Jaeger-LeCoultre, 180 years of craftsmanship and innovation – exclusive interview with CEO Jerome Lambert

Vallee de Joux in Switzerland, picturesque, remote countryside with small villages surrounded by mountain passes and with a harsh climate is probably the last place where one would expect to discover the headquarters of some of the world’s most prestigious luxury watchmakers. One of these exceptional watchmakers is Jaeger LeCoultre who celebrates this year  180 years of continuous development around its founder’s original workshop in the village of Le Sentier in Vallee de Joux.

Founded in 1883 has a unique heritage which blends Swiss craftsmanship and French creativity, Jaeger LeCoultre having been created by self-taught Swiss watchmaker Antoine LeCoultre and Paris-based watchmaker to the French Navy, Edmond Jaeger who joined the Le Coultre family in 1903. Till today, it is still in the village of Le Sentier that Jaeger LeCoultre continues to write history having created and produced over 1,200 different calibres and filed more than 400 patents.

Consistency and continuity have been defining the Jaeger LeCoultre ”Grand Maison”, the company staying true to its commitment to produce internally all the components of its watches. Innovation and precision have always been an integral part of Jaeger LeCoultre’s DNA. By ensuring that every production phase is in house, Jaeger LeCoultre has aso demonstrated its continuous quest for perfection rather than volume driven by financial pressure.

During my recent trip to Le Sentier, I had the privilege to meet Jerome Lambert, the present CEO of Jaeger LeCoultre and speak about his vision of Jaeger LeCoultre at its 180th birthday and the perspectives of watchmaking in the 21st century. It was not only through our conversation but also through the visit of the manufacturing that he came across as a very confident man, who has a very clear strategy which emerges from his deep understanding of Jaeger LeCoultre and the watch industry as a whole.

From the staff cantine (which resembles a five star restaurant with panoramic views of the mountains), the state of the art facilities which provide outstanding working conditions for employees to the social responsibility programs of the company made me understand why each and every employee loves its job and has such a special long term commitment to the company, despite the challenges. Over half of the 1.300 employees spend 3 hours daily to commute to work.

To understand the motivation of the employees to overcome these various challenges, I began by asking Mr Lambert whether there is a particular DNA that Jaeger LeCoultre nourishes. ” They are versatile talents, they are stubborn, patient and organized” adding ”their enterprising spirit through innovation is crucial for their adaptability”. As I was curious to understand whether a non-Swiss national could work at Jaeger LeCoultre, he told me that today, there are several nationalities working within the company – French, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese or Finnish. 

One of the best examples to illustrate Jaeger LeCoultre’s unique approach to recognizing and ensuring long term commitment of talented individuals is Janek Deleskiewicz, a French national of Polish origins is the Artistic Director of Jaeger LeCoultre, who has been working in the Design Department of the Manufacture for over 23 years, one of his landmark achievements being the creation of the Reverso 60ème watch in 1991, part of the Reverso Collection which, since 1931 has been the best selling product line of Jaeger LeCoultre. Deleskiewicz himself lives between Le Sentier and Paris, where he travels each weekend to source its inspiration from fashion, arts, jewellery etc.

Speaking of product development, Mr Lambert explained ”The product development process of a Jaeger LeCoultre takes from one to three years and each step in the process is discussed and agreed upon with a specially designated committee where each aspect is debated. A Jaeger LeCoultre watch is all about precision and ultimate craftsmanship and design is equally important. A watch needs to fit the personality of its buyer and aesthetics need to match functionality”.

I then asked him about his company’s approach to emerging markets where rich consumers might be motivated to purchase a luxury watch depending on how recognizable its design is, so they are thus able to show off. ”Education and awareness are very important to us but with a production of several tens of thousands of pieces per year, we are not pressured to address such a wide consumer target. Our primary focus is on connaisseurs and even in these markets there are many. Thanks to the internet and the ease of travel an increasing number of wealthy consumers know exactly what they want when they purchase a watch” says Mr Lambert.

