During his flying visit to Australia to celebrate Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 180th anniversary, I was fortunate enough to be invited meet industry luminary Janek Deleskiewicz, the Maison’s Artistic and Design Director, for a wide-ranging chat and interview.
I hope you enjoy this post.
Q : Could you give Horologium’s readers a bit of information about your background prior to watches, particularly in relation to design.
A : It goes back to my childhood. I was always interested in artistic expression, and sketched a lot of what I saw, even in museums. My mother was a teacher, and at home we were surrounded by books, including books of artists such as Gaugin, Piccaso, Monet. I had wanted to go to the Ecole de Mozart, but my mother didn’t want me to become an artist – it would be a difficult future, with no guarantee of a job. She advised me to go to a technical school, so I did. I got the Baccalaureate, then went to the University of Technology. I didn’t want to be an engineer but to just follow my destiny.
In my youth I spent a lot of time working with designers, sketching, playing jazz, and I discovered industrial design, ergonomics. When I moved to Paris in 1977 it was during a period when there was an explosion of design and art. I lived like a student and worked hard – I was involved in organising and going to exhibitions, I was always out, seeing, doing and experiencing as many things as I could.
One of the things I worked on was the TGV, with a team of twenty people over two years. After that I was in the food industry, telecommunications, many other industries. When people think of design they never think of food, and how people buy food differently now than twenty years ago – packaging, convenience, food supply systems, conservation, preparation. There has been a revolution in this, and I worked on it.
After that, I was invited to work at Jaeger-LeCoultre in development for a few months by Henry Belmont and Gunther Blumlein. Now it has been twenty-five years.
Q : What are the major changes you have noticed in the watch industry during the last five, ten or twenty years in terms of creative development? Have you noticed, along with what seems to be an unstoppable increase in the demand for luxury watches, an accompanying increase consumer demand for ‘new’ things all the time?
A : When I started, we had only one line, the Reverso. Now, Jaeger-LeCoultre have seven lines of watches with different concepts, different ways of development. There has been a rise in the use and development of complications over the 25 years I have been in the industry e.g. the tourbillon, Gyro and Sphero tourbillons. We are the first brand who has developed (simultaneously) all these mechanisms for different lines. The consequence is that the level of the brand is very high, and that everybody knows JLC. In the past they knew Reversos, the Atmos and maybe the Master collection. Now, people have greater knowledge of the brand’s collection. Another big change has been the rise of women’s watches. We are trying to develop new functions for ladies’ watches.
Q : Are customers more demanding now?
A : Customers are demanding in a different way. They want more surprises and specific calibres, specific functions. Their demands are more precise. There is a more educated consumer, they redefine the evolution of collections. They cannot stay without any development, it is necessary to develop new calibres, new movements, to be mobile and dynamic. In the new generations, people are specific in their desires e.g. a watch for ladies with two time zones, watches with specific tourbillons. It is necessary to find what the client wants.
Q : In your profession, do you see yourself as being a style leader, cool hunter, driven by the demands of consumers, a combination of these or perhaps something else entirely, when it comes to creative development?
A : We are in many more countries now than when I started, and we discover how different various clients are. Because the public is open-minded, we can surprise them with new things, to reinvent the industry. We are responsive to the customer and their needs, rather than leading the customer.
Q : Could you please take us through the process of designing a watch?
A : We do a lot of sketches to visualize the future timepiece while shaping the idea. Then there is a creative committee and dirctors’ committee that defines, before we start the whole design process, what might be the product we are looking for.
We are responsible for the development of the collection with the entire creative team, and linked with the CEO, Creative Director, and the technical people. We all work together, then go our separate ways. The first point is the design. We do sketches to visualise the future watch, and after discussions, we present a proposal to the technical people, to see what can be done. We plan three years ahead. When we finish the first take of the proposal we follow with the first prototype. That provides us with the size of the calibre, for example, and we can propose quantities etc to the factory.
Q : What has been the most unexpected inspiration for you, for a model?
