Moves like Jaeger-LeCoultre: Talking 'high jewellery' and watch designs with Lionel Favre
The idea to get your head around, when it comes to luxury watches, is not just of high-end watchmaking, but also of ‘high jewellery’. That’s where someone like Lionel Favre steps in, as Product Design Director for Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer based in Le Sentier, Switzerland. Favre comes from a family of jeweller-craftsmen and was trained as a jeweller, having graduated from Geneva School of Decorative Arts.
His early years were spent in Paris, devoted to the world of jewellery design, as Head of Design with Chopard and then, working with Roger Dubuis. All that made him an uncommon expert in product design — the kind that can meld tradition and technology with ‘high-end’ aesthetics and artistic sensibilities. As he puts it, “Product design is like sculpting. You start by making a rough sketch with a pencil, then you refine it, chip away what you don’t need, add what you do. When designing a new watch, it is all about finding the right proportions. The sum of details has to create the right balance. You have to be uncompromising on each and every detail.”
In an interview with Indulge, Favre spoke about the future of luxury watchmaking, and picking the best of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s century-old watchmaking heritage.
You come from a background in jewellery design. How does that influence your work with Jaeger-LeCoultre? How closely do you view jewellery and watch design?
Actually, I have a ‘high jewellery’ background with Chopard. However, when I worked for Roger Dubuis, it was less of high jewellery and more high-end watchmaking. But for sure, the worlds of high jewellery and high-end watchmaking are quite close.
Having worked for high jewellery definitely brings you advantages — for example, my approach toward feminine watches is very similar than the one I had when I used to work for jewels. When you design a watch, there is a very technical approach to follow, whereas, when it comes to a piece of jewellery, there is a more delicate aspect. Also, having a jewellery background allows one to have a great knowledge about stones, colours and a great attention to detail.
How do you balance your passion for traditional watchmaking with high-end technology?
On a daily basis, as a designer, while talking with manufacture watchmakers and artisans, we talk a lot about traditional skills such Métiers Rares (enamelling, engraving, guillochage (method of decorating surfaces with inscribed intersecting lines), gem-setting and the core skills of watchmakers. These are very traditional. When it comes to the tools we use in order to draw, there is a great balance of traditional watchmaking and high-end technology.
We always start with pen sketching products by hand — which is quite traditional, and only at a later stage, we use high-end technologies — we are now able to make beautiful 3D visuals and work with 3D printers to create prototypes. These prototypes enable us to be more certain about our aesthetic choices.
When it comes to me, what I love about traditional watchmaking is the fact that it has been created together and shared from generations to generations. This aspect of watchmaking has lasted in time, and will continue to be passed on to future generations — this is our mission. In my opinion, this gives it more strength, while comparing it to new technologies.
In the watchmaking industry, new technologies are present in the process of making products, and at Jaeger-LeCoultre, they nicely coexist with traditions. We always strive to stay close to our traditions without forgetting innovation.
How do the technological innovations in the new Polaris collection improve upon heritage designs?
The Memovox Polaris from 1968 was the first diving watch with an alarm function. While comparing the original piece to the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox, you can notice that our engineers have worked on a new way to optimise the beauty and the strength of the sound of the alarm, its iconic function.
What were the reactions like, to the Polaris collection at SIHH 2018? What were the people excited about most, and what were there main concerns?
It was a successful launch. The whole collection was very well-received by the audience at SIHH (the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Geneve, an annual showcase in Geneva). The audience, including connoisseurs and watch aficionados, was most excited about the fact that a whole collection was created around a historical model, succeeding to keep the Memovox codes.
It’s always difficult to touch the design of a historical watch that has been loved by watch connoisseurs. The overall feedback we received was quite positive, as the audience found the original spirit of the historical watch in a new modern collection.
Give us a peek into the future, of how you see watchmaking trends evolving in the years to come?
It’s quite hard to know the exact trends of the coming years… If we talk specifically about Jaeger-LeCoultre, we always try to be coherent with our history rather than focusing on sticking to trends. However, I’m convinced that upcoming trends will be rather more “substantial”, focused on the product itself.
SIHH 2019 is scheduled to be held in January 2019, while Baselworld 2019 is scheduled to be held in March next year. Check out the most anticipated watches on the official websites of the festivals.
— Jaideep Sen