Collectible masterpieces

Collectible masterpieces

A Jaeger-LeCoultre for aspiring collectors and watch aficionados - that's what the brand's new chief executive officer Daniel Riedo is aiming for.

Since taking on the role in July this year, the over-demand and under-supply of Jaeger-LeCoultre's luxurious timepieces is one of the main challenges he's faced with. But he adds it's an industry problem in the Swiss luxury watches market as the global passion for collecting continues to catch on like wildfire.

"The market requires more pieces than we can produce - especially with high complication ones - so we must increase our capacity," states Mr Riedo firmly. He was in Singapore for a brief visit last month when Jaeger-LeCoultre staged a two-day exhibition celebrating its 180th anniversary. It featured a selection of exceptional timepieces, including the Hybris Mechanica collection which highlights the brand's mastery in haute horlogerie, and on display for the first time in Singapore.

The exhibition will only serve to whet the appetite of collectors; and demand is expected to increase as the brand continues to open new boutiques around the world, concedes Mr Riedo, who joined Jaeger-LeCoultre in January 2011 as industrial director after 12 years with the Rolex Group.

To tackle the manpower crunch, it is looking to increase staff strength at its Vallee de Joux Manufacture by about 20 per cent; from its current 1,350 to 1,600, reveals the 53-year-old. He adds finding new recruits isn't an issue because of Jaeger-LeCoultre's heritage.

It was the first to set up a Manufacture in the Vallee de Joux in 1866, 33 years after Antoine LeCoultre founded it in 1833 as a modest workshop. The Manufacture was nicknamed La Grande Maison for its knack of bringing artisans together under one roof to share their watchmaking secrets and combine their skills. "The image and prestige of our brand attracts talents who want to grow with the Manufacture and learn more about our movements," says Mr Riedo proudly. To date, the brand has produced over 1,200 calibres, including the world's smallest movement.

High complication has become a speciality for them and even the deceptively simple-looking Master Ultra Thin Jubilee piece is being assembled in a special workshop where 30 people work only on complicated watches. This is because the movement has parts that are so thin only the most qualified watchmakers know how to handle and assemble them.

Special workshops

The process of finding watchmakers capable of working on high-complication pieces will also be sped up by a special process. "In the past, when we hired new watchmakers, it would take many years to train them because they will (learn on-the-job and) start with the basic movements before gradually moving up to more complicated watches," explains Mr Riedo. Another special workshop, set to open next year, will change all that as new hires no longer need to worry about meeting production numbers and will instead concentrate solely on honing their skills to become expert watchmakers.

It's all part of Jaeger-LeCoultre's plans to continue innovating and pushing the boundaries of haute horlogerie - something it hasn't stopped pursuing since its founder invented the Milionometer, the first measuring instrument in the history of technology capable of detecting inaccuracies to the nearest micron (thousandth of a millimetre), in 1844.

It is undoubtedly the most important invention from the Manufacture in the 19th century as the instrument guaranteed peerless quality in the making of fine watchmaking movements.

Since then, Jaeger-LeCoultre has established itself as one of the most inventive and dynamic Manufactures in the world of fine watchmaking and is present in all market segments from jewellery pieces to complicated ones as well as sports and classic watches.

Mr Riedo attributes the growth of the brand to the passion of the people who work for Jaeger-LeCoultre and their thirst to take Watchmaking to greater heights. "We have more than 120 people working on research and development - not production - and they are always thinking of new products" he says. "And the more we develop, the more new ideas we get so it's never ending."

dylantan@sph.com.sg


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