We caught up with Daniel Riedo, CEO of the grand maison of Jaeger LeCoultre when he was in Singapore recently to showcase the SIHH2016 novelties.
We have known Daniel since he became CEO in 2014, taking over from Jérôme Lambert who left JLC to become CEO of Montblanc. But this is our first In Conversation with him, and we thought it will be a good introduction for our readers to briefly cover his biography. Daniel spent 12 years in Rolex, in various roles in production and manufacturing including CEO of Tudor. He then joined Compagnie Financière Richemont SA in the HQ team and was responsible for the group’s online presence. When the Industrial Director of Jaeger LeCoultre Jean-Pierre Sassard was taken ill in 2011, Daniel was called to cover the position as he was an experienced hand in his previous career in Rolex. The appointment was to be a temporary one, but it stretched to 2 years. Jean-Pierre passed away without returning to work, and Daniel assumed the role of Industrial Director permanently. In 2014, he was promoted to CEO.
Jaeger LeCoultre vs Rolex: what’s the difference?
Our discussion started with this question…we were not asking Daniel to compare the two maison’s watches, but rather the way production is being carried out. We thought this would be the biting question in a collector’s mind. Indeed Daniel was generous with his answers. His first comparison is that Rolex makes 10 times more watches than Jaeger LeCoultre. But have only 6 calibers in production versus 85 calibers in the JLC list, with 60 active in production. The logistics are totally different.
We were curious what did Daniel take away from his 12 year stint in Rolex which he eventually implemented in JLC. One of the intresting organizational changes he made in Le Sentier was to incorporate what he called “autonomous cells”. In these cells, groups of watchmakers and technicians work as a team to complete the entire watch assigned to them. This streamlines the work flow, and also provide opportunities for the team to learn from each other and improve the product.
He then broadly divided the JLC production workforce into Technicians, Artisans and Watchmakers. Each working within their cells. But also exchanging ideas between the groups. New ideas can often develop, and a case in point is the close relationship between the guillocage team and the enameling team resulted in a dial with guillocage patterns which are then enamelled to provide a beautiful and magnificent play of light and colors.
Enamel Miniature Painting: a JLC Speciality
We turned to the famous enamellers in JLC, and and perhaps the most famous: Miklos Merczel. Miclos is still leading the team of now 10 enamellers. Of the team, 4 are specialists in miniature painting, such as that being executed in the watch that Daniel was wearing during our conversation. The Jaeger LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Minute Repeater Starry Night over the Rhone.
The enamel miniature painting is a replica of the original masterpiece by Vincent Van Gogh of the same name: Starry Night over the Rhone which now hangs in the halls of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It is no mean feat to copy the original Van Gogh piece which measures some 72.5 cm × 92 cm into a watch dial of approximately 34mm. But the work on the dial, executed in enamel, is magnificent. Resplendent in detail of the brush strokes used by Van Gogh in the original, and a work of art on its own right.
Manufacture Jaeger LeCoultre
The Grande Maison currently employs some 1350 staff globally with 1000 in production, including about 220 watchmakers. The maison has its own school of apprentices, now numbering about 12 persons, and they spend time on rotation from being in a classroom study and lab, and for 2 week sessions to work at the bench within the Autonomous Cells. Daniel says this organization is very effective in getting the maison culture spread quickly, and also for skills to be mastered fast.
Varied product lines
This amazing technical capability is spread across its very wide range of product lines. The Reverso, The Master, The Duomètre, The Rendezvous, The Geophysic, The Extreme (Sports watch), and the venerable but perhaps unusual for a watchmaking house – The Atmos.
It was interesting to us when Daniel revealed that the best selling line is the Master Collection. Perhaps it should not have been a surprise, as the Master Collection is classical, and very traditional, and offers the collector with numerous complications to be truly fascinated with. We have been amazed by the Master series, especially the more complicated watches, but we had thought that the best selling JLC would have been the Reversos…perhaps the world still prefers round watches.
This year, the Reverso collection has been revised, as part of the streamlining process. From 53 models, with 5 dial variations into a collection comprising of the Classic (in 3 sizes, Small, Medium, Large) each in either mono-face or dual-face for a total of 6 variants, The Reverso 1 as a special Ladies Collection, and the Tribute as the Complicated Reverso series.
We then spent a few minutes talking about the gorgeous Geophysic collection which we are totally enamored with. The Geophysic collection is characterized by the true second movement, a very special execution of a remontoire based system to obtain the seconds morte. The special Gyrolab shape of the balance, and its manufacture from a non-magnetic material, the watch has resistance to magnetism despite not having a soft iron core.
We then jumped over to the cylindrical, spherical and semi-spherical hairspring used in many JLC’s complicated watches, and Daniel revealed that the spherical hairsprings are a peculiar speciality. All the hairsprings in the manufacture are wound by hand, and the spherical hairspring can take up to 40 man-hours in the hands of a skilled watchmaker to complete one hairspring. That’s a week’s work!
The semi-spherical hairspring used in the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon was designed to be half sperical so that it is thinner, and in order to keep the same precision as the original spherical hairspring used in the Reverso Gyrotourbillon, it has to rotate faster. Giving us the additional bonus of the visual spectacle of the tourbillon spinning in its two axis in ultra-fast times.
We turned briefly to the markets and Daniel revealed to us that currently Asia (including China) accounts for some 40% of the market share for Manufacture Jaeger LeCoultre, with Europe coming in a close second with 35% and the Americas taking up the rest of 25% of the production. This is an amazingly even spread across the geography, we remarked. To which Daniel just smiled with a wink of the eye, suggesting that it not by accident that the market share is this way, but by meticulous design.
Also interesting is Daniel’s After Sales Strategy. Where all novelties which are returned to the various points of sales are returned to Le Sentier if it comes back for service within a year of the novelty’s introduction. This is to ensure that the continuous improvement process loop is closed, and the watchmakers in Le Sentier are able to access the issues and problems faced by the watches in the field. After the first year, the watches may be serviced in the field. Field offices are categorized into 4 levels of competency. Level 1, the most basic and is available at all JLC Boutiques worldwide is to be able to handle time only watches. Level 2, and 3 are increasing complications. Level 4 is the highest complications and only handled in Le Sentier. Interestingly, all ultra thin watches are classified as Level 4, together with the repeaters, sonneries and other ultra complicated timepieces.
With that, Daniel Riedo was prompted by his staff to leave for his lunch appointment, and we bade our farewells, promising to catch up with further more in-depth discussions the next time he is in Singapore. We were impressed with Daniel’s passion for the brand and the products. And we can see that he is a true product man. Certainly in the grand tradition of the grand maison Jaeger LeCoultre to have CEOs who have strong product focus.