Jaeger-LeCoultre’s CEO Catherine Rénier tells us about “The Stellar Odyssey”, an exhibition coming to Dubai this February

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Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre chose Dubai as a first step for their major exhibition “The Stellar Odyssey” that will pay homage to the astronomical phenomena at the origin of time measurement. Watch lovers and the general public alike will be able to dive into the world of the Maison but also to discover the mysteries of cosmos and their translations into “micro-mechanical wonders that capture the universe in miniature, in order to tell the time.”

JDEED spoke to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s CEO, the inspiring Catherine Rénier to know more about this incredible event but also about the Made Of Makers program, an artistic endeavor, part of the house’s DNA. And, JDEED being JDEED, we also briefly asked Rénier how she thrives as the first female CEO at the helm of a major luxury watch brand; spoilers: it take a lot of staying true to yourself.

By Cynthia Jreige

Catherine Rénier is probably busier than we can imagine, but it’s with a meticulous punctuality that she hops on our Zoom call – perhaps one of the first quality to have when you work in the world of watches. Rénier, who comes from a jewelry background , landed at Jaeger-LeCoultre five years ago, mostly following a true passion for craftsmanship:
I joined the Maison almost 5 years ago now, it was 2018. I really came to Jaeger-LeCoultre for the spirit that the Maison had, and their relationship to craftsmanship, which are best embodied by the manufacturer I had a chance to visit on a personal tour, roughly 3 years before I joined.

It’s a mesmerized Rénier who left the ateliers: “I was totally impressed by the level of skills, the complexity of the work, the high craftsmanhsip in watchmaking I come from jewelry myself, having worked for Van Cleef & Arpels for a long time, a Maison that emphasizes a lot on craftsmanship as well, And I found this exact same spirit within Jaeger-LeCoultre and the teams, within the manufacturer. I fell in love through this personal interest.”
Rénier confesses to be feeling blessed: “For the past 5 years, I’ve contributed to the creation of amazing watches and to developing our creativity and our craftsmanship.”

But Jaeger-LeCoultre also pays a lot of attention to sheding light and communicating on who they are – “The Stellar Odyssey” exhibition being an amazing example of their ability to do so. So what exactly can we expect from this one-of-a-kind, grandiose event coming to Dubai this February?

(…) “It’s really a way for us to share with the public-at-large what watchmaking is about but not from a technical or expertise way – there is a bit of that , if you know a lot about watches you will learn even more – but from a very open minded and emotional, embarking way. You will be able to tap into the heritage and observe amazing creations of Jaeger-LeCoultre but also really understand how the cosmos has impacted watchmaking, what is our relationship as human beings to time and how did we frame the time we live in, why do we have this number of days in a year, why do we have leap years, why is the time we are in not the same as the sun… These are all these details that we don’t think about everyday but that do have an impact on the way we live and the way we’ve looked at time for centuries. It’s fascinating for anyone who has an interest to learn more on that topic, and of course to know more about why watches have been following this complexity of time with extremely difficult mechanism, remaining always fascinating to build and also to wear,” says a very enthusiastic Rénier.

And, again, whether watches are your thing or you’re just curious, there will be a lot to explore: ” For the general public, it’s an amazing experience and I really hope that it is understood that way because, of course, we are welcoming watch collectors and it’s fantastic, usually we know them, they’re very interested in watches already and they will be able to learn more, but what is nice with this type of exhibition is really to embark on a lot of people. We let them discover and, not only educate them about Jaeger-LeCoultre, but about watches, about craftsmanship. This is important for us because, in the end you don’t need a watch. so it means that if you dive into the world of watches it’s because you’re passionate, it fulfils you, it brings you an emotion. It’s important to start by understanding where it comes from.

Rénier guarantees there’s a lot in the exhibition for anyone to find something to enjoy: “You’ll even have a masterclass open to the public-at-large, extremely interesting to follow, and if you started wondering yourself about the relationship to time, I really encourage you to take it. It’s very educational and a very deep dive into the topic, in small groups.”

