As the new CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, Daniel Riedo has wasted no time in tackling important questions, yet perhaps none is as bewildering as “What do women want?”
“Women today are asking for more artistic pieces, more handmade pieces, in short, more watchmaking content,” observes Riedo. “They are asking for legitimacy from watch brands as they are starting to do with cars. How can we make the metal more artistic and precious?” Even with its admirable reputation in building technical watches for men, Jaeger-LeCoultre sees a future for itself in crafting imaginative pieces for women, and, according to Reido, is now devoting more resources than ever before toward these kinds of watches, which tap into a range of watchmaking arts and disciplines, including familiar complications.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s approach is just one facet of what has become a renaissance in watchmaking for ladies. As was the case with men’s watches a few years ago, a combination of growth, new ideas, and competition has generated a ferment in creativity. Where watch companies used to simply reduce their men’s models in size and add a row of diamonds or a similar flourish, many of them are now making unprecedented efforts in design, technology, and the application of decorative arts, some familiar to watchmaking and others completely new.
The recent emphasis on decoration and technology for ladies’ pieces may be simply a logical progression of the craftsmanship inherent in watchmaking. Tourbillon makers, responding to a flood of the once rare complications, started making fancier tourbillons. Likewise, the standards among decorative crafts, known as métiers d’art, have also progressed into the realm of showmanship: mother-of-pearl dials are now engraved or inset in the marquetry style; engine-turned surfaces are now hand-engraved, sculpted, or covered in enamel.
Much of this creative push in ladies’ high-end watchmaking started with jewelry companies like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels and has now spread to the haute fashion brands. Couture and watchmaking do share key principles—products are made with only the finest materials and crafted with extreme attention to detail—though this new surge has an added element of flamboyance. Consider the timepieces in the Dior VIII Grand Bal collection, which use an inverse automatic movement (developed in collaboration with Soprod manufacture)that places the rotor on the dial side for the sole purpose of visual interest. These are not just set with diamonds but also with colored gemstones and feather marquetry, and are patterned after fabrics like lace, pleats, or dotted voile. In the highly limited Pièce Unique collection, the rotors are set with exotic colored gems that are rarely, if ever, seen in watches, including Paraiba tourmaline, tsavorite garnet, orange spinel, and Australian opal. The ornamental details are a clear nod to the glitter of a Dior ball gown. Meanwhile, the technical element connects the decoration to the values of watchmaking.
“The complications that we incorporate into our creations serve first and foremost an artistic and creative purpose,” says Laurence Nicolas, president of Dior Montres. “Our clients are looking for an alternative to classic manufactures: a creative aesthetic equipped with quality movements. Technically, the weights, sometimes with a great deal of material cut away or even composed of feathers, are a real technical achievement because their different designs require a new calculation of the inertia for each model.”