Introducing the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox
When Catherine Rénier took over as CEO at Jaeger-LeCoultre just over two years ago, she had a straightforward plan: “To get our voice heard. To shed light on the fact we had been a little too quiet over previous years. What was very important,” she says, “was to give visibility to the maison.”
Not that J-LC, the 187-year-old bastion of luxury watchmaking, was in much danger of falling by the wayside. Even non-watch fans will recognise its Reverso, the rectangular watch that flips over to reveal an engravable back (or a second face), an icon of 20th-century design. Meanwhile connoisseurs will tell you few companies can match it for watchmaking prowess, that J-LC has a history of making high-quality movements, parts and tools for brands such as Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. It’s the watchmaker’s watchmaker.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre customer, meanwhile, is one of taste and culture: Charlie Chaplin wore a J-LC, so does Jay-Z. Benedict Cumberbatch is the current brand ambassador. It sponsors the British Open Polo Championship and the Venice Film Festival. Last year, it held a gala event at the Royal Academy of Arts, where the actors Juliet Stevenson, Clarke Peters and Ellie Bamber, as well as Cumberbatch, celebrated the “lost art of letter writing”, reading correspondence by David Hockney, Vincent van Gogh and Marguerite Louise d’Orléans.
If J-LC had seemed a little too quiet, that was only because its brasher rivals were better at shouting their successes. Shouting isn’t really the Jaeger-LeCoultre way. But maybe it could speak up a bit. “Since then, we’ve been reaching our objectives of sharing our universe and creativity with the public,” says Rénier, “in a voice that can resonate very strongly.”
The Master Control Memovox’s open caseback allows you to view the hammer striking the gong at very high speed, to sound the chiming, vibrating ring. It’s fascinating to watch
Rénier’s arrival coincided with the launch of a new family of watches, the Polaris. A version of a model that had first appeared five decades earlier, the Polaris filled a gap for an entry-level sports watch and proved popular immediately. Technically a dive watch, it was one of very few divers that wouldn't look out of place worn with a dinner suit. In other words, it was a piece in keeping with the rest of the brand’s classily restrained catalogue. Of course it was. It was a Jaeger-LeCoultre.
“You want the relevance and modernity of the design but the twist of heritage and patrimonial inspiration is important,” Rénier says. “Polaris was a very strong example for us. A lot of details that make this [watch] totally modern and meaningful for today’s generation, but totally respect our heritage.”
Heritage can be a double-edged sword. Everyone respects experience. Nobody likes a fuddy-duddy. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso remains its most famous product, developed in the Thirties for British Army officers playing polo in India, its reversible face offering protection from the rigours of whacking a ball about. It fell from favour in the Sixties, until an Italian dealer, visiting Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Swiss factory, spotted a pile of unused cases in a drawer. He bought them, fitted them with movements and sold the lot. Since then there have been hundreds of versions, including last year’s Reverso Tribute Small Seconds with burgundy dial, about as cool and stylish a wristwatch as its possible to imagine.
The stainless steel 45.6mm x 27.4mm Reverso Tribute Small Seconds with burgundy dial, £6,800, by Jaeger-LeCoultre