A : The most important thing is to be close to the public, the client, to be aware of what they expect, what they ask for. Sometimes you get the wrong feedback from the people in-between. The people in-between only know what people want tomorrow, and this is too late for watch development. The most important thing is to know some clients, some bloggers, some journalists, and to ask for real feedback from the market. To know in general but also in particular, to get a feel for the general market demand. It is important to take this into consideration when thinking about where the industry will be in two or three years. Inspiration is practical. Sometimes the challenge is not difficult but you need a lot of energy to go and see people, to discuss with people, spend time to understand clients and the public. Its important to have an accurate understanding of our clients.
Q : How do you see the Maison’s future direction?
A : There is one thing we won’t change – we will continue to develop calibres. Perhaps we will go higher and higher in our development of calibres. We have been developing very rapidly the last ten years, such as the Hybris Mechanica. Also, the reinforcement of the specific development of women’s watches is important. Their market will grow faster than the men’s market. Specific functions, and more complications for women. Women have discovered for example when they buy a Duetto that there is only one calibre not two. After that, they start to imagine the repetition minute for women…some dream like this.
Q : As a visually creative professional, do you carry around a notebook and pencil/ pen to scribble down random thoughts, impressions and sketches, especially when travelling? If, for example, you were to sketch your impression of your short time in Australia so far in a watch, what would you draw?
A : Very often. When I am in Switzerland with the design team, they work with computers, but the first idea, with lots of sketches, might give inspiration when they encounter a problem for example. It is necessary to speak with designers every day, to brainstorm. Every day, there are different watch projects to deal with because they have so many collections/ items. My job is to go outside the project and to restart each time the project. It is never finished. Sometimes we find an idea but not for now, but for three years’ time.
I think it is funny because when I saw this harbour I thought of Venice, because you use a lot of boats, but also Stockholm (except for the cold). You have a strong element of this. The Opera House is the first inspiration. To make a specific watch I think we can say that the collection is global – twenty years ago, ten years ago we had a chance with a diving watch perhaps. Now Sydney is not only this, but it is more global. We can do also specific watches e.g. the celestial watches with the southern hemisphere.
Q : Jaeger-LeCoultre has come up with some popular updates of vintage models in recent years, whether it be the Tribute to 1931 Reverso or the Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea. How does the idea of a new ‘tribute’ model arise?
A : They come from many directions. We have discussions about old watches with customers, with bloggers, discussions to understand what people want.
Q : You commute weekly between Switzerland and Paris – to an Australian, where the distances to get from A to B are greater, spending this much time travelling on a regular basis is almost unfathomable. How do you manage it?
A : It’s not easy but I think I’ve found a philosophy. When I was young my father, an immigrant from Poland, explained to me that you I will have different friends and family when I grow up, but you will be alone all your life. We are alone but we need to understand and respect friends from all around the world. I love travelling because 99.99% of people share commonalities about life and living.
During my holidays I travel with my family, for example going to Miami, taking a boat and cruising a few hundred kms a day. It’s not a problem to travel, it’s important to be in the right condition, to meet nice people.
Q : In terms of functionality in a watch (beyond telling the time), what is your favourite?
Dual time zone, because I travel so much. The Duetto, Hometime, Geographic etc – we develop this function a lot because people want it to contact friends, the office, and family.
Q : To those who see watches as nothing more than a means of telling the time, which they believe they can do just as well on their phone or a $100 watch and who do not see the purpose of spending more than this on a watch, how do you explain/ sell to them the idea/ attractiveness of luxury timepieces?
A : There are many justifications. For example when you wear this mechanism on your wrist, it is mechanical, no battery. It is probably an expression of luxury to have everything on your wrist and to see it immediately (luxury of precious metals), but it is a safe technology.
Q : I’ve read that you are keenly interested in surfing. Will you take some time out to go surfing whilst in Australia?
A : Unfortunately there is no time. I like to visit Bali. I was born near the sea, grew up around the waves. In my early time, surfing was different, it was about the long board.
[Discussion about surfing in the South of France]
I know exactly when the American soldiers brought surfing in the South of France (Biarritz) because in 1945-46 they came with the first boards. The problem in France now is boards made of polyester/ plastic. I have found boards made from wood in Bali and I want to bring them back home toy enjoy, but not to use for surfing.
I’d like to thank Pierre-Etienne Durand, Brand Manager Australia and New-Zealand, for making this interview with Janek Deleskiewicz possible.