SIHH gives us the chance to encounter many interesting minds working either on the creations and / or influencing the present and the future of a brand. In the magical forest of Jaeger-LeCoultre at the SIHH2019 we met with Mr Stéphane Belmont, Heritage & Rare Pieces Director at Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Mr Belmont will celebrate his 20th year at Jaeger-LeCoultre this March. He has held various management positions at Jaeger-LeCoultre in the field of marketing, communications and product development, and has been directing the department of Heritage & Rare Pieces since June 2017. In this capacity, his team processes and digitalizes the archives of the 186 year-old Maison and infuses it into the product development. As a travelling ambassador of the brand, he is a frequent presenter at events. We met briefly last autumn at the Homo Faber exhibition in Venice and talked in more depth at the SIHH 2019.
Why is processing the archives digitally important for Jaeger-LeCoultre?
Mechanical watches are symbols of the beauty of the analogue world. Their existence is not justified by necessities but the emotions they evoke in us. The vast majority of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s history was lived in this analogue world, the products of which were watches but also ideas noted down in sketches and documents. Much of these we know about, others are to be re-discovered. Technology in 2019 not only allows us to apply new methods and skills in watchmaking, but also to preserve and share our heritage in completely new ways. My department’s mission is to process whatever we recover from our past and feed it to craftspeople and engineers as part of our identity and as a source of future inspiration.
The past has to be browsed and understood, but never re-created as it was. Those objects were born in a different time and context, which again we need to be aware of. Today we live in a different world and we should design products for the customer of the 21st century. If we master our past and apply the technologies, materials and tastes of today, we can surprise the market – something that is very important, I believe.
How do you see the current trends and directions in watchmaking? Which of these could be interesting from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s perspective?
The rediscovery of classic icons has been a trend for quite some time now. For us there has to be some twist, something interesting in it. For instance, when we relaunched the Geophysic a few years ago we did so with the true second complication. The return of a classical watch got spiced up with a fresh design and a ‘simple looking’ complication, which is a paradox in itself. True seconds (or jumping seconds) is simple from the user’s perspective, but it is quite hard to achieve. Or, on another strong classic, the Reverso. Although we have kept it in the collections for 87 years now, we always tweak it – just think of our collaboration with Louboutin, who changed its look completely. The ‘good old Reverso’ has become 21 again.
Either way, if you have a classic watch you should add something that will make the piece a bit different, a bit more style compared to others. So classic combined with contemporary style, that’s a trend I see.
You also have an educational role within and outside Jaeger-LeCoultre. Last September the Maison participated in the first ever Homo Faber handcraft exhibition, which had the motto of ‘creating a more human future’. What was your take on this event? Did you have the conversations with the visitors that you anticipated?
It was an incredible event. It was a constant discovery for me too – one day was just not enough to see and certainly not to absorb everything that Homo Faber offered.
We met a lot of people who did not know the brand and many others who were very familiar with Jaeger-LeCoultre. Nonetheless, even them…when they saw the calibre 101 – the smallest mechanical movement ever constructed – and the creations based on that, they were surprised and asked ‘so why is it that you never showed it to us’? So after all the Reversos, Masters and the Atmos they additionally discovered new things that are not the Jaeger-LeCoultre they were familiar with.
The very interesting feedback we got was that many said, ‘ahh I am so amazed, I didn’t think that still today in the luxury market there are so many artisans’. It was fascinating to see that they had the perceptions that even though it’s luxury it’s actually machines that do everything. Thus, their visit to our booth was a discovery of old crafts applied on today’s watches.
The nice thing about having all our artisans within the company is that you can combine their creativity and artistic work with the watchmaking. And they also learn from each other. Artisans learn precision from watchmakers and how to integrate the artistic work very precisely within a mechanism. Watchmakers receive a lot of inspiration from artisans too. Additionally, besides the functional part they start to consider the aesthetics at an early stage, which is important right from the start of the development. This interaction between artistry and engineering will ensure that you have a final product that excels functionally but also aesthetically – in truly successful products design and function are united and cannot be separated, I think.
How do you see the market for women’s watches?
We have already made our bet on this market years ago. We were the first to feel the increasing wave of interest coming from the feminine market. We saw that some fashion brands, which were already successful in selling products to women, started investing in advertising watches in this segment. We thought that in a market that is very crowded for men, there is still a lot to do for women. This is how we came to creating the Rendez-Vous collection and stand behind it. A few years ago our communication focused on this collection, which was not easy for a brand like Jaeger-LeCoultre, which has so many masculine pieces. But that was our strategy: to invest in the feminine market and today that allows us to have a very healthy balance between men’s and women’s timepieces, each making ca. 50-50% of our sales. After almost 7 years, our second best-selling collection is the Rendez-Vous. And of course, the other very successful line among ladies is the Reverso. The cherry on the cake is that we have many women buying our other masculine models in the Master or Geophysic lines too.
I think that when you can sell to women, it is the best proof that you found the right balance between the technical and the aesthetical parts of a piece.
Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced a service for Reverso 3 years ago, which allows certain personalizations of the pieces and links the digital world to the boutique experience. It seems to be a strategic decision for Jaeger-LeCoultre. How was this service received?
Very well. We created it exactly to allow some customisation possibilities to our Reverso customers. It’s not as easy as it seems, especially when you have such a strong design. Reversos may appear in equally bold colours, too. So some of our customers told us that they love their piece, but sometimes it’s hard to match it to their outfit. Therefore, we added a number of strap options and developed a system to let the strap exchange be a breeze without any tools. You put on another strap and the watch looks totally different. This makes people play with the watch and it can evolve over time. I find this evolution of a personal classical watch impressive. Due to their classical look you can combine it with accessories and adjust the look to fit emerging trends. This is the reason why they are so timeless.
We also learnt that people in 2019 are not willing to wait. Even though they could select another dial and get the custom piece in a few weeks (as we need to open the watch and replace the dial for the new one), many customers pick one of the available interesting pre-configured pieces in the boutique. Therefore, we provide more varieties on the spot.
When they configure a piece online, we have to be quick and we also have to be transparent in terms of delivery time and pricing. People like to be surprised but not in this respect – they want to know the whole package immediately: how it looks, how much the selected options will cost and when they can have it. This information has to be easily accessible and transparent and that is the most important. This is exactly where we have made a lot of improvement: better communications and a simpler pricing structure.
Photo credits: Loupiosity.com.
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