or the venerable house founded in 1833, perhaps even more so than for other watch brands, the challenge is that of the generational renewal of its clientele.
And the answer, once again, can be found in the past. As paradoxical as it may seem, the new generations are particularly fond of the sporty-chic models of the 1950s to 1970s, on which direct competitors of Jaeger-LeCoultre had already heavily capitalised, even though the brand could more than hold its own in terms of heritage.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s response was to relaunch the Polaris, Lionel Favre’s first creation with the brand; presented in 2018, this line of models is directly inspired by the Memovox Polaris of 1968, a rare diver’s watch produced in only 1,714 units at the time. Vintage and “affordable” compared to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s core range (from $6,600 for the automatic version), this relaunch was intended to open up a new field of exploration for the brand, with the famous Millennials.
- Lionel Favre is Product Design Director at Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Last year saw a large number of new ladies’ models, and this year Jaeger-LeCoultre is presenting a very confident and seductive face, the fruit of recent “reconstruction” work, expressed in particular through a Master Control series of undeniable elegance, and the continuation of its exploration of the “grandes sonneries”. We spoke with Lionel Favre.
The new models feature a sleek design and a new 40 mm diameter case. At the time of its creation in 1992, the Master Control collection was the first within Jaeger-LeCoultre to benefit from the “1000 Hours Control” certification, which is a test of the entire finished watch and not just its movement (hence the collection’s name). Several complications were launched in the Master Control line, including the Calendar, Geographic, Chronograph Calendar and Memovox. A new rose gold alloy, Le Grand Rose gold®, is used for some of the cases.
Europa Star: This year’s highlight is the relaunch of the 1992 Master Control. How did you go about renewing the spirit of this collection and adapting it to 2020?
Lionel Favre: The Master Control dates back to 1992, but it was actually inspired by a model from the 1960s. So this is not a breakthrough design: the idea is to compose subtly, for example via the applied hour-markers whose elongated triangular shape echoes the Dauphine hands, or the date that jumps 90 degrees between the 15th and 16th day of the month so as not to obstruct the Moon. This is the spirit of the brand: to proceed by slight “refinements”. The proportions are more contemporary, but the heritage inspiration is dominant. In Jaeger-LeCoultre’s architecture, this model is today a bridge between the sporty Polaris on the one hand and the more formal Ultra Thin on the other – in a price range that falls between the two.
“This is the spirit of the brand: to proceed by slight “refinements”. The proportions are more contemporary, but the heritage inspiration is dominant.”
Indeed, the “neo-vintage” wave shows no sign of abating, and has perhaps emerged even stronger from this time of confinement.
In terms of design, between 2000 and 2015 there was a strong desire for more extravagant watches, sometimes with impressive diameters. But watchmaking acts like a balanced movement: revolution and counter-revolution! The industry perhaps got a little carried away by XXL. We are fortunate to be able to count on a solid heritage, which has resulted in collections such as the Master Control, as well as a vast assortment of movements. The calibre 899 that equips this line already existed, but it has been greatly improved, with up to 70 hours of power reserve, a redesigned barrel and a silicon escapement.
|MASTER GRANDE TRADITION
Continuing its exploration of striking watches, Jaeger-LeCoultre presents a new edition of the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication. This jewel of mechanical engineering incorporates a minute repeater, a celestial vault and an orbital flying tourbillon. It follows on from two minute repeater models created last year: the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetual with the Jaeger-LeCoultre calibre 184, and the Master Grande Tradition Perpetual Minute Repeater equipped with the 950 self-winding movement.
This year’s technical highlight is the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication, which continues your exploration of “sonnerie” watches. As a designer, how can you intervene on such a technical timepiece?
Unsurprisingly, it takes a great deal of collaboration. Our mastery of the movement enables us to move forward through direct dialogue with the in-house watchmakers. On this timepiece, this process has resulted in a dial with a 3D structure, because the main challenge, both technical and design-wise, is to create volume to house the complications, while keeping a lightness and finesse that makes the watch wearable. We used the same case architecture as for last year’s models with widely spaced lugs – every aspect was designed to reduce the thickness of the watch’s appearance. The strength of this dial lies in its visual depth. This model is an aesthetic play between complexity and readability.
How do you organise R&D?
Three years ago, we launched an informal lab at Le Sentier that brings together technical, marketing and design specialists to carry out pre-studies that may or may not be successful. We are constantly feeding this space for reflection.
This new iteration of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Art Deco icon is inspired by the first Reverso Lady of 1931, with its elongated case. “This model takes up the wine-colour of the Tribute model launched last year. Thanks to the lacquered sunburst guilloché dial, the tones change from claret to burgundy or raspberry depending on the light,” emphasises Lionel Favre. A row of grain-set diamonds adorns the upper and lower parts of the case.
“Creativity is often freed up after crises. In what direction? Only our unconscious knows...”
The value of watch brands, including their contemporary offerings, is increasingly underpinned by their listing on the secondary market. How do you value your assets in the pre-owned sphere?
We do not actively intervene via a strategy of buying back pieces, for example: in reality, we use our heritage internally first. It’s a daily tool for us! Thanks to it, we make sure that we don’t build anything “wrong”. This historical foundation also leads to a solid watchmaking culture, which is very inspiring within the brand. It has led to many new models, including the new-generation Master Control Memovox, inspired by the first Memovox watches of the 1950s, giving it a contemporary style.
In your opinion, does this unprecedented coronavirus crisis have the potential to change customers’ tastes?
It may indeed transform the way we look at watchmaking. As a designer, it is a process of change that will certainly not be immediate, but could influence us in the long term if only unconsciously. Let’s not forget that the Art Deco movement emerged from a very difficult period! Creativity is often freed up after crises. In what direction? Only our unconscious knows...