It’s Complicated: How Jaeger-LeCoultre Became a Citadel of High Horology Under CEO Catherine Renier

As head of Jaeger-LeCoultre since 2018, Catherine Renier has laid plans to bring the Swiss firm’s heritage in precision and high complication forward. These ideas take many years to develop, and six years into her tenure—which include the pandemic—we are seeing the results of Renier’s vision in JLC’s collections for 2024. Renier sat down with us in Geneva and took us into her vision for extending Jaeger-LeCoultre’s legacy into the 21st century. She spoke at length about the Duometre collection, including the many high complications that JLC released at Watches & Wonders, and she spoke with enthusiasm about the grand flagship store in Manhattan, including the extensive watchmaking classes and workshops on offer there. When asked whether just anyone could walk in and buy the Duometre Heliotourbillon Perpetual Calendar—of which there will only be 20 available globally—Renier made it sound as if the brand would sell it to anyone who walked in and expressed genuine passion for Jaeger-LeCoultre and high horology . . . as long as they could make up their mind very quickly. We explore all this and more with Renier below.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre Heliotourbillon
Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre Heliotourbillon

So this year is all about the Duometre, and I know it has a lot to do with your precision history. Can you tell us a little bit about why precision has been so important?

More from Robb Report

Yes, precision was really one of the founding values of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Founder Antoine LeCoultre was more of an inventor than a watchmaker. In fact, he was really an engineer who mastered the cutting of metal to a very high degree of precision. And at first it was pinions, very small but important components in the watch. And he was so excellent and precise, that he created a machine . . . to measure to the micron the precision of what he was producing, and he became renowned for that. In the end, he really turned all his attention to watchmaking and creating excellence and precision in the components of calibers. So, this founding value remained an inspiration throughout our history.

And one of the signature complications to talk about precision at Jaeger-LeCoultre is the Duometre. The Duometre uses two barrels and two gear trains to driving one balance wheel and hairspring in order to give two sources of energy for the timekeeping and the complications. So, even when the complication is running, the timekeeping is able to be continuously fueled with the same level of energy, and thus keep the utmost precision. In a nutshell, this is what Duometre and precision mean to Jaeger-LeCoultre. It’s very, very nice this year to celebrate this important collection.

This Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre Heliotourbillon is new for 2024.
This Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre Heliotourbillon is new for 2024.

These are very complicated watches. Right here you have a triple axis tourbillon, and even the dial construction of that is complicated. So, I’m curious: In a year where it feels like everyone else is kind of just updating with dial colors or sticking to tried-and-true models, why did Jaeger-LeCoultre feel it was a good time to make a statement?

We like the extra effort, I guess, and we cannot stop our teams. You know, we do everything in house at Jaeger-LeCoultre. We have a fully integrated manufacturer, so it means production of components and assembly of movement, but it also means research and development, laboratory prototyping, and teams of constructors that are behind this type of creation. Their brain, their energy, their creativity never stops. So when it came to revamping and reinventing the Duometre, which was about five years ago, it was not only changing the color, it was about adding a new moon to the chronograph, about reinventing a multi-axis tourbillon that could fit perfectly with the Duometre—because the gyro-tourbillon patent of Jaeger-LeCoultre was a little too cumbersome to fit perfectly in the shape and size of Duometre. So, we invented the Heliotourbillon with three axes.

2024 JLC Watches & Wonders Novelty Duometer Chronograph Moon with Caliber 391.
2024 JLC Watches & Wonders Novelty Duometre Chronograph Moon with Caliber 391.

And because the whole inspiration of Duometre came from the late 19th century pocket watches, our design studio felt that the case of Duometre should pay tribute to that time as well. And this is why the case has been redesigned with no sharp angles, with the very smooth . . . shape of a pocket watch. And here you are with this new collection with a new case for references like the new Heliotourbillon, with new complications, and very beautiful finishes both on the dials, but also on the movement, I think that’s how we do things. And for us to make that statement on such an important signature was always on the map.

So, no matter how markets are doing, you don’t feel the need to hold back? You’ll go ahead with a plan no matter what?

Well, you know plans are made years in advance! [laughter] But for us, it is very important to emphasize always what makes Jaeger-LeCoultre different and stand out. You know, in the watchmaking world, we have talked a lot about our icon, the Reverso. So we’ve brought a lot of innovation with the chronograph, new aesthetics over the last few years. And it’s important as well, and we continue to talk about the high complication at Jaeger-LeCoultre because it is part of our DNA and identity.

And I remember very well, not long ago, during Covid, when everything was somehow shut down, we felt that one essential element we needed the team to continue working on—because we know that losing six months to a year would add even more time to a long development—and we continued to work on our Hybris Mechanica. We very quickly resumed the research and development of that timepiece, during a very difficult time. So yes, you have to keep going and focusing on what you do best, not lose yourself and be very, very true to your identity. That’s why Duometre is about. Thirty-five years in the making! So, you know, we’re happy.

