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New Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO marks fresh chapter for one of world’s oldest watchmaking brands

Catherine Renier is the first female CEO in the realm of fine watches.

Diversity is not exactly the first quality that comes to mind when one thinks about the Swiss luxury watch industry, but that was exactly what was on the cards when the Richemont Group overhauled its management two years ago. Notable among the many personnel movements: The appointment of Van Cleef & Arpels veteran Catherine Renier as the CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Renier took the reins at the Vallee de Joux manufacture last May, becoming the first female CEO in the high-horology realm.

Poised, concise and careful with her words, the Frenchwoman sat down with us during the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie watch fair in Geneva to share her biggest challenges at this hallowed house – and gender-related issues, mind you, are the last thing on her mind.

What has struck you most about Jaeger-LeCoultre since becoming its CEO a year ago?

The history of the maison (French for house) is very rich and goes back 186 years – there’s so much innovation and creativity. It’s a maison not only with a strong history but also a strong identity. What strikes me most is the collective spirit when you go to the manufacture and meet the people who share the same high level of passion and pride.

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What are your plans for the brand?

We have a complete collection that was built through time. We have the iconic Reverso; classic feminine and masculine movements with the Rendez-Vous and the Master line, respectively; a sport-elegance collection with the Polaris; and, of course, our signature, the high complications such as the Gyrotourbillon. Now, we aim to enliven the high complications, which require years of development. We also want to make each of our collections very comprehensive and innovative – such as the new Rendez-Vous collection, which merges our watchmaking know-how with our gem- setting techniques, all done in-house.

Much has been made of the fact that you’re the first female CEO to head an haute horlogerie company. What do you find most challenging?

I think the fact that I’m a woman doesn’t bring more challenges. I don’t feel that way. The challenge is to explain, simply and clearly, how unique our maison is, in a very competitive environment. My time with this maison will be just a short one in comparison with its nearly 200-year history and the hundreds of years to come, so my role is to protect and develop – to talk about the past but always build for the future.

Many brands are streamlining their distribution networks. Is this the case for you?

Your distribution is always on the move. There is always a need to upgrade, renovate, relocate, to challenge yourself. As with products, it’s a work in progress – you constantly need to be at the top of what you can deliver to your clients in terms of image, service and location. So yes, we have work to do for our own boutiques as well as our multi-brand partners; we have to make sure we get the right visibility for our maison, and that we’re not just in a little corner here or a little space there.

You were based in Hong Kong before moving to Switzerland for Jaeger-LeCoultre. Which kind of environment do you prefer?

I enjoyed being based in Asia for 10 years. I appreciated the beauty of Hong Kong; the ocean, the hills and the hiking. I was in love with the dynamism of Central and the energy of the city. In Switzerland, I’m in love with the mountains – I’ve always skied – and the beauty of nature. The energy at our manufacture in the Vallee de Joux is as high, if not higher, than that in Asia then. And I’m still the same person: I want the beauty of my surroundings to be inspiring, and I want things to move.

(RELATED: Why the limited edition Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Duoface Tourbillon is worth a second look)