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Watches: Free Spirit

Laurie Kahle

Cristina Thévenaz is not your typical watch executive. At the annual watch and jewelry fair in Basel, Switzerland, earlier this year, the attractive 37-year-old blonde was outfitted in blue jeans and stiletto heels as she held court in the Delaneau booth, which was swathed in burgundy velvet à la Moulin Rouge and perfumed by rose-scented candles.

Delaneau’s creative director clearly has her own way of doing things, and like the watches produced by this established yet obscure Swiss house, Thévenaz is more than just a pretty package. She embodies the smart, sophisticated, stylish, and multifaceted modern woman whom she is targeting with versatile watches that strive to be eccentric without being trendy. “Today’s women don’t just change their clothes,” Thévenaz says over coffee in New York’s Four Seasons Hotel, months after the Basel show. “They have many different roles, and they can manage them all.” She should know. The Spanish-born mother of four speaks six languages, including Farsi, and has lived all over the world. Before taking the creative helm of Delaneau, which was purchased five years ago by a group of investors that includes her husband, Philippe, she worked as a graphic designer.

It is Thévenaz’s mission to preserve Delaneau’s heritage as a high-end jewelry watch specialist, a legacy that dates to 1880. After spending a year researching and analyzing the market, she developed a strategy to reposition the brand in a contemporary light and raise its global profile—all the while keeping the brand “confidential,” as she puts it. “I don’t want to become too commercial,” she explains, noting that she hopes to expand annual production from 1,500 pieces to 5,000 pieces by the end of next year.

With her marketing strategy in place, Thévenaz designed her breakthrough collection, Les Capricieuses, which launched two years ago. Her goal was to create something daring. She found her inspiration in the house’s archives, where she uncovered traditional Delaneau designs that she updated with new dials, cases, or polishing details. The collection includes three models—Marlène, Josephine, and Ginger Butterfly.

The Marlène is mysterious and mercurial with a semicylindrical gold shuttered case that conceals its wide, retro dial. This unusual timepiece changes moods in a snap with a series of interchangeable straps and bracelets. “I wanted to create something that really stands out,” says Thévenaz, “but not in a superficial way—something striking, but with a feeling of classicism.” Quality has not been sacrificed for provocative style, she adds. “You still have the métier of watchmakers, the métier of jewelers.”

Thévenaz intends to capitalize on Delaneau’s old-world craftsmanship, creativity, and exclusivity—elements that she feels give her small company an edge over the dominant watch conglomerates. “True luxury is not easily accessible,” she explains. “It’s about emotion. You remember the moment you bought the object, and you will remember the story behind it every time you wear it—it’s not just another pair of shoes.”

Delaneau, 212.957.8575, available at Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York, and Bergdorf Goodman

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