Duometre Quantieme Lunaire in Stainless Steel with Caliber 381
Duometre Quantieme Lunaire in stainless steel with Caliber 381

What is your sales strategy with pieces like this? For instance, let’s say I’ve never bought Jaeger-LeCoultre before and I come in and say I want to buy this watch—the Duometre Triple-Axis Tourbillon. Would it be considered?

Of course, of course. There are 20 in the world, so you need to make up your mind very quickly! [laughter]

Form a relationship very fast?

You know, it’s about the passion, the interest. So of course, there are only a few today in the world. If you want to try it on, it’s very good to come to Watches and Wonders, watch those and wonders, because these pieces on top of being art objects, they’re also amazing to wear and that’s sometimes what people don’t always understand. And maybe they think, “Oh, if I own a Duometre Heliotourbillon, I’m not sure I can wear it.” Well, actually, you can. It’s very wearable, it’s very comfortable, very easy to read the time, a beautiful expression of watchmaking. So I would say the best move when you want to own a piece like that is to reach out to a boutique and get one to be shown to you so you can wear it and make sure it fits you, because you probably don’t buy so many watches like this in your lifetime—unless you’re a collector, of course. So it’s important to buy one that speaks to you, that you love and that you will wear. That’s very, very important.

Will these be able to be seen in the United States, and how many will you have?

Of course! Today we are focusing here at Watches and Wonders, then what we’ll do is travel with the collection. The Heliotourbillon will travel together with our precision exhibition. So, it always comes with a very nice storytelling experience, in order to understand even better what goes on behind this creation. The next stop will be in Dubai. But, of course, in our new flagship on Madison Avenue in New York, the Heliotourbillon will quickly find a home for anyone to enjoy very soon. And then you have the rest of the Duometre collection, which will be available for anyone to see in our boutiques.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Atelier d’Antoine space in New York
The Atelier d’Antoine space in New York.

Speaking of the store, that’s exciting news. Tell us a little bit about what people can expect when you have the official opening.

Oh, a lot! [laughter]

The boutique has been long in the making as well.

We are very happy we extended where we have been for a while now. So the boutique more than doubled in size, and it enabled us to bring a lot of our manufacture—in a way—into the store. So, what we want is our boutiques to be an extension of our stories and our identity, so you can learn about watchmaking. There are watchmaking classes, workshops that can be taken way beyond assembling a movement. You can learn about sound in watchmaking, you can learn about precision, you can learn about the Reverso and the complexity of its case: How we make it rotate? What’s the secret behind things? So it’s really diving into the watchmaking world from many different entry points. You can also discover the know-how of our manufacturer. There are the manufacturer worlds and the caliber world. So, there are many reasons even if you are not a watch aficionado to push the door [open] and just be curious and discover a world that has a lot of heritage, a lot of technical expertise, and that brings a lot of passion.

And I think it’s important in today’s world, you know, to be so open to these type of strong values. Because everything goes so quickly around us, it’s nice to see an industry and creativity in watchmaking that has lasted for, you know, 200 years, and understand where it comes from and what it brings today. And that’s what we intend to share in the flagship, and in most of our boutiques.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Watchmaking
Jaeger-LeCoultre Watchmaking

Have the classes been scheduled?

You can make appointments to join either an existing class or a class that can be arranged for our group. We have a teacher, we have a watchmaker, it’s really interesting.

Yeah, that’s exciting. Who designed the store?

Our team. We do integrated manufacture, integrated creativity, we do our own design. We really intend to give the strong identity of nature inspiration. So it’s warm tones, wood, and very natural and organic materials. Then you have a lot of lines, vertical lines in the Art Deco spirit. So, these identities are quite well mastered at Jaeger-LeCoultre, and then we bring warmth because it’s important to be for us welcoming and really open to the public.

Beyond the boutique, what are you looking forward to in 2024? And what will be the challenges?

Well, 2024 starts really nicely. I mean, the feedback here at Watches & Wonders, the interest, the crowd—we were just talking about it—is amazing. So, the first thing we’re looking forward to is this weekend, when it’s open to the public. It’s really a browsing of people everywhere, very curious. And, and you know, with eyes fully open and mesmerized. So, this is a perfect moment to celebrate what we’ve done, then we will bring this exhibition to Dubai. So, it’s going to be very nice for us. We have several stores openings to celebrate: New York, but also a flagship in Beijing. So there is a lot happening around the globe.

And more novelties, obviously, because it’s not just here at Watches and Wonders. Throughout the year we’ll talk about Polaris in the summer, and we’ll talk about Reverso in the fall. So, plenty to look forward to.

Thank you.

Thank you so much. Yeah, fantastic!

Best of Robb Report

Sign up for Robb Report's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.