On the eve of Watches & Wonders 2014 Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Mr. Daniel Riedo came to Australia for the first time, visiting Melbourne and Sydney on a short and busy trip which also saw him giving Sydney dinner guests the privilege of being the first in the world to see the Ivy Minute Repeater that was formally launched at the fair in Hong Kong.
During his time in Sydney I had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Riedo for an interview. With the focus of his trip on Jaeger-LeCoultre’s women’s watches this naturally dominated our chat, but with subjects ranging from an impending new collection to after-sales servicing, I hope you enjoy this post.
Q: What has been the most unexpected part of the transition from being Industrial Director to becoming the CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, and what has been your most difficult challenge so far, as CEO?
The most challenging part has been to take the time to have discussions with customers, journalists, and VIPs. I also spend many days speaking around the world with all subsidiaries to get a better feel for the market for Jaeger-LeCoultre. Last year in October I spent more nights on a plane than at home but now I try to balance it a bit more, and I try to keep the summer holiday free.
Q: You are in Australia to promote your women’s watches – I believe that the Rendez-Vous range sells incredibly well. Has it become more popular than Reversos yet?
Yes. Previously, 20% of our business were ladies’ Reversos. Now we have 40-44% in total for the Reverso and Rendez-Vous collections combined.
[on the subject of quartz vs. mechanical movements for women’s watches]
At the beginning we introduced Rendez-Vous with quartz as well as mechanical. We saw that the figures were balanced. We asked many customers why they chose quartz and not mechanical, and often the answer was because the mechanical version was not available. So we pushed the production of mechanical movements and decided to cut the quartz. Today the Rendez-Vous line is entirely mechanical. Also, ladies have been wearing men’s watches for many years now, and they are more focused on what is inside than they used to be. What is important to note though, is that they prefer automatic (as versus manual).
Q: Jaeger-LeCoultre has what is essentially a dedicated women’s site, which is unusual for a watch brand. How important is the women’s market to Jaeger-LeCoultre, and what plans do you have for expanding this part of your business?
The sale of ladies’ watches is now 40-44% of our business. This is unusual; normally, brands are more focused on men’s watches or for fashion brands, more ladies. We will continue to develop these two segments differently. Next year during SIHH 2015 we will continue the Rendez-Vous line with some small complications. This one (gestures towards the Ivy Minute Repeater) is limited, but there are possibilities for middle/ small ‘aspirational’ complications for ladies. For 2016 we will refresh our Reverso collection and also introduce some ladies-only Reversos.
Q: As you mentioned earlier, an important part of your time as CEO has been to travel and talk a lot with dealers, distributors, clients etc. To what extent have these discussions focused on how Jaeger-LeCoultre deals with the different markets, whether this be geographical or men’s/ women’s watches, or a combination of both?
We have a very large offering. Because we have this capacity to develop new novelties every year, we can adapt country by country, segment by segment. We spend a lot of time talking to our teams around the world to learn about what is happening in each region. There are some commonalities but also some specific market differences. We develop so many calibres that we can play with collections, recompose things. We try to be more aspirational, to give more of a dream about watches.
There are some markets which are the trend makers such as Italy. South-East Asia…North Asia it depends, they are more classical in their tastes. Often, people do not ask for something specific in terms of complications, but in terms of wanting something different. We spend a lot of time discussing these things with people. There are differences, but when you have a common trend you have a path to travel.
Q: I’ve read that Jaeger-LeCoultre will be introducing a new collection soon. Will this be launched at SIHH 2015? How many new pieces will there be, and will they involve new or existing movements?
It is still in progress. It won’t be launched at SIHH 2015 but will be introduced mid-2015. It will be more of a men’s collection, between the Master and the Duometre lines. We will begin with a few models, but with a new development in terms of movements. The design and the movement are driving the new collection. We have many developments to show at SIHH 2015. We want to be very sure of the quality of the new collection and do not want to launch it before we can deliver it.
Q : Is it correct that about 10% of those at Jaeger-LeCoultre work in product development? That seems to be quite a high proportion.
We have 125 people are in product development, from creation to industrial development, 1050 in production. 1,342 movements have been developed during the life of Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Q: With a new collection imminent and solid growth, are Jaeger-LeCoultre finding it difficult to find enough watchmakers to work on the new pieces (production capacity to meet demand) and on after-sales servicing? The shortage of trained watchmakers is after all, an industry-wise issue.
This is the challenge for the brand. We have a strong connection with a watchmaking school; half of the students come to work for us. We still have and will continue to have, a large range of pieces. We produce 100% of our movements, we assemble all of them. It is takes years to get to the point of putting together a Hybris Mechanica. We have small teams at every level of complication. What we will try to accelerate is the way that we teach or train the people inside the Manufacture. Today the are moving from team to team over time. We will open a school, in a building next to the Manufacture, and move people not from one team to another with the constraints of being part of the producti0n process, but to take them outside for an intensive course and bring them inside again. This will be introduced in 2016. We have two hundred and fifty watchmakers, fifty of them are working in the workshop making our highest end pieces. We try to accelerate the process to teach people to get there.
Because we have the ability to develop many calibres we are seen as attractive to many young watchmakers. They see that they can grow within the Manufacture, starting with a simple movement and going upwards in terms of complications.
In terms of after sales, the strategy is still the same. We have after-sales in each region. If people have the ability to go to the next level then we will take them to the Manufacture and train them. With the higher end pieces there is a ‘feeling’ to the watch that cannot be written down on paper, so if the watch goes back to the Manufacture, we try to connect it back to the original watchmaker. There are some little things about watchmaking that are about experience, intuition, a ‘feeling’.
Q : Were there any discussions about diamonds with regards to the Ivy? A minute repeater alone is a very special complication that a wearer will want to activate regularly but to some, diamond watches are seen less as day and more as night, wear.
Diamonds are still very attractive for ladies. We start with these kinds of pieces with diamonds because this is what customers request. There is the possibility of having some that are more wearable for day time. The offerings in the Rendez-Vous collection are broader. Because the capacity (of the Ivy) is limited, we start off at the top level.
Q : What do you see as the major challenges facing Jaeger-LeCoultre in the next half decade?
We have to continue to grow, but not too fast. This is one of the biggest challenges. We have to improve our capacity to meet the market, but not to become too big. We are an integrated Manufacture, which means that each time we make a development we have to train many people and to bring more workers in the Manufacture. At the same time there is pressure from the markets – we develop many boutiques, and some pieces are missing in some places, so we have to balance the distribution.
I think it’s more a strategy of distribution. Not to focus on one country but to try to be as transparent as possible with our customers. To say that we do our best, that it’s not because you are in the a particular market that you will get a specific piece for example. We are trying to get more pieces in Australia as well. Some of our pieces are boutique-only, which is why we are looking at the possibility of a place here in Sydney. It’s probably time to think about that.
The possibility of a future boutique in Australia will no doubt be welcome to those who have had to seek their boutique-only editions overseas, but with the prospect of a new collection imminent, it seems that 2015 will be a particularly interesting one for the Maison.
My thanks to Mr. Riedo for his time, and to Messrs Pierre-Etienne Durand and Sam Kan of Jaeger-LeCoultre Australia & N.Z. for making this interview possible.