A non-alcoholic bar will also be available, in case all these discoveries leave you thirsty: “The Stellar Odyssey bar will offer non alcoholic cocktails created around the thematic of the cosmos, including ingredients from the Vallée de Joux where our manufacturer is based, also showcasing these complexities of the cosmos and how human beings relate to it in many different ways. It’s a very important stop in the exhibition.

A movie about the story of the cosmos, again “very educational but not specifically related to watchmaking itself” will be showcased under a large dome and, last but not least, the Maison worked with a French artist to develop an art piece called “Passenger Through Time” to “have these journeys between time and cosmos represented. artistically, emotionally, educationally watch-making wise,” tells us Rénier.

With all that, we’re also curious to know more about the Made of Makers program, which exists to pursue the dialogue that has “long existed between horology, artisanship and art” at Jaeger-LeCoultre.

We asked Rénier to develop; “Sure, thank you for asking. In fact, we’ve been working with artists and engaging with the world of art for a very, very long time. The Maison is the partner of the Jeu de Paume, a photographic museum in Paris, we worked with a lot of movie festivals around the world; art is very inspiring to us. In the last 4 years, roughly, we decided to hand-pick artists from different fields that we would commission to create pieces based on an inspiration of the Maison. It doesn’t have to be about our product per se but to create about Art-Deco, create inspired by the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland, create about the cosmos…”

She goes on: “We’ve had an art piece about the Reverso*, we’ve had an art piece about metal and sounds that was done 4 yers ago. Lately, Alex Trochut created an alphabet; he’s a lettering artist who created an alphabet that is inspired by Art Deco and that can be engraved on the back of the Reverso. All of these artists have always worked closely with us, they have a keen bond with our world and where we come from in the Vallée de Joux. This program is very important for us, We will have 3 to 4 new artists in 2023 that will work with us, creating around topics close to Jaeger-LeCoultre but in their own field of inspiration.

As we speak, we realize that with initiative like The Stellar Odyseey exhibition or the Made of Makers program, Jaeger-LeCoultre is more than a luxury watch brand, it’s an art de vivre. Rénier agrees: “You’re very right – watches having gone from being an absolute must to tell time to being replaced in our daily life by phone and other technologies, they now have a role that is more artistic, inspirational, craftsmanship-based that they had before and that’s always been very key at Jaeger-LeCoultre; creativity and craftsmanship have always been part of our day-to-day with our manufacturer. We now want to fuel that and share this with the public and educate on the emotion, the unique relationship you create with a watch, which goes way beyond giving you time.”

Another curiosity that came to mind along the conversation but, why Dubai as a first stop for this grand event?

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been wanting to do something in Dubai for a while but we took it step by step. First of all l, we wanted to make sure that we had the right distribution and network so we could build a good client base already and be ready to know the market when we join and, second, we really wanted the exhibition to be a Wow moment. We did other exhibitions on other topics around the world, about the Reverso or sound making; this one takes the concept to a whole new level. The number of experiences in terms of the movie, the dome, the cocktails; we thought that with this level of execution, it was great to come to Dubai, with something of that scale for the first time and this year was the first year we could do it.” explains Rénier.
The exhibition will however travel like the Reverso exhibition that had several stops already: “Usually it’s one stop a year because it’s quite complicated to travel with all these logistics and we don’t want to do it half way done.

Last but not least, being all about women empowerment at JDEED, we couldn’t help but ask Catherine about how she deals with being the first woman CEO of a luxury watch brand, and evolve in an industry known to be rather men-led. “In the end, it’s going to sound cliché, but it’s about staying true to who you are. You don’t have to adapt to any men-led world, be confident about what you bring to the table and enjoy what to do. Anyone, men and women alike, once you are happy at your job and contributing, that’s the most important..”

*The Reverso is the brand’s most famous model

The Stellar Odyssey will be presented from Saturday 4th to Thursday 23rd February 2023 at the Dubai Fountain, Downtown Dubai, open daily from 10:00 am to 12.00 am on weekdays and from 10:00 am to 01:00 am on weekends.