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44 Years of Watchmaking
Point of View

44 Years of Watchmaking

Tuesday, 20 December 2016
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Roberta Naas
Journalist

“Life is all about time - what we make of it and how we use it.”

Roberta Naas is a veteran journalist in the watch world with more than 32 years of experience and author of six books on watches and time. She was as well the founder of www.atimelyperspective.com.

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6 min read

Christian Laurent, master watchmaker and inventor for Jaeger-LeCoultre for 44 years is the manager of a team of 47 experienced watchmakers and experts in the brand’s Grande Complications workshop. In fact, when he started this Grande Complications division 28 years ago, he started with four people. He built it 10 fold-plus over the years.

Under Laurent’s supervision, the team assembles such pieces as the tourbillons, perpetual calendars, minute repeaters and the specialty pieces such as the Gyrotourbillon and the Duometre Spherotourbillon. While Laurent has been with the Maison for more than 40 years, he takes part in the development of all new watch projects, working side by side with the designers, engineers, prototype makers and watchmakers. And now, as he considers his career, he has also become a strong mentor and leader, putting others he has trained in charge of such divisions as logistics, quality control. As the very upbeat yet humble inventor puts it, each new watch is the result of incredible teamwork from a host of professionals. Now, in a candid interview, he discusses his challenges, accomplishments, the golden age of watchmaking and retirement.

What’s it like to have spent more than 40 years with a single brand?

It is like home. I grew up here. My friends sometimes tell me that Jaeger-LeCoultre is like my mistress. Yes, I’ve flirted with other brands, of course, because they have approached me, but even with the best offers, I love this brand. It is a part of me, of who I am.

You have a team, yes, but you have been responsible for some very important inventions here. Can you share what it was like to develop the Gyrometer and Spherotourbillon?

Horology is my passion, and while every time there is a new piece that comes out, it comes from team work, I was the one who truly believed in the concept of the Gyrometer and really pushed it. You see, when it comes to developing new products, at the very early stage, I am not really involved. That is up to the design and engineering team, and when the team thinks there is a really tangible project, they will come to me to bring it to reality. Then my team works with the different departments and everyone brings a part to the table. It is my role to detect who, from my team, should work on what product or project. For the Gyrotourbillon, I knew the idea had huge potential, so I insisted the teamwork on this. It is like playing sports. I like to win; I don’t want to lose. It was a four or five year project; I had to keep my team motivated.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre Spherotourbillon
Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre Spherotourbillon
What was your biggest challenge over the years?

The biggest was probably when we started developing the minute repeater for the Reverso in 1994. That was the time when we really started exploring more high complications, especially for the Reverso. I developed my own skills by exploring minute repeaters and how they worked. I was working every day, including weekends, to find the solutions for the best result, the best sound. We did not have the electronic equipment then that we have now, and we didn’t have the same organization. We worked directly with top management, with the head of development and the department that made tools. It was our job to not only develop the watch movement, but also to talk to the others to be sure they could do what we needed. Back then, sound was achieved by ear. So then, I was the ears. But over the years we, and the industry, worked in developing new processes for sound to be transmitted, and today we have machines to measure the sound quality and the decibels and that gives more accuracy and perfection to the sound. But those were challenging and exciting years.

Would you say those were the golden years of modern watchmaking?

Yes. It was like the age of exploration. We had no electronic machines or equipment, but we made it work. We had to use our hands and our minds to invent and investigate. We had to explore and I always wanted to get to it, to create. Today, we are bigger; there are processes; it takes longer to develop a piece because of the processes. We also have computers and 3D printing and other things to help envision the watch. So it is not the same now as during those golden years. But I am lucky because I learned a lot and today I am still learning, but now it is more about transferring my knowledge to others.

What are you most proud of?

Too many things. I get great satisfaction from having a big workshop where I can trust everyone. In the first seven years that I started the workshop, the people who joined then are still here today. And we are like family. Even though we work together, we also hike together, talk together and there is a good feeling of friendship. This is such a great feeling for me. They all say they are worried about when I retire in two years, what will life be like without me there. The fact that people feel this way makes me feel like I really accomplished a lot and that I will be leaving without any fear because I have assembled a good team.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon
And a watch that you are most proud of?

For me, I think the Duometre Spherotourbillon. It was my A to Z project. While the tourbillon existed, inventing the way to put it on the side was a great project of thought, exploration and innovation.

How do you feel about retiring?

I think it will be very difficult to leave. I am already discussing with management to see if I can extend some time here. I have a complete personal life with children and all, but my commitment to the company is so intensive that if I stop, it could be brutal. So I think I have to find a way to contribute, to share my passion still. But I am quite confident that even if I do retire, there are plenty of talented people on my team with amazing ideas, so I am not worried about the future of the department. I am proud of my team.

Are you inspired by any of the other brands?

Yes, Dufour. When I see him discussing what he does, it is fascinating. And I am impressed with the small independent watchmakers because due to their size, everyone is involved with the making of new pieces and it is a great way to work and invent. For a small watchmaker to be able to say ‘I created this piece from scratch, in my head, and brought it to life from A to Z,’ that is very special. I can identify with that.

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