”Watches are not a necessity and we have to be careful in our development process as well as associations. We are not considering adding new such collaborations as we focus on the existing ones (i.e. Aston Martin,  Baccarat, Venice Film Festival). The risk of dilution of the brand is very high”

In regards to awareness, Mr Lambert highlights the importance of mono-brand boutiques, a strategic approach to retail development worldwide. It is not only providing customers with a genuine experience but it also allows for extensive marketing research. Today, Jaeger LeCoultre has over 50 mono-brand boutiques worldwide, recent openings including Paris, Moscow and Sao Paulo.

With an increased exposure on ladies’ watches by established watchmakers in the past years both through development of timepieces for ladies as well as communications activities targetting women consumers, I asked Mr Lambert about his view. ”Ladies watches have always been around and we at Jaeger LeCoultre have been creating women’s watches for over a century, therefore, I do not see this as a new trend. Most likely it is the increased awareness created by fashion maisons such as Dior or Chanel which have been enhancing notoriety by constantly launching new models, particularly based on design and precious materials. Women today want more from a watch”.

I proceeded by challenging Mr Lambert to imagine one day moving production abroad, in a country with lower labour costs such as China. He replied firmly ”Absolutely not! Swiss watchmaking is about savoire-faire. It takes 180 watchmaking skills and 20 technologies to produce a complicated watch - inventing, producing, assembling, adjusting, gem-setting, engraving or enamelling. A Jaeger LeCoultre watch can be made of 200 to 3.000 individualparts. The watchmaking school takes four years and only training costs, alone, would make business unfeasible, not to mention the long cycle that a watch takes to make” added Mr Lambert.

Oliver Petcu - Le Sentier, Switzerland

Jerome Lambert, CEO Jaeger-LeCoultre

Timeline of Jaeger LeCoultre’s history

1559 Pierre LeCoultre arrives in the Vallée de Joux

1612 Pierre II LeCoultre founds the village of Le Sentier

1730 The LeCoultre forge is established

1833 Founding of the Manufacture by Antoine LeCoultre

1844 Invention of the Millionometer

1847 Invention of the pivoting winding mechanism

1851 Gold medal at the World Fair in London

1870 First complicated calibres

1880 Jaeger is founded in Paris

1890 The Manufacture produces 156 calibres

1890 The first Grande Complication models

1900 Jacques-David LeCoultre is in charge of production

1903 Jacques-David LeCoultre meets Edmond Jaeger

1907 Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 145, the world’s thinnest movement

1912 Extension of the Manufacture

1915 Aviation and automobiles

1925 Invention of the Duoplan watch

1927 A new building

1928 Invention of the Atmos clock

1929 Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101, the world’s thinnest movement

1930 Chronoflight

1931 8-day twin-barrel wristwatch

1931 Birth of the Reverso watch

1932 “Baguette” table clock

1937 Official birth of the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand

1938 Compass miniature camera

1946 Jaeger-LeCoultre tourbillon Calibre 170

1946 First automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre watch

1950 Birth of the Memovox

1953 Futurematic

1953 Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 803, 1.64 mm thick

1956 First automatic wristwatch with an alarm

1958 Geophysic Chronometer

1959 Memovox Deep Sea. First diver’s watch equipped with an alarm

1965 Memovox Polaris

1967 Participation in the Beta 21 movement

1976 Jaeger-LeCoultre automatic, thin, high-frequency Calibre 900

1982 Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 601, the world’s thinnest quartz movement

1983 Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 889

1987 Jaeger-LeCoultre mechaquartz Calibre 630

1989 Grand Réveil

1990 Géographique

1991 Reverso 60ème

1992 Master Control 1000 Hours

1994 Reverso Duo

1997 Reverso Duetto

1999 Atmos du Millénaire

2000 Jaeger-LeCoultre joins the Richemont Group

2002 Master Compressor Memovox

2003 Reverso Platinum Number Two

2003 Atmos Mystérieuse

2004 Gyrotourbillon I

2005 Master Minute Repeater Antoine LeCoultre

2006 Reverso grande complication à triptyque

2007 Duomètre

2007 Master Compressor Extreme Lab

2008 4 pink gold limited series marking the 175th anniversary of the Manufacture

2008 Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2

2009 New 9,000 square-metre building

2009 Duomètre à Grande Sonnerie

2010 Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication

2011 Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau

2012 Duomètre Sphérotourbillon