Jaeger-LeCoultre, like most every luxury watch brand, has faced unprecedented challenges in 2020, but the Le Sentier-based manufacture has managed to capture accolades for the new models released under its “Sound Makers” theme, launched on the Watches & Wonders digital platform in April. As she enters her third year at the helm, Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier spoke to us about the 2020 collection and a variety of other industry topics.
MB: Part of this year’s “Sound Makers” theme is the revamping of the Master Control collection. Can you go into the reasons for this update and take us through some of the elements that are significant about the new pieces?
CR: There are two major features in the revamping, one in the design of the watches, the other in the technical advancements on our Caliber 899. The redesign started last year, with the case of the Grand Complication, and continues now with a similar spirit being added to the Master Control case. We felt that it was a well-deserved revisiting of that case since its introduction of 1992, and it keeps it in the same family as the more contemporary Grand Complication case we revealed last year. At the same time, Caliber 899 is a reference caliber for us, and we are introducing a new level of performance for it this year, like the 70-hour power reserve and the more stable design. Last year we improved on the quality of our extended warranty to eight years, so you can imagine that this doesn’t come without a lot of research on the caliber’s reliability and performance.
WT: One of the new collection’s showcase pieces, the Master Control Chronograph Calendar, features a combination never before seen in a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch. Did you and your team go in knowing that the watch was going to be a historic first?
CR: We knew it was a first, but I think what mattered most to us was in terms of its complications. We see the Master Control as a watch of action, a watch of useful complications — from the Geographic, to the Chronograph, and obviously to the Memovox, and a chronograph with calendar seemed the natural way to go in adding a useful function that didn’t exist in the collection before. We topped off the new family with the Memovox Timer, which also tells a fantastic story of celebration, performance, and of course, sound.
WT: The Master Control takes its name from the “1,000 Hours Control” testing that Jaeger-LeCoultre conducts on its watches, which was unprecedented when it started. Watch industry standards for accuracy and precision are always evolving, and several brands have introduced some type of in-house certifications that are supposedly even stricter than COSC. How does JLC’s “1,000 Hours” compare to some of these and are there ever discussion about making it even more stringent?
CR: Our testing does evolve as well. The important point is that as a fully integrated manufacture, we know we can have our eyes on the movement from the time it first starts to tick all the way up to when it is inside a watch leaving the manufacture. Everything is done in-house from the assembly to the finishing, and the 1,000 hours really takes place throughout that process. For us, these are very internal tests that we enrich along the way, and they ensure the client that their watch has been kept under close eyes and control. We don’t issue a certificate for anything, but it’s our own process that applies to all our watches, and it started with Master Control.
WT: Conceptually and aesthetically, what are the differences between the Master Control and the Master Ultra Thin collection, which was reintroduced a few years ago?
CR: Of course, the Master Ultra Thin are all in much thinner cases, but they also have a much more classical look as well as classical complications. This is where you’re going to find a moon-phase, a tourbillon, and other signatures of classical watchmaking functions as interpreted by Jaeger LeCoultre.
WT: Getting back to the “Masters of Sound” theme, Jaeger-LeCoultre always seems to be a little ahead of the pack in coming up with new and more innovative ways to make chiming watches. For a watch collector looking to buy their first minute repeater, can you describe what’s special about the ones made by Jaeger-LeCoultre?
CR: First of all, we offer lots of choices in chiming watches, from the Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetual to the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication that we released this year. For these we create sounds of richness and clarity, with the quality always resulting from heavy research. We have an expert in sound at the manufacture who is constantly conducting research to improve both the richness and precision of our repeaters. Our chiming watches are also waterproof and, after 187 years of research, they feature a lot of patents. We were among the first to do a crystal gong, which we patented and which we are always continuing to improve in the areas of clarity, volume, and richness of sound. Our Trebuchet hammer, which works like a catapult to deliver stronger force to the gong, is another patented invention. Overall we produce about 200 chiming calibers. This aspiration to perfect sound quality applies to the chimes of our minute repeater, but also to the useful sounds of our Memovox alarm watches.
WT: Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced only one new model in its most classical collection, the Reverso, so far this year. How are you keeping the Reverso collection, which started in 1931, relevant in the modern day?
CR: The Reverso is, of course, the icon of the maison, the one for which Jaeger LeCoultre is known by worldwide, and for which we want to be known worldwide. It is our signature, timeless since 1931, and we have always been updating it — adding complications like we recently did with the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon that we launched a few years ago. We’ve also used the Reverso as a canvas of expression because its back is a fantastic way to express individuality, with an enameled micro-painting, an engraved message, or another artistic interpretation. We work with colors and finishes on the dial and on the case. We’ve also launched new straps. We approach the world of Reverso in many ways; however, the case itself, with its art deco-inspired rectangular case and gadroons, has remained very much the same since 1931. The Reverso is the sacrosanct family of Jaeger Lecoultre, and still part of a well-rounded overall collection — along with the Master, made up of very classic, round watches with complications; the Master Control, with its more useful, action-oriented functions; the Polaris, which is our sport expression for men; and the Rendez-Vous, which is our round watch for ladies. The maison is also enriched by signatures of innovation, like the Memovox, the 101 movement for our high-jewelry watches, the high watchmaking in our Duomètre and Hybris satellite pieces, all of which enrich our collection.
WT: Jaeger-LeCoultre does seem to have a very well rounded collection now, as you’ve illustrated. Is there anything in your view that’s still missing, or any area of watchmaking that you still feel the brand needs to explore?
CR: Of course. No question. And you will see a lot more to come in the next few years. I can guarantee that the expression in terms of innovation is very rich for the next several years, even though we will mostly focus on our existing core collections. Within each of these collections, there is still a lot to say and a lot we can do to keep fans and collectors very happy.