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PARIS — As Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre celebrates the 80th anniversary of its classic Reverso watch, its chief executive officer is eyeing a key opportunity for growth in the U.S.
This story first appeared in the July 18, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Though Jaeger-LeCoultre remains a niche player Stateside, Jérôme Lambert sees growing demand for classic timepieces like the Reverso, originally developed in 1931 for British army officers playing polo in India.
He owes this uptick in popularity in part to Jon Hamm, who wore a Reverso as Don Draper in the TV series “Mad Men.” Hamm was introduced to the brand by his uncle, Gary Tobey, an avid watch collector.
Like Hamm, a growing number of American men are seeking an alternative to the chunky, sporty watches that dominate that market.
“We have always had collectors in the United States, but in the last 15 years, we have seen the emergence of a new culture: that of the young watch aficionado,” Lambert said, a day after hosting a star-studded party in Paris to celebrate the Reverso anniversary.
“These are clients who came from casual watches, looked to vintage and through vintage are rediscovering the subtlety of the different aspects of watchmaking,” he added.
As one of the only brands to manufacture all its movements, Jaeger-LeCoultre is in the privileged position of being able to set its own agenda.
Having previously put the spotlight on the Reverso’s shock-resistant attributes through its square-shaped Squadra models, Lambert is ushering in a new five-year cycle in the watch’s design history with the release of the slimmest-ever Reverso, the Grande Reverso Ultra Thin, with a thickness of just 2.94 millimeters, or 0.11 inches.
“With the ultrathin designs, we want to explore the aesthetic purity of the Reverso’s codes,” he explained. “It is a watch that was worn at the clubhouse, a symbol of elegance and sophistication, and that is the aspect we are going to be working on for the next five years.”
As a special nod to polo’s popularity in Argentina, Jaeger-LeCoultre has launched a Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 in an exclusive U.S. edition. It features a cordovan leather strap made by the renowned Argentine polo bootmaker Eduardo Fagliano. Though it is not a limited edition, only 100 of the timepieces will be produced this year.
This is the kind of initiative Lambert hopes will fire up American watch enthusiasts, whose increasing presence on the brand’s Web site, watch discussion forums and social media platforms like Facebook is key to spreading the word among their peers.
“In the technical casual watch sector, the word-of-mouth factor is very important in the U.S. market,” he noted. “These young watch aficionados, collectors and watch lovers are the targets that are…the most effective promoters of brands.”
To further whet their appetites, Jaeger-LeCoultre in May launched an online feature that allows users to personalize their Reversos with initials, maps, coats of arms or star signs, tapping into a tradition previously reserved for elite customers like King Edward VII of England, who had his family crest etched on his Reverso.
Lambert acknowledged Jaeger-LeCoultre still has a long way to go in the U.S., largely because of the persistent strength of the Swiss franc, which has prompted it to raise prices worldwide twice in the last year.
“The U.S. market is beyond challenging because it remains very fragmented due to the diversity of its submarkets,” he said. “It really is a continental market, so it requires an approach and a reading of those markets, and a prioritization of the zones where you are active. I think there is still a lot to be done on the U.S. market.”