reverso’s original spirit and design – the Art Deco aesthetics, the structured geometric corners, the sobersides, and its readable graphic dials. All these elements constitute the skeleton upon which the designers work. Today the Reverso is divided into three families – The Reverso Classic, the Reverso Tribute with indexes instead of numerals, and finally, the Reverso One, the ultimate women’s novelty.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Memovox

Are there specific current trends in watchmaking that you are looking at right now?

I sense a strong interest in vintage watches in today’s industry. The timeless elegance, the wearable size, and the legibility of the dials, all these vintage watchmaking cues are back in force today. We at Jaeger-LeCoultre are fortunate to have a rich heritage on which we can build and get inspired by. At the same time, we stay loyal and consistent with our aesthetics and style, and we have achieved that with the Master Control collection. While being inspired, we’ve always strived to capture the spirit of a watch, so it can go with the sands of time without a wrinkle.

Given everything that is going on, what are some of the efforts undertaken by JLC at the moment to reach out to its customers?

The keywords are resilience and agility. We had to rethink the way we wanted to deliver all our messages, and this approach has shown some great results at the Watches & Wonders digital platform.

We want to create a large community with clients with multiple benefits. We decided to extend our warranty to 8 years, and through this program, our clients register with the CARE program, for a behind-the-scene view on watchmaking. When we talk about sound with our community, it is not just going to be the process; it will be the story, the crafts behind, the experience of sound. We want to deliver emotions and a fuller experience to our client, which goes beyond our product.

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India.

Mikhail Gomes
Senior Features Writer
A watch aficionado, Gomes also enjoys learning about fine whiskies, and one day hopes to establish his own menswear label. At Lifestyle Asia India, he writes on watches, menswear, auto and tech.