Mind your business: Catherine Rénier, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre

In Mind Your Business, we speak with business leaders and thinkers who inspire their respective companies and industries. Here, we talk to Catherine Rénier, CEO, Jaeger-LeCoultre

Catherine Rénier is a trooper. Fielding questions with razor-sharp focus from the cushy confines of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s newly furbished Marina Bay Sands boutique, one could hardly have guessed that the genial CEO was nursing an injured ankle and jetlag. “It’s nothing. It is more important take this time to see everyone,” she brushes off our concerns with a shrug.

While a mere suggestion, Rénier’s unfussed determination to simply get on with things is a reflection of the way she has led Jaeger-LeCoultre the past five years. Since taking the helm of the 190-year-old watchmaking house, Rénier—a rarity in the male-dominated watch business—has imbued Jaeger-LeCoultre with a fresh urgency to broaden its appeal while staying true to the company’s spirit and ethos.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s CEO Catherine Rénier. Photo by Jaeger-LeCoultre

This is crystallised by the brand’s bold new manifesto proclaiming itself as ‘Watchmaker of Watchmakers’, a message of horological supremacy that Rénier aims to spread through marketing activations and campaigns including exhibitions, pop-ups, experiential retail journeys and open-to-public visit to the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture in Switzerland.

“We are very aware of our strengths and contributions to high-end watchmaking, but have somehow kept it very much to ourselves. But now it’s time to be loud and clear about who we are,” she says.

The ‘Watchmaker of Watchmakers’ description seems obvious to people within the watch industry. What gave you the idea to finally amplify the message?

I think it was a case of us keeping it to ourselves for too long. I mean, we are a company that has produced over 1,200 movements and 400 patents, as well as numerous groundbreaking inventions. I thought that the public should really know about this—this is what sets us about from other watch companies.

Do you constantly get a sense of having to educate people about Jaeger-LeCoultre?

Always. High-end watchmaking is still very small world. It is almost like a secret community. That is why there is a constant need to educate. Of course, we want to enlarge the audience and bring more people to our world. Nobody needs a watch today to tell the time. So, the younger generation may not be aware about the amazing heritage and crafts that go into making a beautiful mechanical watch. That’s why all of our boutiques are highly experiential—people learn about our movements and innovations just by being here. We also opened the doors to our manufacture and people can book tours to visit the workshops, to get really close to what we do.

Robb Report picked the Reverso Hybris Artistica Calibre 179 as our watch of the year for 2023. How does this watch encapsulate what Jaeger-LeCoultre is about?

First of all, it is a Reverso. The watch is the most iconic model in our repertoire and its unique reversible rectangular case alone tells you so much about having a strong identity in modern watchmaking. Then, you have the gyrotourbillon complication that represents the pinnacle of technical watchmaking—we constructed the movement from scratch and that process alone took eight years to complete. Last but not least, the hand-decorated ornamentation you find on the watch—the engraving work, the enamelling and so on—they represent the artistic expertise that we have.

The most challenging thing about having an illustrious legacy is to advance it. How do you hope to do so with Jaeger-LeCoultre?

It is big responsibility, no doubt. Evolution can take on many forms. First of all, it’s important for us to establish our icons for the next century. We need to make sure our iconic models remain relevant in today’s world. So, while we respect the past, we need to do so with a touch of modernity.

We also need to keep innovating from a technical standpoint. Even during its early days, high-end watchmaking is about mechanical precision and poetry. That’s why we are always looking to present unique movements; movements that we build from scratch with a high level of engineering and research. As we speak, we are already working on watches that will be ready in 2030. If we don’t do something today, we won’t have anything to stand on tomorrow.

You have been helming Jaeger LeCoultre since 2018. What are some memories and milestones that you are especially proud of?

I remember starting my first day at the manufacture and feeling kind of small because Jaeger-LeCoultre is such an institution and there is so much to learn. At the same time, I felt warmly welcomed by the team, which was very touching. There is an earnest sense of “let us show you what we do”, which allowed me to come on board very quickly. That was pretty special.

Another thing that comes to mind is the Reverso exhibition that we held in Paris in 2021. The world had just come out of a lockdown, and it was the first major exhibition that we staged. There were so many constrains that we had to work with, and it was such as gratifying feeling when we successfully pulled it off.